Category : * International News & Commentary

(Church Times) Most Christians happy to share their faith, survey suggests

The majority of Christians are confident about spreading the gospel to others — especially people from the same social background, a new survey suggests.

The survey, conducted by Savanta, was commissioned by the London City Mission. In September, researchers asked a representative sample of 1007 practising Christians — defined as people who identified as Christians, attended church, read the Bible, and prayed at least weekly — about their attitudes to communicating their faith to others.

They found that almost four in five (78 per cent) said that they were “confident” or “somewhat confident” about talking about their faith with people who were not Christian. Almost nine in ten (89 per cent) thought that doing so was “important”, and three-quarters (76 per cent) would have liked to talk more often about their faith with people who were not Christians.

Respondents said that they were most likely to talk about their faith with close friends (42 per cent), family (42 per cent), and work colleagues (37 per cent).

Read it all.

Posted in England / UK, Evangelism and Church Growth, Religion & Culture, Sociology

Taylor Swift Makes Time’s Person of the Year

Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Economy, Music

(FT) Claer Barrett–The untimely death of the funeral

Should we mourn the slow death of the traditional funeral?

The soaring cost of ceremonies and an increasingly secular society mean that fewer than half of Britons now want a funeral, according to a study this week. This raises the question, what do they want instead? The answer — which anyone who watches daytime television will surely know — is a direct cremation.

Also known as a “takeaway funeral”, the rise of a cheap, no-frills cremation with no relatives in attendance started under lockdown, but has remained enduringly popular, now accounting for nearly one in five UK deaths. Costs are kept low by using out-of-the-way crematoria, often very early in the morning before traditional ceremonies with mourners and wreaths begin.

Read it all.

Posted in Church of England, Death / Burial / Funerals, England / UK, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture, Secularism

Andrew Goddard–‘Nothing has changed’: should the bishops ‘commend’ the Prayers of Love and Faith?

The problem is that, as with the former Prime Minister’s claim, nobody really believes this is the case. How many people really believe that:

  • what will be commended in the PLF Suite of Resource—public prayers for God’s blessing on two people of the same sex many of whom will be in a sexual relationship and/or a civil same-sex marriage—has always been lawful in the Church of England and could have been commended by the bishops and used by clergy at any point in the past? 
  • the use of such prayers does not represent a major change from the historic and current situation? 
  • while the doctrine of marriage remains unchanged, the proposed use of the PLF is neither contrary to doctrine nor indicative of a departure from in doctrine in any essential matter? 
  • all these claims have been shown by the House of Bishops to be theologically and legally coherent and convincing?

Charlie Bell, a supporter of getting PLF done but also a severe critic of the latest proposals, recently wrote “what the bishops have done may be legal, but it is not honest”. This echoes the language of Canon C1 and the oath of canonical obedience. The way in which the bishops are proceeding—the “nothing has changed” argument and the refusal to publish the written legal advice they have received—is very difficult to view as honest and to trust. Given the law has not formally been changed, for many the introduction of PLF means that the doctrine to which the law refers has changed in practice. If, as it is being claimed, doctrine has not changed, then what is being proposed seems to many to be not only “not honest” but also, as shown by past legal advice, probably “not legal”. 

In short, unless we sincerely believe and are convinced that “nothing has changed”, then we have to say that it appears the bishops are acting in their commendation, and thereby encouraging clergy to act in their services, in ways which are unlawful. In addition, those liturgical actions are now—because of the bishops’ decisions, which do not alter the legality of what they commend and so in one sense could be described as simply symbolic or “virtue signalling”—going to attract much more attention when they take place then they have done in the past. This means clergy who accept at face value and act on the basis of the bishops’ commendation are probably more likely to face legal challenge than they were in the past.

In the light of this, it even more unacceptable that the bishops are now so reticent to set out clearly for parish clergy, and those who advise them such as archdeacons, both

  1. the changing written legal advice which they have received throughout this process, particularly for their 9th October meeting, and
  2. a clear explanation as to how what they are now proposing in PLF is, and indeed always has been, legal and how this judgment relates to the content of past legal advice which they have published that would suggest otherwise.

Read it all.

Posted in - Anglican: Analysis, --Civil Unions & Partnerships, Anthropology, Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Pastoral Theology, Religion & Culture, Same-sex blessings, Sexuality, Sexuality Debate (in Anglican Communion), Theology, Theology: Scripture

(CT) At McLean Bible, Mike Kelsey Is Reimagining the Multiethnic Church

As the younger Kelsey steps up to lead McLean Bible Church, he represents an exceptional case in today’s US evangelical landscape—perhaps the most prominent example of a Black minister rising to the top position at a historically white megachurch. But he’s also lived through a contemporary version of the faith and justice fights chronicled by his forebear.

Over Kelsey’s 16 years preaching and pastoring at McLean, he watched the nondenominational congregation and its leadership grow more diverse as DC did. Across five locations, McLean counts members from over a hundred countries now. There were answered prayers, lessons learned, and moments of unity along the way, but it didn’t come easy. His wife remembers that even just a handful of years ago, people were saying Kelsey could never lead the church.

From the start, Kelsey experienced the culture shock of the megachurch setting. He felt the sting of congregants who dismissed Barack Obama’s election to the White House, the pressure of preaching boldly amid a string of high-profile Black deaths and the Black Lives Matter movement, and the tension from internal church conflict spurred on by debates over race and politics during the pandemic.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture, Urban/City Life and Issues

(NYT op-ed) Thomas Friedman–Understanding the True Nature of the Hamas-Israel War

The reason the Hamas-Israel war can be hard for outsiders to understand is that three wars are going on at the same time: a war between Israeli Jews and the Palestinians exacerbated by a terrorist group, a war within Israeli and Palestinian societies over the future, and a war between Iran and its proxies and America and its allies.

But before we dig into those wars, here’s the most important thing to keep in mind about them: There’s a single formula that can maximize the chances that the forces of decency can prevail in all three. It is the formula that I think President Biden is pushing, even if he can’t spell it all out publicly now — and we should all push it with him: You should want Hamas defeated; as many Gazan civilians as possible spared; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and his extremist allies booted; all the hostages returned; Iran deterred; and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank reinvigorated in partnership with moderate Arab states.

Pay particular attention to that last point: a revamped Palestinian Authority is the keystone for the forces of moderation, coexistence and decency triumphing in all three wars.

Read it all.

Posted in Foreign Relations, Iran, Israel, Middle East, Military / Armed Forces, Politics in General, The Palestinian/Israeli Struggle

(CEIP) Alternate Reality: How Russian Society Learned to Stop Worrying About the War

In the nearly two years since Russia launched its “special military operation” against Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Russian society has gotten used to living against the backdrop of a brutal armed conflict. A significant part of the population has reconciled itself to the idea that they will be living under the current state of affairs for quite some time, and that they must therefore adjust to reality, which ordinary Russians are in any case unable—and often unwilling—to change.

All the naïve predictions that popular discontent triggered by sanctions and the wartime restrictions imposed on daily life would bring down Vladimir Putin’s regime have come to nothing. In many ways, quite the opposite has happened. Most Russians might not identify with the regime, but they have consolidated around the Kremlin, which they believe to be fighting tooth and nail against a West that is seeking to destroy Russia. Despite the fact that such a depiction is at odds with reality, a great many Russians have accepted it as the most logical explanation for this protracted nightmare.

Naturally, some Russians are unhappy with the situation. Millions of people are opposed to authoritarianism and bloodshed, and some of them openly express their views and resist. There are also those known as “turbo-patriots,” who earnestly and aggressively support Putin. But the vast majority is apathetic, and simply passively and automatically “mostly supports” what the regime is doing while waiting for “all this” to end. This part of the population has chosen to become apathetic: their condition can be referred to as “learned indifference.” Putin is a legitimate leader in such people’s eyes, so his “special military operation” must be too. The next ritual imitation of a presidential election in March 2024 will surely confirm that there is no alternative to Putin. The apathetic majority can do little but wait for this difficult time to pass.

Read it all.

Posted in Foreign Relations, Military / Armed Forces, Politics in General, Russia, Ukraine

(Church Times) Don’t bother with a funeral for me, say majority of poll respondents

Fewer than half (47 per cent) of respondents to a new poll say that they would like a funeral.

The poll of 2569 was commissioned by the thinktank Theos and carried out by YouGov in July. The authors of Theos’s report on the polling, Love, Grief, and Hope: Emotional responses to death and dying in the UK, Madeleine Pennington and Nathan Mladin, speak of a “significant realignment in British grieving practices”. They warn of the potential for a “significant pastoral gap left in the wake of a decline in formal funeral ceremonies”, and that funerals could become a “luxury or niche requirement for a few”….

In total, 24 per cent of respondents said that they did not want a funeral, while 28 per cent were not sure or did not know. Financial factors influenced the responses: 13 per cent of respondents who did not want a funeral said that this was because they did not have enough money saved.

The commonest response was: “I think the money could be better spent another way” (67 per cent); followed by “I don’t see the point” (55 per cent); and “I don’t want a traditional service” (43 per cent).

Read it all.

Posted in Church of England, Death / Burial / Funerals, England / UK, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture, Secularism

(WSJ) Russia Targets Ukrainian Cities With Waves of Explosive Drones

Russia sent waves of explosive drones to strike cities across Ukraine in the largest attack since last winter that likely marks the start of a fresh campaign aimed at demoralizing and dislocating Ukrainians.

Ukraine’s military said it intercepted all but one of 75 Shahed drones overnight, most of which were targeted at Kyiv. Authorities in the capital said five people were slightly injured, including an 11-year-old child, and several buildings damaged.

Russia has spent much of the year rebuilding its stocks of explosive drones and missiles with the aim, Ukrainian officials say, of trying to knock out power and heat in cities over winter. By forcing Ukraine to use air-defense systems to defend cities, Russia is also seeking to divert them from the front line and use up precious missiles, allowing Russian warplanes more freedom to launch attacks on Ukraine’s military.

Russia targeted Ukraine’s power grid with drones and missiles last winter, damaging around 40% of the system and knocking out power in several cities for hours at a time. But a combination of quick repairs and air-defense systems hurriedly delivered by allies prevented lengthy outages of power and heat that could have led people to flee.

Read it all.

Posted in Foreign Relations, Military / Armed Forces, Politics in General, Russia, Science & Technology, Ukraine

A Prayer of Thanksgiving from Lancelot Andrewes

Blessing and honour, and thanksgiving and praise,
more than we can utter,
more than we can conceive,
be unto thee, O holy and glorious Trinity,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
by all angels, all men, all creatures,
for ever and ever.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Blog Tips & Features

The 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation

[New York, 3 October 1789]

By the President of the United States of America. a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor — and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be — That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks — for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation — for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war — for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed — for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted — for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions — to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually — to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed — to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness onto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord — To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us — and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New-York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go: Washington

Posted in America/U.S.A., History, Office of the President, Religion & Culture

Happy Thanksgiving 2023 to all Blog Readers!

Posted in America/U.S.A., Blog Tips & Features

Archbishop Stephen Cottrell’s Address to York Diocesan Synod this past Saturday

The amended motion that was eventually passed on Wednesday after a long and often painful debate as different conscientiously held views were explained and exchanged noted the progress made since the February Synod which asked the House of Bishops to find ways of commending the Prayers of Love and Faith alongside a number of other commitments, not least a heartfelt declaration of repentance for the prejudice and exclusion many LGBTQIA+ people had experienced and sadly sometimes continue to experience in the church. Nothing has yet changed or been introduced, but ways forward and a path to follow is being mapped out. That’s really what this Synod was about.

In particular, what will happen next is that the prayers themselves will be commended for use, either privately and pastorally with same-sex couples, or as part of an existing or regular service in church, but standalone services, i.e. that bit of LLF which has received the most publicity, and probably where the greatest disagreement lies, will be subject to a process of authorisation under Canon B2, which would mean that in order to receive final authorisation, there would need to be a two thirds majority in favour in each of the three synodical houses – bishops, clergy, laity.

Leading up to that vote, there will probably be a period of experimentation under Canon B5A. This is the canon allows individual parishes that want to, that opt in, to apply to be able to use material on an experimental basis for a fixed period, at the end of which, Synod considers whether to extend the authorization under B2. That’s’ the vote requiring the two thirds majorities. Doing it this way will be useful way both gauging the feeling of the Church, but also give time to properly consider exactly what sort of pastoral reassurance and provision will be necessary to honour those who in good conscience won’t be able to support these developments. Again, I want you to know that I am very committed to ensuring this happens well in the Diocese of York, but also for the whole Church of England, as are my colleagues.

The pastoral guidance concerning what this means for ordinands and clergy, particularly over whether they could be permitted to enter into same-sex marriages themselves is still a work in progress and wasn’t really discussed at this synod. But it will be forthcoming in the early part of 2024.

Read it all.

Posted in --Civil Unions & Partnerships, Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell, Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, England / UK, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture, Same-sex blessings, Sexuality, Sexuality Debate (in Anglican Communion)

(WSJ) Terrorist Militants Take Cover Amid Elephants, Lions in West Africa’s National Parks

Pendjari and two adjacent national parks comprise West Africa’s largest surviving protected wilderness—4.2 million acres spread across remote areas of Benin, Niger and Burkina Faso. The expanse of emerald-green savannah, jagged cliffs and stands of ancient baobab trees has also become the latest battlefield pitting the U.S. and its allies against al Qaeda and Islamic State fighters.

Militants carried out 71 killings, kidnappings and other attacks in Benin in the first half of this year, compared with five in 2021, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, a U.S.-based nonprofit monitoring service, and the Pentagon’s Africa Center for Strategic Studies. Most of the violence took place inside the parks or nearby.

Washington is increasingly worried the Islamist insurgency that has engulfed Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger will undermine Benin and other relatively prosperous, pro-Western states along the Gulf of Guinea. U.S. Special Forces are stationed in Benin to gather intelligence and advise the local military on counterinsurgency operations.

U.S. concerns are geopolitical—the prospect of weakened Western influence, growing militant strength and Russian inroads—as well as environmental. If the wilderness areas are lost to militants, “then forget conservation in West Africa,” said Hugues Akpona, an operations manager for Johannesburg-based African Parks, a nonprofit that runs the Pendjari and W national parks for Benin.

Read it all.

Posted in Africa, America/U.S.A., Benin, Burkina Faso, Foreign Relations, Military / Armed Forces, Niger, Nigeria, Politics in General, Terrorism

A Prayer for the Feast Day of Edmund of East Anglia

O God of ineffable mercy, who didst give grace and fortitude to blessed Edmund the king to triumph over the enemy of his people by nobly dying for thy Name: Bestow on us thy servants, we beseech thee, the shield of faith, wherewith we may withstand the assaults of our ancient enemy; through Jesus Christ our Redeemer, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Posted in Church History, England / UK, Spirituality/Prayer

The GSFA Statement Following the Church of England’s General Synod Resolution

From there:

We are saddened to know that the General Synod of the Church of England has passed a resolution to bless same sex unions despite almost 50% of the Synod opposing the bishops’ proposal. This disastrous decision creates the same serious consequences of differentiation and division as in other provinces and further fractures our beloved Anglican Communion.

On behalf of the Primates of the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches (GSFA), I once again affirm the GSFA Ash Wednesday Statement which we made on Feb 20th this year (2023). We wholeheartedly support the faithful bishops, clergy and laity within the Church of England and assure them of our continuing prayers and pastoral commitment as a global body.

“……. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” Revelation 2:10

Posted in --Civil Unions & Partnerships, Anthropology, Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Global South Churches & Primates, Pastoral Theology, Religion & Culture, Same-sex blessings, Sexuality, Sexuality Debate (in Anglican Communion), Theology: Scripture

(NYT) Students Are Missing School at an Alarming Rate

The academic achievement of millions of American students faltered during the pandemic — and in many cases, has not recovered three years later. The latest data on student attendance offers one explanation: Far more students are missing many days of school compared with before the pandemic.

Nearly 70 percent of the highest poverty schools experienced widespread, chronic absenteeism in the 2021-22 school year, compared with 25 percent before the pandemic, according to a new analysis released on Friday by Attendance Works, a nonprofit that aims to reduce chronic absenteeism, and the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University, which focuses on high school graduation preparedness.

In these schools, about a third or more of the student body was considered chronically absent, defined as missing at least 10 percent of the school year, or about two days of school every month. That includes all absences, including sick days and school-imposed suspensions.

“Prior to the pandemic, going to school every day was still the norm,” even in the poorest schools, said Hedy Chang, the executive director of Attendance Works. That is no longer the case.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Children, Education

(Washington Post) Hamas envisioned deeper attacks, aiming to provoke an Israeli war

The first clues came from the bodies of slain militants: maps, drawings, notes, and the weapons and gear they carried.

In Beeri, a kibbutz town overrun by Hamas on Oct. 7, one dead fighter had a notebook with hand-scrawled Quranic verses and orders that read, simply, “Kill as many people and take as many hostages as possible.” Others were equipped with gas canisters, handcuffs and thermobaric grenades designed to instantly turn houses into infernos.

Each was like a piece from a grisly puzzle, a snippet of fine detail from an operation that called for hundreds of discrete crimes in specific locations. Five weeks later, the reassembled fragments are beginning to reveal the contours of Hamas’s broader plan, one that analysts say was intended not just to kill and capture Israelis, but to spark a conflagration that would sweep the region and lead to a wider conflict.

The evidence, described by more than a dozen current and former intelligence and security officials from four Western and Middle Eastern countries, reveals an intention by Hamas planners to strike a blow of historic proportions, in the expectation that the group’s actions would compel an overwhelming Israeli response.

Read it all.

Posted in Foreign Relations, Israel, Middle East, Military / Armed Forces, Politics in General, Terrorism, The Palestinian/Israeli Struggle

(Gallup) Majority Now Say U.S. Losing Ground on Illegal Drug Problem

Americans are more negative about U.S. progress in dealing with the problem of illegal drugs than at any prior point in Gallup’s trend, which dates back to 1972. For the first time, a majority of U.S. adults, 52%, say the U.S. has lost ground in coping with the illegal drug problem, while a record-low 24% say it has made progress. Another 23% believe it has stood still.

Drug overdose deaths in the U.S. have risen sharply in recent years, with much of the increase due to synthetic opioids like fentanyl. But overdoses linked to other types of drugs, including cocaine and methamphetamines, have also grown since 2019.

Gallup has updated its trend on progress in addressing the illegal drug problem periodically since the mid-1990s, after some initial measurements in the 1970s showed mixed views on the question.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Drugs/Drug Addiction, Health & Medicine

(FT) Only 14% of US voters say Joe Biden has made them better off

Only 14 per cent of American voters believe they are better off financially now than when Joe Biden took office, in the latest sign that the president’s economic record could undermine his re-election prospects.

A poll found that almost 70 per cent of voters thought Biden’s economic policies had either hurt the US economy or had no impact, including 33 per cent who said they believed the president’s policies had “hurt the economy a lot”. Only 26 per cent said his policies had helped.

The new monthly poll conducted for the Financial Times and the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business will seek to track how economic sentiment affects the race for the White House. In 1980, Republican Ronald Reagan famously asked voters whether they were better off than they were four years earlier, setting the stage for his landslide victory over incumbent Democrat Jimmy Carter.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Economy, Politics in General, President Joe Biden, Psychology

(CNBC) Gen Z, millennials have a much harder time ‘adulting’ than their parents did, CNBC/Generation Lab survey finds

Gen Z and millennial adults are having a hard time achieving the same milestones their parents did when they first ventured out into the workforce.

For instance, 55% of young adult respondents find it is “much harder” to purchase a home, 44% said it is harder to find a job and 55% said it is harder to get promoted, according to a Youth & Money in the USA poll by CNBC and Generation Lab.

The survey polled 1,039 people between ages 18 and 34 across the U.S. from Oct. 25 to Oct. 30.

“This is purely a snapshot of what young people perceive their lives to be like compared to their parents,” said Cyrus Beschloss, founder of Generation Lab, an organization that built the largest respondent database of young people in America.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Children, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, Marriage & Family, Young Adults

A Prayer for the Feast Day of Martin of Tours

Lord God of hosts, who didst clothe thy servant Martin the soldier with the spirit of sacrifice, and didst set him as a bishop in thy Church to be a defender of the catholic faith: Give us grace to follow in his holy steps, that at the last we may be found clothed with righteousness in the dwellings of peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Posted in Church History, France, Spirituality/Prayer

(Economist) Why Israel must fight on

Around the world the cry is going up for a ceasefire or for Israel to abandon its ground invasion. Hearing some Israeli politicians call for vengeance, including the discredited prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, many people conclude that Israel’s actions are disproportionate and immoral. Many of those arguing this believe in the need for a Jewish state, but fear for a Jewish state that seems to value Palestinian lives so cheaply. They worry that the slender hopes for peace in this age-old conflict will be buried under Gaza’s rubble.

Those are powerful arguments, but they lead to the wrong conclusion. Israel is inflicting terrible civilian casualties. It must minimise them and be seen to do so. Palestinians are lacking essential humanitarian supplies. Israel must let a lot more aid pass into Gaza. However, even if Israel chooses to honour these responsibilities, the only path to peace lies in dramatically reducing Hamas’s capacity to use Gaza as a source of supplies and a base for its army. Tragically, that requires war.

To grasp why, you have to understand what happened on October 7th. When Israelis talk about Hamas’s attack as an existential threat they mean it literally, not as a figure of speech. Because of pogroms and the Holocaust, Israel has a unique social contract: to create a land where Jews know they will not be killed or persecuted for being Jews. The state has long honoured that promise with a strategic doctrine that calls for deterrence, early warnings of an attack, protection on the home front and decisive Israeli victories.

Read it all.

Posted in Foreign Relations, Israel, Military / Armed Forces, The Palestinian/Israeli Struggle

(WSJ) Fake Nudes of Real Students Cause an Uproar at a New Jersey High School

When girls at Westfield High School in New Jersey found out boys were sharing nude photos of them in group chats, they were shocked, and not only because it was an invasion of privacy. The images weren’t real.

Students said one or more classmates used an online tool powered by artificial intelligence to make the images, then shared them with others. The discovery has sparked uproar in Westfield, an affluent town outside New York City.

Digitally altered or faked images and videos have exploded along with the availability of free or cheap AI tools. While celebrity likenesses from Oprah Winfrey to Pope Francis have drawn media attention, the overwhelming majority of faked images are pornographic, experts say.

The lack of clarity on such images’ legality—and how or whether to punish their makers—has parents, schools and law enforcement running to catch up as AI speeds ahead.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, --Social Networking, America/U.S.A., Blogging & the Internet, Children, Education, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Marriage & Family, Photos/Photography, Science & Technology

(Telegraph) China is working on a weapon the US decided was too dangerous to exist

The US Defense Department believes the Chinese People’s Liberation Army is developing a new Intercontinental Ballistic Missile. That is, a heavy, multi-stage missile that leaves the Earth’s atmosphere and travels around the world at huge velocities before re-entering and descending toward its target at 20 times the speed of sound. Such missiles normally have a nuclear warhead: but this one, uniquely, would be armed with conventional explosives.

It’s an incredibly dangerous idea. A bad idea the Pentagon is intimately familiar with. After all, it tried to develop the same kind of “conventional” ICBM years ago – and ultimately gave up as it began to appreciate everything that could go wrong.

Namely, there seemed to be a good chance that, if US forces ever fired a conventional ICBM in anger, nuclear-armed countries would detect the launch, recognize the energy and trajectory of an ICBM – and be faced with an impossible dilemma.

Were the Americans launching a nuclear first strike? Would they lie, if asked? And how long could America’s nuclear rivals wait for clarification before launching their own nukes?

Read it all (registration or subscription).

Posted in America/U.S.A., China, Foreign Relations, Military / Armed Forces, Politics in General, Science & Technology

(Economist) Ukraine’s commander-in-chief on the breakthrough he needs to beat Russia

Five months into its counter-offensive, Ukraine has managed to advance by just 17 kilometers. Russia fought for ten months around Bakhmut in the east “to take a town six by six kilometers”. Sharing his first comprehensive assessment of the campaign with The Economist in an interview this week, Ukraine’s commander-in-chief, General Valery Zaluzhny, says the battlefield reminds him of the great conflict of a century ago. “Just like in the first world war we have reached the level of technology that puts us into a stalemate,” he says. The general concludes that it would take a massive technological leap to break the deadlock. “There will most likely be no deep and beautiful breakthrough.”

The course of the counter-offensive has undermined Western hopes that Ukraine could use it to demonstrate that the war is unwinnable—and thus change Vladimir Putin’s calculations, forcing the Russian president to negotiate. It has also undercut General Zaluzhny’s assumption that he could stop Russia by bleeding its troops. “That was my mistake. Russia has lost at least 150,000 dead. In any other country such casualties would have stopped the war.” But not in Russia, where life is cheap and where Mr Putin’s reference points are in the first and second world wars in which Russia lost tens of millions.

Read it all (my emphasis).

Posted in Military / Armed Forces, Russia, Ukraine

(Washington Post) Home schooling’s rise from fringe to fastest-growing form of education

Home schooling has become — by a wide margin — America’s fastest-growing form of education, as families from Upper Manhattan to Eastern Kentucky embrace a largely unregulated practice once confined to the ideological fringe, a Washington Post analysis shows.

The analysis — based on data The Post collected for thousands of school districts across the country — reveals that a dramatic rise in home schooling at the onset of the pandemic has largely sustained itself through the 2022-23 academic year, defying predictions that most families would return to schools that have dispensed with mask mandates and other covid-19 restrictions.

The growth demonstrates home schooling’s arrival as a mainstay of the American educational system, with its impact — on society, on public schools and, above all, on hundreds of thousands of children now learning outside a conventional academic setting — only beginning to be felt.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Children, Education, Marriage & Family

(FP) Bari Weiss Talks to Walter Russell Mead–Are We Tipping into a New World War?

Now, with antisemitism in America, historically, we’ve had several peaks. There was one in the 1890s and another in the 1930s and 1940s, but these were some of the worst times in American history. During the Great Depression, unemployment reached 25 percent. People lost faith in the American way and as they did, they lost faith in this idea that people of different ethnic and religious backgrounds could work constructively together to make it better for everyone. When we lose that, two things happen. America doesn’t work as well, and antisemitism rises. You can look at those tiki torch boys in Charlottesville back in 2017, or the people marching on campuses today and talking about death to the Jews. They share three beliefs in common: one, they make an idol of ethnic identity. For the white nationalists, if you’re not in the white pure group, you’re only a destructive influence in America, and as for the far left, if you’re white, you’re not right. Two, neither the far left or the far right believe in the promise of the American Dream—that if we follow the American Dream, it gets better for everybody. Thirdly, the far right and the far left both hate Jews. For the white nationalists, the Jews are part of the Great Replacement. For the far left, the Jews are white. They’re uber-white, even. These two groups share these three things in common, and they’re all destructive to what has historically made America work. Our enemies overseas are glad to see the far right and/or the far left rise up. It warms their cold hearts to see us ripping and tearing at each other and denying the truths that over the centuries have made us the most successful large human society in history.

BW: So what you’re saying is that when you see the swastika daubed on a school or when you hear about death threats to Jewish students at Cornell, don’t think about those things as a Jewish issue? Think about those attacks as an American issue, because societies where antisemitism is unleashed are societies that are dead?

WRM: That’s right. Antisemitism is both a sort of mental impairment and a barrier to learning. If you think that “the Jews” control the banks, you don’t understand finance, and will never understand it because you have this happy conspiracy theory and you think you already know everything. If you think “the Jews” control the weather with their space lasers, you’re not going to bother to study meteorological science. A society in which this kind of antisemitism is prevalent is not going to be a sign of a society on the cutting edge of science or business or economics or anything else. In our society, these beliefs are toxic. They’re terrible for Jews, but they are actually poison to what makes America, America.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., History, Israel, Judaism, Middle East, Military / Armed Forces, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Terrorism, The Palestinian/Israeli Struggle

Statement from the C of E House of Bishops on the war in Gaza

As Bishops of the Church of England we condemn the terrorist actions of Hamas on 7th October. Hamas has killed civilians without mercy, defiled their bodies, treated the most vulnerable brutally and taken hostages. Its continued indiscriminate rocket attacks against Israeli targets puts civilian structures and individuals at risk. All this is built on its denial of the right of Israel to exist. Hamas has oppressed the people it was originally elected to serve and has put them in harm’s way by using them as human shields. Its actions are a violation of international law.

We must also reflect on the actions that Israel has taken in response. We affirm absolutely Israel’s right to self-defence. We wholly support the duty of the Government of Israel to protect its citizens. We echo the concerns raised by President Biden about understandable anger and deep trauma not determining strategy and actions. Israel’s right to self-defence needs to be exercised in adherence to the key principles of international humanitarian law.

The huge number of civilians killed in three weeks of bombardment, principally in Gaza City, and the immense suffering of a people herded south with no escape, are a humanitarian catastrophe. Even defined evacuation routes have been hit. Places of sanctuary and gathering have been bombed. Aid workers have been killed and wounded in large numbers. Critical services like healthcare, water, and electricity have been cut, while the military siege of Gaza has meant that no adequate humanitarian response has been possible.

Also gravely concerning are the reports of rising numbers of Palestinians killed in the West Bank by inhabitants of settlements which are illegal under international law. In mixed communities in Israel, where people have generally lived peacefully side by side, Israeli Arabs now find themselves subject to abuse, harassment and discrimination.

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Posted in Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Globalization, Israel, Middle East, Religion & Culture, Terrorism, The Palestinian/Israeli Struggle, War in Gaza December 2008--

(Church Times) Second Commissioner responds to MPs’ questions on Prayers of Love and Faith

The LLF steering group is chaired by the the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, and the Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen.

In response to the question from Sir Ben and Mr Gibson “what physical acts the Church refers to when teaching that sexual intimacy outside of marriage is forbidden”, Mr Selous — who represents the Church Commissioners in Parliament — responded: “The Living in Love and Faith process has always sought to recognise that the expression of sexual intimacy between two people cannot be reduced to a small set of defined actions.”

A further question asked whether a “letter threatening legal action” had been sent to the Bishops between the meetings of the College and the House, to which Mr Selous responded that “several items of correspondence were received over this period from a number of groups with different views, reflecting differing legal and theological opinions, as is widely in the public domain.

“Some offered a legal opinion on the routes of commendation or authorisation for the Prayers of Love and Faith, but I am not aware that any directly threatened the recipients with legal action.”

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Posted in --Civil Unions & Partnerships, Church of England, England / UK, Parish Ministry, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Same-sex blessings, Sexuality, Sexuality Debate (in Anglican Communion)