Category Archives: World News

Reflection on the Earthquake in Haiti

There is an endless stream of tragic stories coming out of Haiti right now after the devastating 7.0 earthquake that flattened Port-au-Prince. These ‘mega-tragedies,’ if you will, seem to be happening more frequently than ever before. I’m sure that’s not the case, because tragedy of one kind or another has always followed humanity. But technology has enabled us to see tragedy unfold almost instantaneously, and the result is a magnification of that tragedy. We began to see it with the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and it’s become much more palpable with recent tragedies, from the Southeast Asia tsunami of 2004, Katrina in 2005, the Mumbai terror attacks of 2008, etc.

Updates come instantly, from text-based updates sent out and passed along on Twitter or Facebook to video and pictures that are captured and immediately broadcast. We no longer have to wait for the six o’clock news—or even flip to cable news, like my generation—to see what tragedy has occurred today.

This is an example of technology making tragedy more palpable, more personal, more painful. You can see it in the way we open our pocketbooks and lift up our prayers. With that endless stream of tragedy there’s also an understandable temptation to turn away. It can all be too much.

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9/11 Confession

I didn’t want to do this. I don’t like the whole reflect on tragedy thing. I clearly didn’t like it seven years ago either (I think I’ve mellowed a bit since then, thankfully). Even eight years ago I was understandably uneasy. (I’m not sure if it was intentional or not, but I haven’t blogged on this day since 2001.)

But as the tweets kept coming up today and I started clicking on links and reading stories, first this one about a 9/11 curriculum and students who don’t remember 9/11 and then this collection of Pulitzer prize-winning 9/11 photos. The first article was hard enough to get through (it doesn’t help that parenthood has set in since 9/11, which has made me more emotional)—it’s weird to realize my kids won’t relate to 9/11 like I will. But then I started to remember.

I was at my desk in the Internet department at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, getting started on work as other coworkers came in telling stories about a plane crashing into the World Trade Center. At first it sounded like a small prop plane, but as we tried to get online and find out more it became clear that it was much worse. Much of the morning was spent trying various web sites, trying to find one that wasn’t crashing, trying to get some sort of update.

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Famine in Ethiopia. Again.

It breaks my heart to hear the stories of starving children in Ethiopia. Thanks to drought, failed crops and rising food prices, Ethiopia faces a return to the 1984-85 famine that killed more than one million people. The Big Picture blog has stunning pictures.

  • 4.5 million children are threatened with starvation.
  • 75,000 children are currently suffering from severe malnutrition and need urgent care.
  • 3.4 million Ethiopians will need food aid in the next three months.
  • 6.8 million Ethiopians are at risk for malnutrition. (all stats via Telegraph)

Continue reading Famine in Ethiopia. Again.

Minnesota: The Muslim Frontline

Is it me, or is Minnesota some kind of flashpoint for Muslim conflict? There were the Muslim taxi drivers refusing to carry alcohol, there were the six Muslim imams booted off a U.S. Airways flight, there was the charter school allegedly teaching Islam and now we’ve got Muslim tortilla workers fired for dress code violations.

Freedom of religion is turning into a frontline battle in Minnesota. What I find so perplexing is the double standard Muslims seem to face. Once upon a time Christians were in the same boat.

So far the Star Trib article covering the tortilla caper has 536 comments (though I urge you not read them—a newspaper article with comments is kind of stupid; it’s not quite the same as a personal blog entry). The infuriating comment the Star Trib highlights is bad enough:

Immigrate = Assimilate
“I don’t understand why recent immigrants have refused to embrace the American way of life. Why did you come here if you don’t want to change any of your behaviors? When my relatives came here, they learned to speak English and embraced the norms of American society. You can still love and respect your culture, but to live in American means to be an Americann.”

I’ve always understood being American to mean we have the freedom to live the way we want, not being forced to embrace a certain lifestyle. These kind of ‘Immigrate=Assimilate’ arguments always frustrated me. The initial immigrants to the U.S. (i.e., colonists) hardly assimilated with the natives—they just conquered them. The Native Americans were always the ones learning multiple languages and serving as translators while the Europeans sat idly by with their sole language. Times apparently don’t change.

And apparently we’ve forgotten the lack of assimilation of our forefathers. The church my mom and grandparents grew up in was founded by German immigrants and held German services well into the 20th century, long after everyone got off the boat.

I think the U.S. is quickly reaching a point where the dominant culture is no longer white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant males, and it’s freaking some people out. Welcome to the minority.

Death in Many Forms: Cyclones and Cancer

Last week Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar (aka Burma) and officially killed at least 22,980 people with another 42,000 missing, 1 million homeless and unofficial estimates expect the death toll to top 100,000. Those kind of numbers, like the 2004 Southeast Asia Tsunami, are staggering. In contrast, 2005’s Hurricane Katrina was a stronger storm than Nargis yet only killed 1,836 people (still a staggering number). I can’t imagine the reality of that kind of widespread death.

Today a wife and her three children from my church are burying their 42-year-old husband and father after a 3-year battle with cancer. This death, though expected and small in number, is equally as staggering.

Death sucks.

My only comfort is that death is not the last word.

And I mean that in the sense that I believe in a life after death, and in the sense that our response to death—how we live our lives in the aftermath, whether it’s the death of a lone man or multiplied thousands—says so much more about us than death ever could.

The Food Riots I Didn’t Know About

Did you know there were deadly food riots in Haiti last week? And in several other countries around the world. The U.S. closed the embassy in Haiti, banned official travel, is discouraging civilian travel and encouraging U.S. citizens already in Haiti to get out. The soaring cost of food sparked the violent protests—around the world food prices have risen 45% in the past nine months and have doubled in the last three years. The Chairman of the World Bank, Robert B. Zoellick, said three dozen countries face potential social unrest because of rising food and fuel prices.

I didn’t hear about it until Sunday morning when our rector announced that our upcoming missions trip to Haiti (we have a nearly 20-year partnership with a congregation in Haiti) was up in the air. Apparently I’ve been reading the wrong news outlets (curse you CNN!). The U.S. has pledged $200 million for emergency food aid, so I guess it’s good that at least something is being done. Update: Though experts say this isn’t a short term problem.

Continue reading The Food Riots I Didn’t Know About

Westboro “Church” Picketing the Bridge Collapse Funerals

I’ve never wanted to throw up so badly in my entire life. At the same time, I’ve never wanted to take up arms so badly in my life.

The infamous ‘God Hates Fags’ group from Westboro Baptist “Church”, led by Fred Phelps, has announced plans to picket the funerals of those who died in the I-35W bridge collapse.

I don’t even want to quote from their press release, but basically Minneapolis and Minnesota by extension is a haven for homosexuals so God hates us. Plus when this group picketed in Minnesota before somebody stole their picket signs, so the bridge collapse is our punishment for persecuting these missionaries (urge to vomit rising). Plus they want their stolen signs back (I wish I was making that up).

Continue reading Westboro “Church” Picketing the Bridge Collapse Funerals

Blame I-35W Bridge Collapse on Pigeons

Here’s a new theory for the I-35W bridge collapse–blame the pigeons. Apparently “piles of pigeon guano” may have impeded inspectors from discovering the true state of the bridge:

Heaps of corrosive pigeon droppings obscuring parts of the bridge’s steel supports have been a bane to inspectors at least since 1994, documents show. The birds were nesting in welded steel box sections of the superstructure, gaining access through the same holes used by inspectors to peer inside to look for cracks. In 1999, MnDOT covered the inspection holes with plastic screens, but the problem persisted.

“The interiors of the box members have severe pigeon debris,” MnDOT workers wrote in their 2006 inspection report. (Star Tribune

Armchair Quarterbacking the I-35W Bridge Collapse

The armchair failure analysis that’s happening in the wake of the I-35W bridge collapse kind of makes me laugh.

  • We’ve had good stretch of 90+ heat in the Twin Cities, therefore the bridge couldn’t handle the expansion and collapsed. Please. In July 2006 we had more days above 90 than we did this year, never mind the stretches that were much hotter. I would expect any bridge would be designed to handle expansion in temperatures well above 90.
  • With the construction on the bridge and the lanes narrowed from eight in each direction to four the imbalance caused the failure. What?!
  • With bumper to bumper traffic on the bridge it had to carry the weight of traffic at a standstill as opposed to traffic at full speed. Weight is weight, no matter the speed. (poorly paraphrased from several different online forums)

I’ll be the first one to tell you I’m no physicist and can’t explain what happened or how it happened but some of these theories are so bizarre, as if the bridge had certain tolerances that we just happened to push too far on August 1. I suppose in a sense that’s what happened, but it’s most likely in conjunction with a major failure. The way people are talking it’s as if any bridge could fall over if we get too many days over 90 degrees or if too many fat people walk across a bridge at the same time. You don’t blame the heat or the fat people, you blame the structural failure.

For all the talk of “structural deficiencies” and the what not, this is most likely a bridge that had some issues but they didn’t appear to be catastrophic. Turns out we were wrong and it was catastrophic. But I don’t think there’s going to be any smoking gun of Joe Blow didn’t tighten a bolt or overlooked this massive hole in the steel truss. And while improving infrastructure is important, it’s not like this bridge would have been first in line for replacement if we had millions or even billions to spend on infrastructure. They talked about replacing it by 2020. We had systems in place and those systems were followed. Obviously those systems will now be closely inspected and hopefully some improvements made if possible

But bottom line: I think this was a simple accident. I doubt many changes in procedure or funding would have changed that. There are no conspiracies here or scapegoats we can easily blame.

Of course we’ll know for sure in about a year when the report comes out and we can all stop doing armchair failure analysis.