Tuesday 30 April 2024

Lying via selective truth-telling


The above article is a classic in the genre of lying via omission and careful selection of what truths are allowed to be mentioned (as well as the occasional straightforward traditional untruth). Consider (somewhat in the order of mention in the above article):

  1. No discussion at all of why the state power company is failing to supply enough power. What factors might be involved? Is a state monopoly an inherently bad idea? What has the level of corruption been in the last couple of decades? How much has been lost over the years to human wickedness? How does level of investment match with growth in level of demand? Is anything being done about any of these issues, really, or is it "same old, same old, don't rock the boat"? Why are none of these questions worth investigating?
    Here, as with many issues, you suspect that the issue contains a substantial man-made component.

  2. It's the hot season in West Africa. It comes every year, at this time, and the temperatures are in the 40s every single day. This, apparently, was also not a piece of context that BBC readers needed to be given. Where's the editor?

  3. Note that the scale of the problem is related to urbanisation and development. People living in the village sleep outside and don't have back-up generators for when the state power company lets them down, and have thus slept and thus lacked diesel generators for several hundred years, since before any state power company existed. But in those days, it was easier to sleep on top of your house (best not to sleep on the ground if there are hyenas or other predators around), and there weren't huge numbers of concrete buildings (and air conditioners from those who do have them) emitting heat into the outside air. i.e. Some problems in developing-country cities are problems of development and symptoms of progress. This context gets mentioned.... nowhere.

  4. "At night it can reach 46C" - no, it can't. That's absurd. How did this line get in the piece? You'd have thought that given that a few paragraphs earlier 48C was given as the maximum temperature reached anywhere at all, in the day, during a heatwave, a journalist or editor might have paused to wonder how it can be reaching 46C at night. Perhaps they could have looked at the BBC Weather page for Mali?

  5. "Since March, temperatures have soared above 48C in parts of Mali, killing more than 100 people" - unlike an earlier, similar, BBC article, this article has slipped in a mention of Ramadan, a few paragraphs later, but you'll have to join the dots yourself. This is a month-long Islamic festival (and the majority of Malians are Muslims - the writer forgot to mention this) in which the Muslim faithful abstain from both eating and drinking (and even in many cases from swallowing their own saliva, which is seen as breaking the fast) between dawn and dusk. This year the festival has - the article omits to mention - coincided with the hot season. The temperature is over 40C in the day, every day. "We were seeing about 15 hospitalisations a day," says Prof Yacouba Toloba, who works at the university hospital in Bamako. "Many patients are dehydrated". Well, yes. And yet the article heavily emphasises that the message for its readers that it's human burning of carbon-based fuels since the Industrial Revolution that is the main reason why Malians have suffered during this time.

  6. "Schools in some areas have closed as a precaution, and people in the Muslim-majority nation were advised not to fast during the Ramadan period which ended recently". Advised by whom? How widely known was this advice? How widely was it followed? Did the 15 hospitalisations a day come from people who followed it, or who didn't? Nobody reading the article will find out, because the journalist had no interest in these questions.

  7. ""We need to plan more for these situations, which will perhaps come back. This time it took us by surprise," adds Prof Toloba." Words fail me.

  8. We are then treated to the scientifically entirely bogus claim that it's possible to determine what the temperature would have been in Mali in March 2024, if we'd burned less carbon-containing fuels in recent centuries. Such claims are based upon computer models, whose results can tell you nothing other than how the computer model behaves. So, a modeller runs the model, then sees what the real-world results were, and then learns how good his model was. He doesn't learn about the real world from this. A perfect illustration of this is the UK Covid-lockdown-that-wasn't in December 2021, when the modellers predicted doom and health-system collapse in the UK if no (fourth) lockdown took place. No lockdown did take place, and the case numbers, deaths and consequences predicted did not happen. From this, any rational modeller learns that his models were severely defective. (Bit of a shame for those who endured the previous three lockdowns and their consequences, and we're still waiting for someone in authority to issue a few mea culpas over that, but I digress....). The idea that you can model the counter-factual of the weather in a particular city in a particular month is a complete inversion of the truth, and the BBC should be ashamed for making this the climax of their piece (the one that, we deduce, they want the reader to go away most impressed by).

  9. "With temperatures expected to remain above 40C in Bamako over the next few weeks, people are trying to adapt to their new normal." The temperature is over 40C in Bamako at this time of year, every year, and has been for the last few centuries. It's West Africa, on the edge of the Sahara desert (where, being a desert, by definition, it's 50C every day) and this is the hot season. There is no basis at all for the BBC to tell its readers that temperatures over 40C are a "new normal". This is simply a gross untruth.

  10. "As sun sets in the capital, Ms Konaté Traoré takes several large mats outside to her yard and lays them down." This is what many people in several West African capitals have been doing every hot season of their lives, or as much of their lives that they've lived in urban centres since moving there from the village. This is because people being able to afford electricity (whether via the state company, or solar panels with attached storage batteries) and afford fans is something that can only happen together with a certain level of financial progress and development. Without that privilege, in the city, you're surrounded by concrete, tin roofs, and other things not conducive to buildings being cool inside. The journalist doesn't deem these things worth mentioning.

  11. "The heat is showing no sign of letting up" - which isn't that surprising, given that the article has been published in the last week of April, and the rainy season arrives at the end of May, or the start of June.

In reality, the principle thing that cools people down in the Sahel area at this time of the year, and has done throughout all the years of urbanisation, is the energy that comes from burning carbon-based energy sources. It's carbon-based energy that allows millions of people (not just 15 a day here) to live in the otherwise unnatural setting of the West African city at all. Even if they have got a solar panel and battery, then this was almost certainly produced in a mine and in a factory and with transport using a lot of carbon-based energy (which they may very well never generate as much power as used in the production and transport). Otherwise, they get cool using water and being outside, as they have done for many centuries. The real threat to people's ability to cool down in the context of current urbanisation is the refusal of Western banks, NGOs and donors to fund the development of better grids because they refuse to fund projects that aren't sufficiently green according to their new standards. But solar farms don't produce at night, and power storage is very expensive (whether in Africa or in the West). As such, in West Africa, "green" power is currently not economic, and not being able to access funds unless the power is sufficiently green means that grid capacity isn't growing at the same rate as demand is, resulting in more power cuts and being very hot at night. The BBC doesn't see this as worth discussing.

You may have different views about the some of the questions above to me. Perhaps you believe that mass-scale green power can be made available in West Africa, at night times, quite easily, in a short time. I'd be glad to have that explained to me, but that's not really my point. My point is that the BBC has an agenda, and they're willing to repeatedly lie by serial omission to push it. These lies don't concern small details. They concern massive gaping facts that are evident to anyone after a few minutes. If you're a professional journalist, these aren't the sort of mistakes you can make by accident.

Saturday 24 February 2024

Have you ever put anything at risk for the Lord?

1 Corinthians 15:30 And why do we stand in jeopardy every hour? 31 I affirm, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.

In context, Paul explains that his ministry made sense, and only made sense, in the light of the fact of the resurrection of believers. Jesus Christ is already risen, and believers will also rise - and this is why they live as they do in the present age, offering their lives up for Jesus Christ. This is the rational way to live, because they cannot everything - even if they die, they shall be raised up again. Jesus is risen, and we shall rise too. Hence, risk makes sense - because ultimately, the victory is already won. It makes no sense for believers to jealously guard their comfort, their security, their peace, because these things are not in ultimate jeopardy: the resurrection means that these things cannot be lost in the end. And actually it makes no sense to try to cling on to them as the highest good, because they can't be kept. We shall lose this earthly body, so that we shall rise again in a glorious resurrection body.

I do wonder that if Paul were writing back to churches in the year 2024, if some of them wouldn't respond to him and suggest that he needed a break. "Paul, we're very concerned about you, and the extreme things that you are writing. In jeopardy every hour? This lies far outside the parameters established by our care committee and operational guidelines. You are taking yourself too seriously. Relax. Don't you believe in God's sovereignty? God doesn't need you to do this. We suggest you take a long period of leave for your mental health, and to reflect upon best practices." That is the atmosphere that we are immersed in in the modern West; these are the ideas that spontaneously come to us if we have lived there long enough. But Paul didn't believe in those ideas. He believed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and his own future resurrection because of it. Do you?

Thursday 22 February 2024

Meekness and Majesty

 I've been singing the beautiful hymn "Meekness and Majesty" since I was a small boy, but only in the last few weeks came across its inspiration.

"He is thy Lord, worship thou him... He is meek, but it is the kind of meekness that likewise takes nothing away from his majesty. The meekness and majesty of Jesus. I wish I could write a hymn about that or compose music about it. Where else can you find meekness and majesty united? The meekness was his humanity. The majesty was his deity. You find them everlastingly united in him. .... the majesty of the man who was God." - "Worship every day of the week", A W Tozer.

Thursday 25 January 2024

Are painless and comfortable deaths possible?

 I can't help noticing that in the media, two separate but linked debates go on in parallel:

  • Capital punishment: the trend of opinion in our Western culture is that this is always inhumane, and that no effective means exist for putting someone to death that are not degrading and unconscionably painful.
  • Euthanasia: here, we are told that a painless and dignified death is medically and scientifically possible for everyone, and that the only reason why euthanasia isn't generally available is because of cruel and arbitrary legal hurdles, which should be removed.

I'm not, here, going to rehearse the arguments in favour of either one or the other (though, for the record, I believe that capital punishment can be justified and is the proper judicial response to certain crimes such as murder or rape; and that euthanasia defined as the deliberate application of procedures or substances (as distinguished from the contrary declining to apply them) to cause death is morally wrong).

Rather, I'd just like to point out what you've probably already spotted: the things said about the possibility of a painless and dignified death in the case of the two debates are mutually contradictory. If such a death is possible in the case of euthanasia, then it is also possible in the case of capital punishment. Conversely, if such a death is impossible in the case of judicial punishment, then it is also impossible in the case of someone's elective decision to end their own life. Or in other words, in at least one of these two debates on this particular point, the proponents of the arguments for the popular position (against capital punishment, for euthanasia), are lying. They say that a thing is both impossible in one case, and possible in the other, in a direct formal contradiction. A painless and dignified death is either available or non-existent depending on what is being argued for and nothing else. This is deception. People making either argument should have this contradiction pointed out to them, and be challenged as to which of the two they believe to be true: pick one side and then accept the implications, not both or neither depending upon your goal.

Note that here I'm not claiming that you have to either favour both capital punishment and euthanasia, or vice-versa be against both. Either, neither or both could be argued for despite conceding that death either can or cannot be dignified and painless. My point is that if the argument is being made based upon this supposed possibility or impossibility, then the argument has to be consistent; and currently, the arguments are being made based upon the possibility or impossibility of dignity as a central plank of the argument.

The question in general of whether death can or should be made dignified or not, and to what extent (and whether the answer to that depends upon whether the death is a penal infliction or not), is worth exploring. So are the ideas of personal choice and freedom and control in Western culture and how they relate to death. But that will all have to wait for another day.

Saturday 6 January 2024

Time for self-evaluation over Covid?

A little under 4 years ago, across the UK, churches closed their doors and ceased to meet for corporate worship, meekly accepting the UK government's announcement that the worship of Almighty God, unlike in-person food shopping or physical exercise, was a non-essential activity. Church services could, it appeared, be conducted over Zoom or Youtube - whereas everyone was allowed to exercise their own discretion over whether to buy their groceries online or in person.

Whatever you think of this, I hope that we might agree that what should have happened afterwards is that churches carried out an analysis and evaluation of their decisions and responses. When new announcements were being sprung by governments with rapid fire, it could be difficult to step back and think through the principles (though you might also say that there was plenty of time during the lockdowns, and in between the lockdowns, to catch up). But supposing that it was for some reason not possible to do at the time, there's now been a few years since. What are the principles, and how should they be put into practice?

I don't hear of churches or other organisations in the UK doing this. Why not? Do we have principles? What are they and how do they relate and get applied in the difficult cases? Was this event - the making of corporate worship to be illegal - big enough to matter enough that we need to think this through? I like to think that evangelicals have principles, and that they think it's important to think through how to apply them in events of this size. It's been nearly 4 years now... please can we hear something soon?

Monday 1 January 2024

The year of our Lord, 2024

This year, the Father, Son and Spirit invite us to grow nearer to them. We are invited to have communion with the blessed and Eternal Trinity in prayer and personal worship, in meditating upon the Word, and in the corporate worship and fellowship of God's people.

The year will bring lots of duties of different kinds, according to the station that God has appointed us to in life. There will be a mixture of blessings, challenges, griefs, sorrows and joys, according to his good and perfect and loving will. But whatever else comes to pass, we are assured that there is nothing which need leave us further away from our God and Saviour. If anything does, then that is through our response to it, not through any lack of willingness or resources on God's side to draw us nearer.

It is always helpful at times of pause and reflection in the year to remember that a lot more is possible than we have yet experienced. The Bible teaches this clearly and repeatedly. "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” - Luke 11:13. "Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures" - James 4:2-3. "But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly" -  Matthew 6:6. Christian history and experience teach us too. Currently I am reading "Island Aflame", perhaps the most historically rigorous account that we now have of the 1949-52 Lewis revival (https://www.christianfocus.com/products/3130/island-aflame). There are many people who have known and experienced more of God than we have, and every last one of them was a son or daughter of Adam with the same sinful propensities, and the same glorious Saviour and God of grace, as we have. At a time around 18 years ago I had the privilege of knowing a believer in our own locality who was in Lewis at the time of the revival, and it was such a thrill to hear from him about it and pray with him. The God of the Bible, and the God of all the advances of the Christian church in the past, is alive today. He invites us to know him and walk with him. There is a cost in doing so. But it is nothing compared to the price paid if we waste our lives doing something else.

May 2024 be a year in which God visits our souls, our churches, our prayer meetings, our missions, our families and our nations, to put us down in the dust and to lift up his own glorious name, through our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.

Wednesday 29 November 2023


1 Timothy 6:2 - "And those who have believing masters, let them not despise them because they are brethren, but rather serve them because those who are benefited are believers and beloved. Teach and exhort these things."

It's often useful to notice not only what is said as the main/direct point in a verse, but also what is assumed.

The above verse is an instruction from Paul to Timothy about what should be taught to believing slaves about how to relate to their masters - in this verse, particularly, believing masters.

"[T]hose who are benefited are believers and beloved."

Because, it is implied, all believers are beloved. If you are a believer, and you meet a fellow believer, or work alongside them, or under them, or whatever, then this is your attitude to them: they are beloved, for Jesus' sake. The Beloved One counts them as beloved, and so, of course, do all of his brethren.