Jimmy Akin’s Mysterious World

Mysterious World

There’s yet another new SQPN podcast I’m contributing to that I want to share with you: Jimmy Akin’s Mysterious World. As the title states, the show features Jimmy Akin, the Catholic apologist, author, and national radio host1, and me discussing the weird, the strange, the unusual, the unexplained from the twin perspectives of faith and reason. Whether it’s paranormal activity, government conspiracies, natural oddities, miraculous events, or something else out of the norm, we’ll be discussing it on the show.

If you’re over a certain age, think of it like Leonard Nimoy’s “In Search Of” or “Unsolved Mysteries,” starring Robert Stack, but from two Catholic guys.

In contrast to other similar shows, we are neither completely skeptical nor completely credulous and we always include our Catholic worldview. And if you know Jimmy at all, you know that he excels at rational, logical explorations and explanations and brings his encyclopedic knowledge to bear on whatever subject he’s discussing.

The first episode is about ghosts and you might be surprised at our conclusions. Over the next several weeks, we’ll be talking about transhumanism, Bigfoot, and Area 51, just to get started.

Please give it a listen, let us know what you think, subscribe to the feed, and share it with friends and family. Plus like, share, comment, retweet, and/or give it an iTunes review! We appreciate all your help in spreading the news of our podcasts.

As a reminder, since earlier this year I am the CEO and executive director of the StarQuest Production Network, a non-profit apostolate that explores the intersection of faith and pop culture through the medium of podcasts. You can find all our shows at SQPN.com.

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  1. He also co-hosts the Secrets of Doctor Who and the upcoming Secrets of Star Trek podcasts with me and Fr. Cory Sticha

The New Censorship

Bill of Rights

I find the mass banning of Alex Jones of Infowars from nearly every online media platform to be chilling. Sure, the case can be made that InfoWars is the source of a lot of crap online, conspiracy theories and lowest common denominator misinformation that contributes to our dark times. That’s what makes it so easy to overlook the seriousness of the current situation.

This past Monday, Apple, Facebook, Google’s YouTube, and even LinkedIn all banned Jones’ InfoWars from their platforms. Twitter is expected to follow suit. This effectively muzzles Jones, preventing his video podcast from reaching the mass audiences he’d been reaching before. Sure, he still has his web site—for now—but without YouTube, he’ll have to put together a complex and expensive streaming video solution to replace it.

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I Am Not My Stuff

Netflix Amazing Interiors

Last night, I was tooling around Netflix for something to watch and happened upon a new show, Amazing Interiors. The promo had that HGTV feel and being curious about how people renovate their homes, I decided to watch. I made it through one and half episodes and turned it off.

The premise of the show is that people have these homes that look ordinary from the outside, but are “amazing” inside, with fantastical decorations or opulence or unusual accoutrements. But what I concluded is that it’s all about the stuff.

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Acadia Camping Trip 2018

Our camping trip to Acadia in 2016 was so successful and so much fun that the kids begged to go back again this year. We’ve fallen into a pattern of alternating between a house on a lake in Acton, Maine, and camping in Acadia National Park, although I don’t know if it we’ll keep doing that, just to try something new next year.

We headed out Monday morning, but not too early. I wanted to keep a somewhat relaxed pace so as not to be too stressed, yet get there in plenty of time to set up the camp site while it was still light. So starting at 9am gave us plenty of time for a couple of stops, including a lunch picnic at the Newcastle rest area between Wiscasset and Damariscotta, Maine. It was a beautiful place overlooking a saltwater estuary that also had a bunch of milkweed and thus Monarch butterflies and caterpillars.

Along the way, we listened to the audiobook of Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons, a children’s book set in 1930s England about two brothers and two sisters who spend a summer vacation, camping on an island in a lake with their sailboat, the Swallow. My kids have been raving about it and were so excited to share it with me. I have to admit I very much enjoyed it and it made the trip really fly by.

We got to the site at Smuggler’s Den Campground in Southwest Harbor in plenty of time and started setting but ran into some snags. First, my new camping cot would not fit in the tent, not if I wanted anyone else to fit in the tent with me.1 Then the air mattress that Melanie and I usually sleep on deflated with some kind of pinprick hole. So I set up my cot again outside the tent and I was going to sleep there for the night. Meanwhile, everything was blanketed in fog and mist and it dripped on me all night from the trees.
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Grilling Essentials

I’ve always loved grilling, especially throwing some nice cuts of meat on my Weber filled with charcoal. There’s nothing like the taste of food cooked over open flames. But this year I’ve stepped it up a bit and I think it’s for two main reasons: (1) We now have a partially-covered patio where the grill can sit conveniently and (2) I now work from home so I now have the time to fire up the coals on any given night.

People who see my grilling photos on Instagram often ask me about my tools and techniques so I’ll describe my grilling set up here. To begin with, I’m a charcoal guy. A few years ago I bought a cheap propane grill on Amazon to supplement my charcoal grill and I regret that decision. I thought the convenience of propane would be useful, but I still prefer the charcoal for the smoke and flavor and it doesn’t take that much more time.

My grill is a 10+ year-old Weber Performer Deluxe, which is their standard 22-inch kettle with an attached side table and a charcoal bucket. The grill includes a propane charcoal lighter system that I never used and I use the charcoal bucket as storage, but overall I’ve loved it. I notice they’ve made some improvements over the years, especially to the table material, the wheels, and the ash catcher. But my grill is still in pretty decent shape for how old it is and how often I use it. I did replace the cooking grate once because it got rusty over one winter, but I’d say that’s pretty durable.

Instead of the propane starter, I swear by the Weber Rapid Fire Chimney Starter. I never want to taste lighter fluid on my food, so I just dump all the charcoal in the top, put a wad of paper underneath, light the paper, and in 15 minutes the coals are lit and ready to dump. No muss, no fuss.

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How I Work in 2018

It’s been three years since I first did a “How I Work” blog post (at the prompting of Tom McDonald) and since then I moved to a different full-time job and then to another (current) full-time job, where what I do is now almost completely different. And where I work has now shifted to my home office. So, I thought it would be fun to do an update of that post now. Some of the details have not changed, but I will share those that have.

Location:

South of Boston, still, but in a different town. I work from home in a room we’ve set aside as the office, but which is also our primary library and the TV room, so occasionally, usually when the weather’s too bad outside or the kids are sick, I have to vacate and work from another room in order to let the kids watch a video.

Current Gig:

I am now the CEO of the StarQuest Production Network (SQPN), a podcast network whose show explore the intersection of faith and pop culture. I first became connected to SQPN as a listener more than 10 years ago when I started listening to Fr. Roderick Vonhogen’s podcasts and then to other shows on the network after it was formed about 2006. In 2010 and again in 2013, I helped organize SQPN’s Catholic New Media Conference when it was in Boston. Around the time of the second CNMC Boston, Fr. Roderick asked me to co-host the Secrets of Star Wars podcast with him. Later, I also joined the Secrets of Doctor Who in 2014. I became a part-time executive director in 2015 and then as of January 1, 2018, Fr. Roderick stepped down as CEO and I took over, first as part-time, and then on May 1, I took on the job full-time.
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Education is Not About Making Better Workers

US Department of Education

While I am on record about favoring smaller government and in general I applaud President Trump’s recent proposal to downsize and merge some federal cabinets and agencies, something about the merger of the Departments of Labor and Education stuck in my craw.

What bothers me is how the idea betrays the current belief—which crosses party lines—that education is about raising a new generation of employees and workers.

Among the specific proposals outlined is a plan to merge the departments of education and labor into a single Department of Education and the Workforce, or DEW. The combined agency would oversee programs for students and workers, ranging from education and developing skills to workplace protections and retirement security.

We hear all the time that we need to have better schools for our children so that can have better opportunities for jobs. We see parents fretting over pre-school programs in order to ensure their children can go to the right colleges and get high-paying jobs after graduation. But is that really what education is? Is education primarily just another name for trade school?

Yes, I want my kids to have every opportunity to live out God’s plan for their lives as adults, to be able to provide for themselves and their families, to contribute to society. But I also want them to be good people. I want them to be thoughtful, intelligent, and curious about the world. I want them to enjoy the beauty that surrounds them in nature and in music, art, poetry, and books. I want them to know what it means to be a good spouse, a good parent, a good neighbor. I want them to understand history in order to make wise decisions about the future.

Education isn’t about sitting in a school for 12 or 16 or 20 years in order to secure a career. Education is about human formation, about learning to think, to know, and how to ask questions. Education is about becoming a better person.

Government is perhaps one of the worst instruments for doing any of that and the higher up the government food chain you go, the worse that it becomes. Because education is about forming individuals, whereas the federal government only sees statistical millions.

It would be better if the plan was to eliminate the federal Department of Education all together and re-examine how we go about educating children in this country. But, alas, given the state of politics today, we’d be lucky to see these two cabinet agencies merge.

Even When He’s Right, Trump is Wrong

These are strange political times we’re living in. (Congratulate me on stating the obvious.) For me, it’s because we have a president whose policies I think, in general, are taking us in the right direction, but who is personally and politically so off-base that I have a hard time reconciling the conflict. I have a former colleague who insists that stating whether we think President Trump is a good person or not is stupid, when all that matters is his policies and decisions. But the ends do not justify the means and, as was decided by many conservatives in the late 90s, character and integrity matter.

That’s all preface to my main point, which is that the way the media, both mainstream and social, are reacting to Trump is shameful, even given his character issues and boorishness. It’s one thing to to lean one way or the other in your coverage and reactions. It’s quite another to baldy distort reality, to frame every disagreement as evil intent, or to outright lie.

Some examples are in order, but keep in mind that these are by no means isolated. They are drawn at random from today’s news and are representative of the vast avalanche of similar news reports every day.

Choosing His Own People

Here’s one: The superintendent of Yellowstone National Park has been reassigned to Washington, DC, from his current plum posting, but Daniel Wenk doesn’t want to go so he’s submitted his resignation, which is his right. However, he wanted to stay in his job until next March, instead of leaving by the deadline he was given of August. The Interior Department said No and he claims to be ill-used.

Okay, that’s the bare bones of the situation, but the real media bias crops up in the last paragraph:

At least eight other senior executives are being reassigned. Critics say many of the reassignments appear to be motivated by politics, sweeping aside those who disagree with the administration on issues such as climate change, wildlife management, and wilderness preservation.

Well…yeah. Of course it’s motivated by politics. The critics seem to suggest that a President doesn’t have the right to have leaders within the executive branch who will implement his policies. Shouldn’t that be understood? The President gets to make policy. Except when it’s Trump? This is, by no means, the most egregious example of bias, but it highlights how common and mainstream it is.

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Hi, I’m a Podcaster

Well, I’m moving on again. For the past two years, I’ve been Director of Community Engagement for Massachusetts Citizens for Life, an organization doing important work holding the line on assisted suicide against well-funded opposition and helping lower the abortion rate in Massachusetts. But as of today, Tuesday, May 1, I will be leaving that job to take on the full-time position of Chief Executive Officer of the StarQuest Podcast Network (SQPN).

Those of you with a memory for minutiae may recall that I have been Executive Director of SQPN since November 2015 in a part-time capacity. Last January, however, the former CEO and co-founder of SQPN Fr. Roderick Vonhogen left SQPN to focus on his Dutch-based media organization Trideo. After much consultation and consideration of SQPN’s future, the board of directors has decided to rebuild SQPN with an exciting lineup of current and new podcast shows. Part of that rebuilding has been a recognition of the need for someone working full-time to manage everything, to be a primary host of most shows, to schedule panelists, do the audio editing, manage the web servers, and so on. That someone is me.

So now as of May, I can say with all sincerity to the question, “What do you do?”: “I am a podcaster.”

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