The Briefing, Wednesday, November 28, 2012

TODAY: The Perils of Powerball –The Losing Game of the Lottery / The Deadly Danger of a New Prenatal Test / Abortions Fall by Five Percent . . . Good News or Strange Math? / An Actor Says Watching His Own Show is “Filling Your Head With Filth” / The Ominous Threat of Inflatable Bouncers. I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview.

1. The Perils of Powerball –Why Do So Many Play the Losing Game of the Lottery?

The Powerball jackpot has now reached a record-breaking $500 million, leading to a buying frenzy of lottery tickets. As reported by The Guardian [London], this is no accident. “The big jackpot is not unexpected,” says the paper. “In fact, it is part of a plan put in place early this year to build prize funds faster, drive sales and generate more money for the states that run the game.”

That plan appears to be working. Sales of Powerball reached almost $4 billion in the 2012 fiscal year and many expect that record to be broken in 2013. Since there has been no Powerball winner since October 6, the jackpot has reached this record level — a level exceeded only by the Mega-Millions jackpot of $656 million earlier this year.

As many in the national media have pointed out, the giant jackpot actually means that any single Powerball ticket is reduced in terms of the odds. Powerball organizers estimate the odds of winning at one in 175 million.

How do those odds sound? Just consider this — ABC News has estimated that an individual is three times more likely to die from a falling coconut than to win this lottery prize.

Nevertheless, people are flocking to buy the tickets. As The Guardian reports, “It has been proved that once the jackpot reaches a certain threshold more players play.”

Who really wins? The Guardian helpfully breaks it down. For each $2 ticket, $1 goes to the jackpot and $1 goes to the state lottery as income. The Federal government takes 25% of the jackpot in taxes.

Anyway you look at it, the big winner is government, which ends up with at least 62% of all revenue. Cash-strapped governments are turning to various forms of state-sponsored gambling in order to raise revenue.

But this means that these governments have turned to prey on their own citizens, raising revenue by offering false promises of riches. Furthermore, it is well documented that the primary purchasers of lottery tickets are people in lower-income neighborhoods — the very people who can least afford to lose month by purchasing what will be worthless shreds of paper.

Christians have long opposed gambling as a vice and as a major issue of justice. Dependence on gambling ruins untold families and lives and it perverts the character of government.

The illustration offered by ABC News is powerful and unforgettable. You are three times more likely to die from a falling coconut than to win this lottery jackpot. You do the math.

2. The Deadly Danger of a New Prenatal Test

The Washington Post reports that a new prenatal test is being widely demanded by patients. The tests allow a more determinative finding of genetic abnormalities such as Down syndrome, but do not present the risks represented by invasive amniocentesis.

As Rita Rubin reports:

“With the new tests, fragments of fetal DNA extracted from the mother’s blood sample are checked for increased amounts of material from chromosomes 21, 18 and 13, a sign that the fetus carries three instead of the normal two copies of those chromosomes. In this case, more is not better. Having an extra copy of 21, a condition called trisomy 21, is the main cause of Down syndrome, while having a third copy of 18, a condition called trisomy 18, causes a less common disorder named Edwards syndrome. Trisomy 13 is also known as Patau syndrome. All three conditions are linked to serious developmental and medical problems.”

These tests are now offered to thousands of expectant mothers, and even more are demanding them. At present, the most likely mother to be offered the test is older, and thus more at risk of bearing a child with genetic abnormalities.

The main question raised in the article in The Washington Post is who will pay for the tests. Since they are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration or recognized as standard protocols, they are not covered by most insurance plans.

Completely missing from the report is any acknowledgment of the moral catastrophe these tests often cause — the abortion of unborn children deemed unworthy. For years now, it has been acknowledged that the vast majority of fetuses diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted. These tests often amount to a search and destroy mission into then womb. There was no acknowledgment whatsoever of the ethical questions involved.

In that light, consider this chilling excerpt from the article:

“Mark Evans, a Manhattan OB-GYN, says his patients want to skip the standard screening tests and go right to the new tests. ‘My patients are the average New Yorkers,’ he says, ‘who want their answers yesterday.'”

3. Abortions Fall Five Percent — Good News or Strange Math?

Mike Stobbe of the Associated Press reported last week that abortions fell five percent in 2009, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control. A five percent drop in one year would be the largest single reduction in a decade.

That is good news, of course. Any reduction in abortion is good news. According to this report, abortions fell by about 38,000 in 2009, which would mean 38,000 fewer murders in the womb. Even with this reduction, there were at least 785,000 abortions in America that year. That number defies our moral imagination.

But, were fewer abortions really performed in 2009? A closer look at the story reveals the urgency of that question.

As Stobbe reports:

“Nearly all states report abortion numbers to the federal government, but it’s voluntary. A few states — including California, which has the largest population and largest number of abortion providers — don’t send in data. Experts believe there are more than 1 million abortions performed nationwide each year, but because of the incomplete reporting, the CDC had reports of about 785,000 in 2009.”

In other words, the CDC didn’t even have information from California, “which has the largest population and largest number of abortion providers.” The CDC extrapolated the data in order to come up with its figures. Even so, the report admits that “experts believe” the actual numbers to be far larger — with more than a million abortions actually performed.

A drop in the number of abortions — any drop — would be good news, but there is actually little firm evidence that the drop actually happened.

You wouldn’t know that by looking at the headlines about the story in many newspapers. Beyond that problem, consider the fact that many media outlets asserted that the use of contraceptives was the reason for the drop.

As Stobbe’s article reported:

“The reason for the decline wasn’t clear, but some experts said it may be due to better use of birth control during tough economic times. Their theory is that some women believe they can’t afford to get pregnant.”

Several commentators skipped the fact that this is a “theory” and that the reported reduction is drawn from extrapolated data. They simply claimed that abortions dropped and that the use of contraceptives was the reason.

4. An Actor Says Watching His Own Show is “Filling Your Head with Filth.”

Angus T. Jones, the young star of CBS’s “Two and a Half Men,” recently told a church audience to stop watching his show because it is “filling your head with filth.”

The Chicago Tribune described the show as a “raunchy television comedy” that offers risque humor as its main fare.

Jones, now age 19, has been on the show for nine years. He recently identified with a California-based church, though the nature of his beliefs and the beliefs of the church are not fully clear.

What is clear is the revulsion Jones now feels toward his own program.

“‘If you watch Two and a Half Men, please stop watching Two and a Half Men,’ Jones says in a video, ‘I’m on Two and a Half Men and I don’t want to be on it. If I am doing any harm, I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be contributing to the enemy’s plan. . . You cannot be a true God-fearing person and be on a television show like that. . . .  I’m not okay with what I’m learning, what the Bible says and being on that television show.'”

Understandably, CBS declined to comment on the actor’s powerful comments.

5. The Ominous Threat of Inflatable Bouncers

The journal Pediatrics alarmed the nation’s parents in recent days with a report claiming that injuries to children in inflatable bouncers has reached “epidemic” proportions.

As USA Today summarized:

“In 2010 alone, 30 children a day were treated for these injuries in hospital emergency departments, the report says. The number of injuries increased from 702 in 1995 to 11,311 in 2010. Falls were the most common cause, followed by stunts and collisions. Smaller children are a greater risk.”

Gary Smith, the lead author of the report, claimed that the increase in injuries from inflatables is “astounding.”

That is remarkable language — proclaiming an “epidemic” threat from inflatable bouncers. The report did suggest some common sense precautions parents should keep in mind.

And parents must protect their children from harm. That is a parent’s charge.

But just how safe can a child’s life be? If inflatable bouncers represent an epidemic, where is a child safe? This story underlines the fact that there is no safe place in a fallen world — not even in an inflatable bouncer. A report issued just a few weeks ago indicated that playgrounds have been made so supposedly safe that children no longer find them playful. Today’s parents are afraid to let children be children.

In a Genesis 3 world, not even a child’s play is fully safe — not even in an inflatable bouncer.

I discuss all these stories and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview. LISTEN HERE.


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