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Spotify is (almost) Saving Humanity

I’m listening to classical music. Vivaldi’s Four Seasons to be exact. It’s beautiful, engaging music. Rising, cresting, falling; painting pictures in my mind as I work. Somewhere between the swirling of the fall leaves and the start of the winter snow, I’m interrupted.

“Rock on with AC/DC, Def Leppard and other rock classics!” A guitar starts a mad rift of chords, electric and bass. The voice over guy yells, “Relive your past or experience something new on Spotify!”

I’m listening to classical music. Classical! Hit me with a Beethoven commercial or a Bach soundbite. What are the chances that I’m going to actually grab my mouse, switch genres, and start jamming to some, Let There be Rock?

The chances aren’t good, and that’s why Spotify announced last year that they were going to start targeting advertising in late 2014. After all, targeted ads are proven to increase revenue and click-throughs. But it hasn’t happened just yet, and with all the commotion about Taylor Swift pulling her music, and artists complaining they’re not getting paid what they’re worth, I’m glad. Spotify is doing something right, even if it’s just temporary mistake.

Take a look at your Facebook page. It’s the ultimate targeted experience. You’ve surrounded yourself with people who have the same views, same likes, same dislikes and same beliefs as yourself. Few of you actually have friends who have different views, and even if you do, they don’t show up in your news feed that often. Look at the ads that are displayed in your feed as well. They’re tailored to what you like, and it increases the likelihood that you’ll click one of those ads and ch-ching! Someone, somewhere, made some money. Unless it’s one of those Christian singles ads, that nobody clicks- Just because you’re a Christian and single, doesn’t mean you’re looking for “Hot Christian Singles in Your Area!”

Even I recognize my Facebook page as a narrow section of my world view. I have few friends with diverse viewpoints, and the people that are volatile are hidden from my feed because they cause too many fights. I can’t keep up with their nonsense during the busy day. I’m in a few groups that post things that are contrary to my worldview, but I’ve hidden most of the members on those groups as well, just to give myself a little bit of peace when I scroll through my feed. Even though I support most members of these groups, it’s hard to see dozens of posts a day that I can’t agree with. I’m wrong by hiding these posts- hiding these people- but Facebook allows me to do it, and they profit from the way that most people want to function in their social life.

See, real life doesn’t work this way. I can’t just go outside of my house, go to a meeting, work or the store without experiencing people with different views. I can’t just hide and ignore those people, even if it would make my life more convenient.

On a micro level, targeted advertising still exists apart from the Internet. For example, I’m more likely to see salsa next to chips, and a food billboard next to an exit, but there isn’t a practical way to “hide homeless man” or “remove People Magazine from your checkout lane.” As we become more reliant on digital technology, we will start seeing more targeted advertising affecting us outside of the net, and this is a bad thing for you and me, because it closes us off from the reality that we’re not the most important people in the world.

Even this article, which you found through Google or through Facebook or through Twitter, is brought to you by targeted preference, and that’s just a little bit scary, because it’s part of the way that your lifestyle has already been picked for you.

I don’t get the luxury of missing the screaming electrics of AC/DC because I don’t like it. I don’t get to skip the Bach commercial either. I’m subject to whatever the advertiser puts out there, and because of that, I’m more likely, even if it’s just a small chance, to broaden my horizons. I’m more likely to try something new. The Internet shrinks with targeted advertising, and removes what people call the spice of life: diversity. Spotify may not be the best company, but right now, I don’t think it’s too far of a shot to say that they’re saving humanity by preserving diversity.

10 Reasons to Move to Ireland Again

I’ve never written an article expecting a huge amount of traffic to hit my blog. It always comes as a surprise to me when I meet up with someone who reads what I’ve written online. I start telling a story, and they laugh and state, “Oh, I read about that on your website!” When an article does catch on, you’re subject to thousands of opinions and thousands of eyes. That’s what happened with an article that I wrote six years ago at 18.

10 Reasons to Move to Ireland has been one of the most read articles on my website and even today, I’ll receive comments like the one below:

“The very first reason is something to be worried about: the strong Catholic influence that exist in Éire. […] In my opinion it’s a country that should put religion aside to ponder about pro-choice abortion, voluntary euthanasia and gay marriage.”

Comments like these are the reason why I feel the need to revisit the post, and explain my malformed, 18-year-old logic.

9). The Irish are friendly. If Ireland is known for one thing it’s the fact that everyone is considered a neighbor. Fitting in wouldn’t be any problem at all.

I got this wrong. So did the all the travel sites that I researched about Ireland while writing this article. Maybe the Irish are are friendly, or maybe I got my friendliness from my dad’s side of the family- Lithuania! Maybe the Irish are just sensitive and touchy when people disagree with them. Either way, over the last six years, I’ve received so many volatile comments from Irish names, that I’ve not approved most of them.

7). The death rate in Ireland is the lowest in the whole UK and it is positive to note that no tourists have ever been killed there.

Teenage ignorance and poor phrasing doesn’t help when you’re writing an article that goes viral. Northern Ireland is part of the British Isles, while the rest of Ireland is not. That isn’t to say that the people living in the Republic of Ireland are British. That would be a huge mistake. They are Irish and you’d better not forget it.

2). The Irish aren’t afraid of demanding freedom. Look at the old IRA fighting for Ireland against the English. Even though they were considered terrorists they still stood up for what was right.

My 1/8th Irish doesn’t allow me much of a right to speak much about the IRA. There were horrible things that took place between the Protestants, Catholics, British and Irish. Brits kicked in doors, shooting families and even pets. IRA fighters seemed to try to avoid civilian loss by calling ahead, before blowing up buildings. Even so, hundreds of innocent civilians were killed. On both sides of the fence, Northern Ireland and Southern, there is deep hurt and a lot of bitterness.

1). Ireland is one of the only countries in the world that has kept abortion illegal.

This was the most contested points in the original article,”Isn’t this a reason not to move to Ireland?” I understand that this is because many of my commenters are pro-choice, a view much different than mine. Just the numbers astonish me, though they do little to show the evil that abortion is. Since 1973, the United States has preformed over 54 Million abortions. It would take you four and a half years to count to 54 million. In that time, another four million abortions would happen. Yet in Ireland, only four thousand abortions would happen in that time. If you are pro-choice, please take the time to read a site like Abort73. It’s important.

When I thought about writing this article, I assumed that getting it on paper would reveal huge changes to me. That wasn’t exactly true. Even though I expounded on the points that I made, I still find most of them to be accurate to who I am. That’s comforting, even if it means that I don’t know that much about Ireland. Someday, I’ll visit the land of the green, and then I’ll be an expert!

HSLDA & Heidi St. John Refuse to Support Victims of Abuse

In response to the allegations brought against them, HSLDA issued a public statement and Heidi St. John’s assistant posted another statement her personal Facebook. I’ll let you read the statements below, but they miss one vital detail – a detail that removes all sincerity and exposes a truth that organizations and leaders are prone to forget: homeschoolers are not just your audience, they are individuals who will continue to be hurt, broken, and trampled upon if you continue to turn your back.

HSLDA’s  Statement:

Thank you for sharing your concerns with us. HSLDA does not condone covering up sexual abuse. Sexual abuse is a crime and should always be reported to the police.

In addition, HSLDA does not get involved in conflicts between families or individuals. P
rofessionals trained in mediation and arbitration are better suited than us to resolve civil disputes. Our mission is to protect the homeschooling rights of our member families, not to be the police force of the homeschooling movement.

From HSLDA, on their Facebook page, no text modified.

Heidi St. John’s statement:

For more than six months now, a variety of accusations have been swirling within a fringe segment of the homeschool community suggesting that I, along with other respected homeschool leaders, have been involved in a “scandal.”

In a series of increasingly wild allegations, I have been accused of all sorts of terrible things, including causing a homeschool vendor to be disinvited from a homeschool convention.

I did not request anyone be disinvited from a convention. I did not cover up a child abuse scandal. Both of these accusations are completely false.

While the Internet provides a wonderful platform for encouragement and information, I am now learning first-hand that it can also be used to spread false information. It is a place where people of character can have their reputation attacked with little recourse.

Even my blog post has been used against me; proof that words written from a good heart with good intentions can be twisted by a clever wordsmith with evil intentions.

God’s Word is clear:
A tree is known by its fruit.

From Heidi St. John’s assistant’s Facebook page, no text modified.

The Truth

Notice how both of these statements avoid addressing the victims of the abuse? HSLDA states that abuse should be reported to the police, and Heidi St. John doesn’t address the concerns of the victims at all. Furthermore, she flat out denies any wrong doing on her part, even though there is email documentation of her refusal to support victims of sexual abuse, and her subsequent actions, banning a an employee from a homeschool convention.

There is nothing written in either response that would suggest that HSLDA or Heidi St. John are sincerely concerned about the people their actions (or lack thereof) affect, but only about the platform those people create for them. Sexual abuse is more than just a “scandal,” it’s the destruction of an individual’s life.

Why Do HSLDA  and Heidi St. John Choose to Remain Silent?

Just weeks ago, HSLDA wrote a large article titled, “A Line in the Sand.” You can read that article on the HSLDA site, but one thing that stands out to me, is the fact that HSLDA is responding to the downfall of two homeschool leaders: Doug Phillips and Bill Gothard. In the article Michael Farris, HSLDA chairman writes,

Although some people want HSLDA to be the police force of the homeschooling movement—removing those who miss the mark in some manner—that is not our role. Even though I have been uncomfortable with the teaching coming from each of these men for several years, it is not my place to try to remove viewpoints from the homeschooling community just because the HSLDA board or I hold a different view. Our role is to defend the freedom of everyone to homeschool. […] But with these recent scandals in view, we think it is now time to speak out—not about these men’s individual sins, but about their teachings.

Unfortunately in regards to Doug Phillips and Bill Gothard, they were already excommunicated from the homeschool community. They were already on their way out. HSLDA had nothing to lose, except members with controversial teachings, when they chose to “draw their line in the sand.”

What’s more unfortunate, however, is the fact that HSLDA believes that defending the freedom of the homeschool movement is best done by legally protecting our rights as a whole, while failing to acknowledge the role individuals play in the health and safety of the community that makes up that whole.

Leaders who choose to support individuals and national companies who cover up or perpetrate sexual abuse are ruining the credibility of the whole movement.

The best way to protect our freedom is to protect our children by holding those in leadership accountable especially when there has been a public outcry that has been as thoroughly documented as this one.

What Can HSLDA, Heidi St. John and Homeschool Leaders Do?

  • They can launch an internal investigation and respond with compassion to the people who have been hurt by sexual abuse.
  • They can stop supporting the leaders and companies who coverup sexual abuse and engage them in a one-on-one conversation, encouraging them to publicly apologize and show they are willing to be accountable to the homeschool community for past failures to report sexual abuse and bullying the victims into silence.
  • Keep them accountable for future actions.
  • If they fail to meet these requirements, they should require the leaders in question to step down.

Where Homeschoolers Will Fail

The homeschool movement doesn’t need its leaders to turn their backs when so many witnesses have come forward and brought to light the issues surrounding a pattern of  sexual abuse coverup. We need honesty, truth, and justice for those who have been abused, and future protection for parents and children who find themselves under the authority of the leaders in question.

There are those who believe that holding the leaders in question accountable will result in the legislation of homeschooling or even possibly the end of homeschooling altogether. The truth is, homeschooling will only self-destruct if we fail to keep our children safe and hold individuals who represent the movement accountable when their actions are brought into question. We will only fail if we fail our children.

An Open Letter to Heidi St. John

It’s difficult to write about sexual abuse, especially when the response to accusations have been met with complete silence. If you haven’t read about TOS, Heidi St. John and HSLDA, take a moment to go over this post detailing the actual events.

Dear Heidi St. John,

I’ve known your family for a long time. I’ve always thought of you as good people, and I’ve always thought your ministry was an important part of the homeschooling community. During the time that I spent with your family, I never thought there would come a day when you would choose to place your ministry and the entire homeschool community in jeopardy by remaining silent and supporting the very people who are covering up the sexual abuse of children in our midst and threatening those who are trying to expose it.

Heidi, you’ve written on your personal blog before about abuse in the homeschool community. I understand that it may cost you something to speak up at this time. It might cost you customers, it might cost you your reputation with a specific group of people, but it won’t cost you your credibility. The only thing that reduces your credibility is ignoring the pain of sexually and physically abused children.

On your blog you have said:

“What’s more troubling to me is the lack of concern that the homeschool community seems to have for the victims of Gothard’s and Phillips teachings. There seems to be more concern for protecting these men and their “ministries” because it may have a negative impact on homeschooling than for the lives of the people who have been hurt and abused. What in the world are we thinking?

These things are written on the internet. They don’t go away. The Google search results, the fake twitter accounts, they’ll turn up the stories of abuse, even if you refuse to respond to them. Even if you delete the comments and blacklist the users (like you’ve done on Facebook), the stories will still be there and people will find them and they’ll wonder, “Why didn’t these leaders stand up to the bullies and protect the children?”

This isn’t about you. This isn’t about a feud between sisters. This isn’t about me taking sides or drawing a line in the sand. This is about the children and their future, and the future of homeschooling in this country – something I am concerned about as my own child grows up.

There is a warning in Isaiah 1 to all who cover up the sin of others and repress the truth:  “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow.

Please don’t let your ministry become meaningless. Don’t let the daily sacrifices you make be in vain.

Seek justice, Heidi.

I’d like to quote your own words as an appeal:

“Don’t turn away. Like a virus, sin festers and grows when it is ignored. Where forgiveness is needed, I pray we will forgive. Where repentance is required, I pray there is repentance.”

Please take this seriously, Heidi. The homeschool community, the Christian community and the world is watching. Most importantly, God is watching, and He has taken up the cause of the abused.

-Eric Novak

This letter was sent to Heidi St. John on 10/10/14, and no response was received. Comment on the TOS, HSLDA and Busy Mom (Heidi St. John) pages, and let them know that they can’t continue to hide sexual abuse.