Manipur, India, horses, polo and societal change: So what's missing in this picture?

Manipur, India, horses, polo and societal change: So what's missing in this picture?

In the beginning, it appeared to be merely a story about quasi-abandoned horses in northeastern India and for the most part, that’s what “In the Kingdom of Dying Ponies” was a recent offering of Foreign Policy Review.

Until I began realizing the scene was set in Manipur, that neglected corner of India that tourists rarely get to. Northeastern India is the one part of the country that is either majority Christian or has equal parts Hindu and Christian, which is the case with Manipur.

A bit of history: It was mainly the Baptists who swept through the area converting folks in the late 19th century, plus establishing schools, hospitals and translating the Bible into their language. That area of India has seen its Muslim population grow due to immigration from nearby Muslim-majority Bangladesh.

So … in a piece about society in Manipur, would you expect to see at least a little bit about the religious demographics happening there?

Two paragraphs into the piece:

Polo is the archetypal sport of snobs. But in Manipur, where the British learned of the game before introducing it to the world -- or at least the aristocracy -- polo is still a commoner’s game. And the exalted status of the Manipuri pony, the only breed used at the Manipur tournament, is one reason why. The indigenous semi-feral pony is a sacred figure for residents of Manipur, featuring prominently in the ritual life of the Meitei people, the area’s majority ethnic group. The ponies are treated as regal mounts, never put to labor, and trace their origin in local lore to the Pegasus-like Samadon Ayangba, the “swift first among beasts.

The Meitei, by the way, are Hindu.

But the ponies’ regal status has not stymied their slow demise. For decades, the ponies’ numbers have gradually dropped and now there are thought to be only around 500 left. In Imphal, one spots them on the streets, huddled together in pitiful herds, red-eyed, skinny, and surrounded by honking traffic. At night, they forage through garbage piles alongside cows and mongrels. Many of them seem hardly in a condition to be used in sport, which is just as well, because there are far fewer places in Manipur to play polo than there once were. “People in Manipur have forgotten the legacy of the pony,” lamented one local musician.
The ponies’ sorry state is a symbol, and result, of Manipur’s own downward trajectory. For centuries a prosperous, independent kingdom, it is today a pariah on India’s fringes. If it is ever in the national conversation, it is over its separatist unrest, heavy militarization, endemic corruption and overall dysfunction. But for residents of the New Jersey-sized state, the biggest shift isn’t just the violence and disorder -- it’s the area’s marginalization, and the way it has sapped the city’s pride, autonomy, and political will.

The author only sees political reasons behind the region’s poverty of spirit. Something is missing.

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Hey Dallas Morning News, feel free to connect the dots on pastor's links to Texas attorney general

Hey Dallas Morning News, feel free to connect the dots on pastor's links to Texas attorney general

My bad. I gave in to the clickbait.

I receive a regular email of top headlines from the Dallas Morning News.

On an email Sunday, the Dallas newspaper touted a story reporting that "Attorney General Ken Paxton's pastor sues lead witnesses in criminal case."

Interesting, I thought. So I clicked. 

It turns out that Paxton attends Prestonwood Baptist Church, a Dallas-area megachurch accustomed to making headlines. 

The Rev. Jack Graham, a former Southern Baptist Convention president, is Prestonwood's pastor. But that's not who the headline is talking about.

The lede:

AUSTIN — Attorney General Ken Paxton's pastor has sued the lead witnesses against him in his upcoming criminal trials. 
Last week, Prestonwood Baptist Church Executive Pastor Mike Buster filed a lawsuit against Rep. Byron Cook and Florida businessman Joel Hochberg, the two men named on Paxton's fraud indictments. Paxton attends Prestonwood's main campus in Plano.
Buster alleges that Cook and Hochberg bilked him out of about a half-million dollars, described as "a substantial percentage of his personal net worth." Cook was manager of an energy asset management company that Buster says recommended he purchase mineral rights from Cook and Hochberg "at exorbitant markups and after very short holding times."

Later in the story — for those not familiar with Paxton's legal troubles — the paper notes:

Paxton, a Republican, was indicted in July 2015 on two first-degree felony charges accusing him of defrauding Cook and Hochberg in a tech startup investment scheme. He is also accused of funneling clients to a friend's investment firm without being properly registered with the state. 
He faces maximum penalties of 99 years in prison and tens of thousands of dollars in fines if found guilty. Paxton has flatly denied the allegations and blamed them on a political witch hunt perpetrated by Hochberg and Cook, also a Republican.

OK, so what is the connection between Buster and Paxton? Good question. At least I think so. Apparently, the Dallas Morning News disagrees. Or maybe this quick-hit story was all about the clickbait.

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Hey USA Today: What did Mike Pence have to say about Notre Dame and free speech?

Hey USA Today: What did Mike Pence have to say about Notre Dame and free speech?

One of the most basic story assignments in all of journalism is covering a speech, especially one delivered in ordinary language to a general audience (as opposed to, say, a scientist speaking in science lingo to a room full of science pros).

First of all, you have to get the words of the speech right. Then you need to understand them, figure out the contents that might be newsworthy and then, if relevant, get reactions from people the room, from experts or from the wider public.

But it's sort of important to cover the speech. Right?

Take, for example, the appearance by Vice President Mike Pence at the University of Notre Dame. As you would expect, liberal Catholics were not amused by his presence at commencement, even though he was raised Catholic and is Indiana's former governor. Everyone knew there would be protests, since there are plenty of students and faculty on campus who would have protested even if a conservative Catholic bishop, archbishop or cardinal showed it. #DUH

USA Today, via Religion News Service, did a great, great, great job of covering the protests. First rate. But what did Pence have to say? Was it worth a word, a phrase or even a sentence?

Hold that thought.

Clearly what mattered here was the LGBTQ protesters and others who have perfectly obvious disagreements with Pence (and Donald Trump, of course). Here is the overture:

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (USA Today) When Mike Pence took the stage at Notre Dame’s commencement on Sunday, more than 100 students quietly got up from their seats and left. There were a few cheers. Some boos.
This was not a surprise, but rather a staged protest some students had been planning for weeks. When Notre Dame announced that the vice president and former governor of Indiana would be the university’s 2017 graduation speaker in March, the student organization WeStaNDFor began brainstorming ways to take a stand.

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The Economist explains 2016: Evangelicals sure love money and Donald Trump

The Economist explains 2016: Evangelicals sure love money and Donald Trump

It's certainly one of the iconic images from the early 2016 rallies that, to the shock of the all-wise politicos everywhere, helped push Citizen Donald Trump into the White House.

I am referring to the viral image at the top of this post, a picture -- with mocking variations -- that can be found all over the place in cyberspace.

What made this image so perfect? Perhaps it was something about the combination of reality-TV ecstasy on certain faces and that "Thank You Lord Jesus for President Trump" sign.

For many journalists it perfectly captured what they wanted to believe, which was that Trump was the official candidate of white evangelical Protestants. The most deplorable of the deplorables.

After the election, this simplistic view of the primaries evolved into a similar verdict on election 2016, which was that if you wanted to know who to blame (yes, yes, yes) for President Trump that would be angry white men in blue collars and/or white evangelicals. From a true-blue cultural perspective, what's the difference?

Actually, there are lots of differences. As one pollster told me, there's a big difference between Saturday night conservatives and Sunday morning conservatives. There are bar conservatives and church conservatives. In the primaries, the church crowd was really divided and highly conflicted, in terms of backing (to one degree or another) Trump. He had some key old-right religious backers, in the primaries, but there was zero evangelical unity.

This brings me to a stunningly simplistic essay in a source where you aren't supposed to find simplistic journalism -- The Economist. The headline: "Why evangelicals love Donald Trump."

So right there you have trouble. You know that this really means white evangelicals. Or how about Latino evangelicals, who may have given Trump Florida?

Never mind. Here's the overture:

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What does Christianity teach about protecting yourself (think motorcycling)?

What does Christianity teach about protecting yourself (think motorcycling)?

BARBARA’S QUESTION:

My son is in his 20s. He’s a devoted Christian. He also loves motorcycles. I hate them, and have seen too many young people killed on them. He says ‘Mom, if it’s my time, it’s my time.’ How can I caution him and make him take me seriously? I think the Lord gives you the good sense to make good decisions.

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

“Religion Q and A” usually avoids personal issues on which mere journalists have little to offer. But Barbara raises an important topic to examine: What in fact does Christianity say about protecting yourself from physical harm?

Mom certainly has a point, given National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data. On a per-mile basis, U.S. motorcyclists are killed in traffic 27 times more often than those using other vehicles, and they’re 6 times more likely to suffer injuries short of death. The latest report last August said 2015 motorcycle fatalities jumped 8.3 percent from the prior year, to 4,976, with 1,365 of these involving alcohol impairment. The proportion of motorcyclists among all traffic deaths was 11 percent in 2006 and increased to 14 percent in 2015.

As politicians and the media popularize expanded marijuana usage, on top of the huge and lethal problem of drunk driving, all categories of highway homicide may well increase. A 2013 report showed 10 million people age 12 and up admitted driving under the influence of illegal drugs. We lack good numbers on how often pot or other drugs cause deaths with motorcycles or otherwise because police lack a reliable roadside test, and those who die often combine drugs with alcohol so it’s impossible to say which substance was to blame.

One thing about motorcycling, though. At least the hands are engaged so riders aren’t distracted with text messaging, an increasing and deadly plague.

All of the above, combined with the son’s cavalier and immature remark about death and danger, bring us to the broader theme of what his Christian religion teaches.

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Podcast thinking: Do Pokemon Go protesters have a right to crash worship services?

Podcast thinking: Do Pokemon Go protesters have a right to crash worship services?

The other day, during my first GetReligion meditation on a nasty protester who invaded a symbolic Russian church while playing Pokemon Go, I asked readers to ponder a hypothetical case under what could be considered parallel circumstances.

I asked what German authorities would do if alt-right Holocaust deniers invaded Berlin's Ryke Street synagogue during worship, approached the Bimah, did some kind of mocking behavior and later posted a nasty, anti-Semitic video that offered an F-bomb version of a Jewish prayer.

Then I argued that, in a news account about this event, journalists would need to let readers know the details of what happened in that sanctuary. Did the protester interact with a rabbi? What service was taking place? What was being said in the prayers? Was the protester asked to leave? 

In other words, I was requesting basic, factual questions so readers could picture the scene. These were the same questions I thought journalists should have asked about that Pokemon Go video that a protester filmed during a prayer service at the Church of All Saints in Yekaterinburg, 900 miles east of Moscow. This sanctuary was built on the site where Czar Nicholas II and his family were executed by the Bolsheviks.

At the end of this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in), I thought of another "sacred" setting that might be relevant for U.S. journalists.

Instead of worship services, let's talk about Broadway. What if some Donald Trump supporters invaded a performance of "Hamilton," approached the stage, ignored requests to leave, and later posted a racist video about this act of symbolic speech? Would authorities have taken any kind of action?

To answer that question, wouldn't you need to know some of the actual details of what happened?

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Early 2020 contender? Dream #NeverTrump candidate makes political waves with a new book

Early 2020 contender? Dream #NeverTrump candidate makes political waves with a new book

Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse has a new book out called "The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis — and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance." 

I'll pause for a second so you can catch your breath after that title ...

Yes, that was a childish thing to say. My apologies.

But seriously, Time is pretty certain the book marks a first step toward the Republican senator — whom the magazine dubs "the Anti-Trump" — making a White House run:

Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse is not yet running for President, and his new book, The Vanishing American Adult, is not about politics, policy or his own life story, all of which someone like him would normally write about if he were thinking about running for President.
"I'm pretty certain the President is never mentioned at any point in this book," Sasse, a Republican, told me when I asked him about Donald Trump as we recently sat outside a café a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol. "I want to move upstream from politics to have that conversation about all the things that we should want for our kids."
But jump-starting a postpartisan national conversation about what the nation should want for its children is exactly the sort of thing someone who is looking to run for President might do. And the solutions that Sasse proposes are, in many cases, precisely the opposite of the examples set by Trump or Hillary Clinton, both of whom Sasse has criticized for failing to behave like "you know ... an adult."
For Sasse, emotional and intellectual maturity is a lockpick for the nation's future. He speaks of an American crisis of loneliness and disconnection; he calls for parents to take back responsibility for their children's upbringing from schools and for children to resist consumerism, travel widely, work hard and "become truly literate," with a reading list that resembles a graduate-seminar syllabus. His personal canon contains unexpected choices for a conservative Republican: books by Aldous Huxley, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin and Karl Marx, along with Augustine and Alexis de Toqueville.

Way back in August, GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly noted that Sasse is "a hero of religious and cultural conservatives" and "was the dream #NeverTrump third-party candidate after Trump's victory in the primaries."

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Alaska media don't get trans United Methodist minister-turned-activist

Alaska media don't get trans United Methodist minister-turned-activist

While teaching at the University of Alaska two years ago, I picked up a lot of resentment on the part of the residents against what they call Outsiders (with a capital “O”) showing up in the 49th state and telling Alaskans what to do.

Alaska has a large transient population (including a lot of military personnel who transfer in and out), so lots of folks there figure that until you’ve lasted through a few winters, you’re just passing through.

Still, many Alaska residents have come from somewhere else.

One of the folks who arrived there several years ago was a transgendered United Methodist minister. I’ll return in a moment to the history of Drew Phoenix but first, I want to point out how he made the news this week in this story from the Associated Press:

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) -- The Alaska Legislature on Tuesday rejected the appointment of Drew Phoenix, a transgender man, to serve on the state’s human rights commission.
The vote came near the end of an hours-long joint session called to consider Gov. Bill Walker’s nominees to boards, commissions and administration posts. Phoenix was the only nominee to be voted down.
Leading up to the vote, some conservative groups sought to paint Phoenix, who has advocated for LGBT rights, as too political for the post.

The story then includes some vague quotes from a Republican and a Democrat and then:

In a phone interview Tuesday evening, Phoenix said he was “incredibly upset and disheartened” by the vote.
“I just find it so ironic that somebody like myself, with so much years’ experience personally and professional working on behalf of human rights, that they would not confirm me to the commission on human rights,” he said.
Phoenix said a state Senate committee that held confirmation hearings asked him questions related to his work as a transgender man with the LGBT community and if, given the opportunity, he would work to advance issues of equality for the LGBT community through the commission. He said he replied that, if that’s what the commission seeks to do, he would.
He said one conservative group has framed the advancement of LBGT people as posing a threat to religious freedom. He said he is an ordained Christian minister and values religious freedom.

“He said” he is an ordained Christian minister? That isn't an established fact?

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When prayer precedes a couple adopting seven kids — all at once — there might be a holy ghost

When prayer precedes a couple adopting seven kids — all at once — there might be a holy ghost

GetReligion reader Mark Burke spotted a holy ghost in a CNN feature on a George couple who adopted seven kids — all at once.

Regular readers know that we define ghosts (as they relate to mainstream media coverage of religion) this way:

Day after day, millions of Americans who frequent pews see ghosts when they pick up their newspapers or turn on television news.
They read stories that are important to their lives, yet they seem to catch fleeting glimpses of other characters or other plots between the lines. There seem to be other ideas or influences hiding there.
One minute they are there. The next they are gone. There are ghosts in there, hiding in the ink and the pixels. Something is missing in the basic facts or perhaps most of the key facts are there, yet some are twisted. Perhaps there are sins of omission, rather than commission.
A lot of these ghosts are, well, holy ghosts. They are facts and stories and faces linked to the power of religious faith. Now you see them. Now you don’t. In fact, a whole lot of the time you don’t get to see them. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

The CNN story, with the headline "The Clarks just went from a family of 3 to a family of 10," hints at a ghost way up high:

(CNN) From the photographs, you can tell they are already a family. There's Jessaka and Justin Clark, and their biological son, Noah. Then there are seven other smiling faces: Maria, Elizabet, Guillermo, Jason, Kristina, Katerin and James; the newest additions to a clan brought together by a little bit of good timing and a lot of courage.
The Clarks, who live in Rincon, Georgia, were exploring adoption options when their caseworker brought them an unusual proposition: Instead of one or two children, what about seven, all at the same time?
"We prayed about it for one night before we said yes," Jessaka Clark told CNN.

Burke said in an email:

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