Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children

“I don't mean to be rude' I said, 'but what are you people?'
'We're peculiar,' he replied, sounding a bit puzzled. 'Aren't you?’
'I don't know. I don't think so.'
'That's a shame.”

Ransom Rigg's Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children was a New York Times best-seller,
reaching the #1 spot on the Children's Chapter Books list during its 90 week run. The book has sold 15 million copies, and the graphic novel adaptation checked in with a 50,000 copy first printing. A movie is in the works from 20th Century Fox (Tim Burton is the director; he is a good fit for this story). Hollow City, the 2014 second installment in the trilogy, had a 500,000 printing order for its release.

Mr. Riggs notes on his website that this book was ”born out of my love for vintage photography and bizarro stories.” It’s a cleverly told story built around a multitude of very unusual photographs he found in different vintage collections. I often don't like how pictures shape my imagination when reading a story, but in this case I enjoyed it quite a bit. Seeing the next picture - and knowing it was an actual, historical photograph - kept me engaged almost as much as the story.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

A Response To “Planned Parenthood is Not Selling Baby Parts, You F****** Idiots.”

When Skepchick Rebecca Watson wrote her now viral post on the Planned Parenthood scandal, no one had to guess which side she was defending or what she thought of the pro-life crowd. The article is worth considering – not because she's right, but because what is presented as fact is so woefully wrong in so many ways.

As I respond to her arguments, I will be quoting the shortened blog version of the video that she posted on her website. A lot of what I have to say will challenge her claim that nothing illegal is happening. The rest will hopefully point out why it shouldn't be legal in the first place.

Planned Parenthood is in the news a lot these days thanks to a maliciously edited video making it look like they SELL BABY PARTS.

First, the Center for MedicalProgress released the uncut video along with the edited one. All anybody has to do – including all the journalists and bloggers who keep repeating this silly charge - is watch the whole video or read the transcript CMP provides on its website. If CMP were trying to deceive, they would have kept the uncut video a secret.

Second, if you think the edited videos makes it ‘look like’ Planned Parenthood is selling baby parts, just watch the videos and see for yourself. You will hear the following:
  • "We don’t want to get called on…selling fetal parts across states.”
  • “If you have someone in a really ‘anti’ state doing this for you, they’re probably going to get caught.” Get caught at what? Obeying the law?
  • “I think a per item thing works a little better, just because we can see how much we can get out of it.”
  • “I think for affiliates, at the end of the day, they’re a non-profit, they just don’t want to—they want to break even. And if they can do a little better than break even, and do so in a way that seems reasonable, they’re happy to do that.” Every business would like to do a little better than break even. That's called profit. It's probably worth noting that In 2014, Planned Parenthood's revenue exceeded their expenses by $90 million.
  • “The Federal Abortion Ban is a law, and laws are up to interpretation.”
  • “Here’s the heart. My fingers will smoosh it if I try to pick it up. The heart is right there… A lot of times I‘ll get a full torso, spine, kidneys. You could send the whole thing or pick that apart… It’s a baby.” There's the baby parts. 
  • “If someone delivers before we get to see them for a procedure, then they [the babies] are intact…” Which is good for those clients who want intact babies. 
If you think I am trying to trick you or I ripping quotes out of context, please go watch the videos or read the transcripts.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The 'Ick Factor' And The Planned Parenthood Videos

While discussing the recent Planned Parenthood expose, I have been told that my opinions about abortion are influenced by the ‘ick factor.’ Apparently, my opposition to abortion can be minimized or dismissed because I think abortion is gross. If I recommend that people view a picture or video so they can be fully informed, the response is fairly consistent: “There are a lot of medical procedures I don’t want to watch. Just because seeing them might make me squeamish doesn’t mean they are a bad idea. After all, I don’t want to see what happens in a heart surgery, but heart surgeries are a good thing.”

That's true. Something is not wrong because it makes me squeamish any more than it is right because it doesn't make someone else feel the same. So is this a legitimate argument? Am I and other pro-life advocates simply wanting to create a moral framework to support our weak stomachs? Obviously, I don't think that's the case.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Best Stories

"What good are fairy tales if we can't find our way?" - Ransom Riggs, Hollow City

As the peculiar children in Ransom Rigg's series are desperately trying to find a way to save someone they love, several of the children keep reading a book of fairy tales that apparently contain important truth. One of the children complains that the tales are useless. As far as he can see, they are lost; they need concrete truth, not fanciful stories.

It's a valid concern, but not a sound one (as Hollow City eventually shows). Not all truth is didactic and plain. Some of the most important truths are conveyed to us through fictional stories. Look at the parables Jesus used: a man was walking from Jerusalem to Jericho; a woman with ten silver coins lost one; a rich man stole a poor man's lamb.  None of them were 'true' in the sense that they actually happened to a particular person, yet the were all true in a way that transcended the story itself. A story that begins "once upon a time" does not always mean falsehood is about to follow; in it's best form, it presents true embedded in a timeless kind of story - if we take the time to find it.*

So what good are fairy tales if we can't find our way? I would argue that the goodness and truth of a well-told tale (and I am broadening this term to mean any type of fictional tale, fable, parable or story that creatively imparts truth about life) is actually most valuable when we can't find our way. However, for this to be true, three key elements need to be in place: truth, honesty and hope.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

It's Not Just Entertainment

As the Traverse City Film Festival approaches, anyone going to downtown Traverse City will inevitably see one or twenty posters with this year’s slogan: “One Great Movie Can Change You.” I completely agree. This is not a new insight, of course. People have recognized the power of entertainment for thousands of years. However, the slogan has encouraged me to revisit how the arts and entertainment both reflect and shape us.

Obviously, the arts reflect us as they respond constantly to the environment in which they occur. Read any Western Civilization textbook and you will see the ebb and flow over thousands of years. If a good story, song or image doesn’t resonate with something in a person’s life, no one is going to care, and the out-of-touch artist, author, musician, or filmmaker will lose his or her audience.

But entertainment shapes our culture as well. This was clearly the case even before ubiquitous media has burrowed into our 21st century psyche. Andrew Fletcher, a Scottish writer and politician, wrote of a wise friend who believed that “if a man were permitted to make all the ballads he need not care who should make the laws of a nation…most of the ancient legislators thought that they could not well reform the manners of any city without the help of a lyric, and sometimes of a dramatic poet.”

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Inside Out

Riley is an eleven-year old girl who is not, in fact, the main character in Inside Out. Most of the plot focuses on her emotions: Joy, Anger, Disgust, Fear and Sadness. Up until this point, Riley has led a life largely controlled (literally) by Joy. But when her family moves to a new town, Joy suddenly has to compete with other emotions like Anger and Sadness in ways she did not have to before; in other words, her formerly quiet inside emotions are about to come out for the world to see.

Inside Out is the latest Pixar extravaganza from the director who brought us Up and Monsters Inc. Metacritic has given it a 93 out of 100; Rotten Tomatoes has a 98% critic rating (check out this link for some of the more choice reviews). Along with the well-deserved accolades from critics and audiences, parents of autistic kids are reporting that this movie is helping their kids better identify and express their emotion. The psychologist who helped develop Riley's inner life told Pacific Standard:
"I got an email from a mom who took her highly functioning autistic boy to the movie, and seeing the movie was the first time that this young guy had insight into his emotional difficulty. He said: "Mom, I know I have anger, fear, and disgust, but I really struggle with sadness and joy—I don't know where they are." And she said it was their breakthrough moment. I was blown away."
Inside Out is creative, insightful, funny, heart-wrenching and full of hope. I may or may not have teared up several times. I most certainly laughed. In the midst of my enjoyment, a few understated but important elements in the movie stood out to me.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Obergefell v. Hodge and the Future of Marriage

The recent Oberfell v. Hodge decisions has generated intense discussion about homosexuality, the nature of marriage, the power of the Supreme Court, the meaning of equality and rights, and the impact on churches as well as faith-based business and organizations. I don't care to jump in to any of those conversation in this post. I would like to offer a different reason that this decision concerns me. In order to do so, I need to back up 23 years.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Neil Gaiman's Interworld Trilogy: Heroes And Cautionary Tales

I was first introduced to the writings of Neil Gaiman through Neverwhere, a dark, moving, parallel universe fantasy that takes place beneath the streets of London. As I further explored his writing, I found him to be constantly creative, often profound, and entirely capable of writing books for both adult and youth audiences (American Gods and The Ocean at the End of the Lane, respectively).

The three books I have mentioned only scratch the surface: he has multiple best-selling and critically acclaimed books and graphic novels to his credit as well. Gaiman’s recently finished InterWorld trilogy is an excellent addition to his canon. It is inventive, thought-provoking, and filled with characters who embody many of that attributes to which we all should aspire.

A brief synopsis of the plot: Joey Harker discovers he is a Walker, a person with the ability to “walk” between parallel realities. He also discovers that Joeys of all shapes and sizes from these realities are part of InterWorld, and organization that seeks to keep two opposing forces, Binary and HEX, from taking complete control of all the worlds. Binary sees everything through the lenses of science and logic; Hex sees it all through the lenses of magic. One character notes:
“New worlds are always being created. Some are worlds in which science holds sway, others are worlds in which magic is the motive power. Most worlds are mixtures of the two. We of InterWorld have no problem with either ideology. Our problem is with HEX and with the Binary, who both seek to impose their belief systems and methods of reality on other worlds —sometimes through war, sometimes more subtly. InterWorld exists to maintain the balance…. 
The Binary and HEX are locked in struggle, both overt and covert, for the ultimate control of the Altiverse. They’ve been going at it for centuries, making real slow headway because of the sheer magnitude of the task. I think the last census we intercepted indicated somewhere in the neighborhood of several million billion trillions of Earths— with more of ’em popping out of the vacuum faster than bubbles in champagne… Each of them wants only one thing— to run the whole shebang.”