Saturday, April 22, 2017

The March For (At Least Some Of) Science

“In a way, the worldview of the Party imposed itself most successfully on people incapable of understanding it. They could be made to accept the most flagrant violations of reality, because they never fully grasped the enormity of what was demanded of them, and were not sufficiently interested in public events to notice what was happening. By lack of understanding they remained sane. They simply swallowed everything, and what they swallowed did them no harm, because it left no residue behind, just as a grain of corn will pass undigested through the body of a bird.” (George Orwell, 1984)
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The March For Science, according to various news article I have read, was focused on the value of evidence-based science, an enterprise that is apparently under fire. I suspect this is mostly a political broadside against President Trump, specifically when it comes to global warming,vaccines, and alternative theories to evolution.

Now, I am a fan of both science and evidence. Though the march is largely symbolic and baldly political, I don’t think anyone actually thinks the theoretical framework of the march is problematic (“Boo evidence and science! Stop learning stuff!"). However, the march seemed to me to be somewhat naive and far too narrowly focused.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Being People of Truth in a False World

I don't think it's a secret that truth is in trouble. The internet was supposed to make available all the knowledge of the world and as a result enlighten the ignorant masses ("Knowledge Is Power! A Computer In Every Pot!"). We have access to more information in a moment than most people in the history of the world had in several lifetimes.

So what do we do with it other than search for porn? We squander this intellectual gift by living in an egocasting bubble where we let the echo chamber of our choosing confirm our biases and deaden our ability to think broadly and deeply about, well, anything except porn.

I don't mean to be pessimistic. Well, no, actually I do. I am really discouraged about the content and style of our cultural conversation. The internet has made us more shallow, more bombastic, more sheltered than ever before. We hide behind informational walls. We attack with our avatars in ways we never would if we had to actually talk to real people face to face. We have learned that the sound bite, the click bait title, and the bomb thrower gets the fame. We reject serious news in favor of titillating fake news that promises an emotional orgy of either self-affirmation or gleeful demonization of the "other."

There is no easy fix. We are sowing ignorance, bias and lies, and we are reaping the consequences. The solution - if it's not too late - is sowing knowledge, objectivity, and truth, and doing so with wisdom, patience, boldness and kindness. In the service of this goal, I offer the following ways to pursue the creation of a culture committed to truth.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Men, Women, And The Line Between Objectification and Empowerment

I'm about to wander into a minefield.

I want to offer a man’s perspective about whether or not women's attempts at empowering women actually do or don’t empower them in the most meaningful sense of the word - at least based on how men perceive or experience this quest. Just what everyone was hoping for, right? A man talking about women's empowerment. I just ask that you bear with me. I am increasingly convinced that unless we build a bridge between how men and women understand this issue we will not make necessary progress as a culture.

I will not be building the entire bridge with this article. Not even close. At best, I am offering a supporting strut by attempting to explain how men view this issue for the sake of clarity and truth. I want to live in a world where everyone is granted intrinsic value as human beings, a world where justice and peace rule the day. That's my goal, and I hope these thoughts contribute to that end. 

Let's tiptoe through this.
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We live in a visual culture, a world in which the medium is often just as impactful as the message. Content, said media analyst Marshall McLuhan, cannot easily be separated from form.  In addition to just being a visual culture, we are increasingly a pornified culture. The statistics are sobering to say the least. Thanks to the internet, we have access to pornography in ways that are unprecedented in the history of the world. The vast majority of consumers are men. 70% of men ages 18-24 visit porn sites in a typical month. Why? Because nature or nature’s God (depending on your worldview) has wired men to be visually stimulated. I don’t think this is a debated issue. Men are turned on by sight.  Psychology Today quoted several researchers who have noted, “Men’s brains are designed to objectify females.” They talk about the unwilled connection between a man's brains and his genitals that begins with a sensitivity to visual cues. "Men’s brains scrutinize the details of arousing visuals with the kind of concentration jewelers apply to the cut of a diamond.”

Monday, March 27, 2017

Logan

Logan is the way the cinematic Wolverine saga had to end. It's gritty, dark, and sobering not just in the violence and language (it earns its R rating) but in the overall atmosphere. If you have seen the previews with Johnny Cash's cover of "Hurt" playing in the background, you have a pretty good idea of how the movie feels.  The story doesn't end the same way the comic book arc does, but it is a movie that makes sense as the final installment in Wolverine's cinematic movieverse.

In the comics, Wolverine is something of a sacrificial lamb. He’s the best there is at what he does so others don't have to be. In more recent years he has looked at his past and thought, "Fate has put me through these things, so I know why I have to protect those in my charge." He eventually replaces Professor Xavier as both the physical and moral leader of the X-Men. He's the guy who has seen and done the worst things in humanity and has come through it.

Not so in the cinematic universe. Logan was never a hero in the grandest sense of the word. He was a monster channeled toward the good, a weapon of mass destruction aimed toward causes that were often just. There was always an edge to him – but that’s the appeal of the Wolverine, right? He wasn’t a tame wolverine. The instincts of the Law Of Tooth And Claw always coursed through his veins.

Xavier harnessed him; various women tamed him for a time; he had a soft spot for protecting vulnerable children. We occasionally glimpsed a tender soul buried beneath the muscle, hair and adamantium-bound bone. He was a guy you wanted on your side: he was durable and loyal; he didn’t mess around when there was a job to be done; he was willing to be the monster when he needed to be and sheathe his claws when he didn’t.

But he was always a monster. There were always demons lurking beneath the surface. "There's no living with a killing," Shane says in one scene. "There's no going back." Logan makes that reality very clear. The X-Men kept Wolverine in check; they certainly played a part in his his moral and relational formation. He was a better man for having sided with them, but he was always a monster.

In Logan, we see the real Logan re-emerge.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Girl With All The Gifts

When I first heard about The Girl With All The Gifts, I was intrigued. It was getting rave reviews as a clever and thought-provoking take on the zombie apocalypse genre; once I saw it was heading to the big screen, I figured I would see if it deserved the hype.

It does. I say that with a lot of qualifications, however. It is both clever and thought-provoking, a story that stands out in a genre that can quickly devolve into mere gore. As far as a story that uses zombies as a means to explore humanity in all its vagaries, it makes my list alongside Jonathan Maberry’s Rot and Ruin series, Isaac Marion’s Warm Bodies, World War Z, and the better seasons of The Walking Dead.

This will be two reviews in one, because the movie's altered presentation of the story changes it quite a bit, at least as I see it. 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

All The News That's Fake To Print

"That's fake news!" has become an increasingly standard response to anything from a news source someone doesn't like, or to any story that challenges that narrative one wants to be true. What was once a label for a very particular kind of underhanded representation of "news" has become the label for even mainstream media outlets that make mistakes or have bias, as well as any story that suggests we might be wrong in our perspective.

It's an effective way to dodge, but it's a terrible way to engage with reality. I, for one, don't want to give up on the pursuit of truth, even if it is surrounded by a bodyguard of lies.*

So let's chat.

MAINSTREAM MEDIA

Who exactly is in the Mainstream Media (MSM)? Good luck finding a widely accepted definition. Here are two things that I would say generally characterize mainstream media. First, they are part of a conglomerate or corporation. Check out who owns the media. There's your MSM - and all the ways it is interconnected. Reporters in MSM are trained in journalism in some fashion and are supposed to adhere to a journalistic code of ethics. Even if you don't listen to or like NPR, I think you will agree that the standard for which they aim is admirable. Second, the MSM is (ideally) characterized by the pursuit of facts. 

This does not mean the MSM is not biased at times (which is a constant concern) or irrelevant or misleading. This dilemma is as old as journalism itself. If we were to jettison every news outlet that is biased or misleading, we would have to abandon them all. Just google "misleading/biased news" with any combination of media outlet names. Or google "lies" preceded by "Fox, CNN, MSNBC, Brietbart, New York Times, Vox, World Net Daily." For a really good time, google "Trump lies" followed by "Obama lies" and watch the sparks fly. No, your candidate, party, and favorite news outlet is not safe from this. It is no small irony that mere days after Spicer barred "fake news" CNN from a briefing, Fox News interviewed an imposter posing as an authority on Sweden.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Santa Clarita Diet

I watched Santa Clarita Diet based on all the buzz surrounding the recent Netflix offering. I like Timothy Oliphant and Drew Barrymore; putting them in a zombie satire skewering modern suburbia seemed like a formula for success. Turns out it was a formula all right, but whether or not you think it’s successful has a lot to do with the moral lenses through which you view it. 

In case you aren’t familiar with the premise, here’s how Romper summarizes Santa Clarita Diet:
[Sheila’s] actually a loving mom, wife, and hardworking realtor who just so happens to wake up one day as a member of the undead, at no fault of her own… Instead of abandoning her or destroying her in a rash response of fear or disgust, Sheila's husband and teenage daughter decide to rally around her and figure out how to navigate this transition as a family. Of course, the biggest obstacle is figuring out how to keep her fed. No one particularly likes the idea of murder, but Sheila needs to eat to survive. So they decide to only kill really terrible people who deserve to be eaten. This way, Sheila gets to live while performing a service to society. 
So how good is the Santa Clarita Diet as a satire? A lot of people seem to love how the show uses this unusual dilemma to explore how our culture navigates ethical dilemmas.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Longmire (Seasons 1-5)

My first impression of  Netflix’s Longmire (based on the Walt Longmire Mysteries series by Craig Johnson) was positive. Set in the fictional Absaroka County, Wyoming, Longmire is a cop show that is so much more. Much of what I like about the show concerns Walt's friendship with Henry, one of the local Cheyenne, as well as the tension between the county and the local Cheyenne reservation.

We hear a lot about racial issues in our country, but we seldom see a TV series that addresses the oldest racial tension of all. There were quite a few episodes during which I felt far more enlightened than entertained. I appreciate a show that manages to embed a strong social justice message in a way that doesn’t seem preachy and is yet at times profound. The crimes are interesting, I suppose, but far less riveting than watching a very human drama that is equal parts funny, poignant, and disturbing.

My second impression – let’s say midway through Season Three – was that Longmire was in danger of becoming a soap opera. At time it felt like the show was getting its momentum from sexual tension. I was about ready to bail when one of the relationships fell apart and I realized something important: they are telling a morality tale.* The writers are letting actions have consequences. While I could use almost any of the characters to show what I mean, I will focus on three.