Wednesday, February 10, 2016

NARAL, Doritos, And The "Tactic Of Humanizing Fetuses"

During the Super Bowl, Doritos aired a fan-made ad that generated a lot more response than they expected. Here's the ad:

I suspect viewers would have laughed (or cringed) and moved on - it was, after all, just a chip commercial - except that NARAL promptly weighed in with the following tweet:

Apparently, "humanizing fetuses" (or making unborn baby humans seem, well, human) is merely an anti-choice tactic, a scurrilous misrepresentation of what happens during a pregnancy.

Rather than repost pro-life arguments that I have made elsewhere, I will simply offer the following five videos for your viewing pleasure. They aren't gross; they aren't made by rabid pro-lifers. The first two simply shows what happens in the womb when a fetus develops. The final three show when and how an unborn baby begins to respond to his or her environment.


So, you be the judge. Did Doritos fall into the trap of a deceptive anti-choice tactic? Or did they offer a commercial that taps into the biological, scientific and philosophical reality that the fetus is an unborn human being that is living, moving and reacting inside his or her mother?

To whatever degree Doritos intentionally or unintentionally pointed toward the unavoidable conclusion of the humanity of the unborn, I applaud them. However, NARAL got it wrong. Doritos isn't "humanizing the fetus." They are just reminding us that it's been human all along.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Find Your Magic: How Axe Measures A Man

Like many, my primary motivation for watching the Superbowl is the advertisements. It’s the one time of year when viewers get a clear sense of what the marketing world believes will resonate with a global audience of over 100 million people.

Some ads are boldly self-aware, clearly winking at the audience as they offer a hook that has nothing to do with their product (the Walken Closet, Puppy Monkey Baby, and Shock Top). Others are informative, using the opportunity simply to get the word out (Pay Pal, Rocket Mortgage).

As much as I enjoy the overall creativity on display, it’s the socially conscious ads that reveal the most. This year, Colgate and Axe used the platform to make a statement about something they assume the audience takes seriously – or at least should. They don't just want us to buy a product; they want us to buy into a worldview.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Dean Koontz's Ashley Bell: The World Is A Battleground

 “Fiction is a dangerous art… creating new worlds populated by people as real as you can make them… involves risks. Not risks just to readers who may be influenced toward darkness instead of light, evil instead of good, despair instead of hope, but also to the author.”

There are a number of writers whose works linger in my imagination. James Lee Burke’s haunting stories of life in Louisiana reveal the complexity of human nature in a way I have rarely seen replicated. Patrick Ness (A Monster Calls) and Neil Gaiman (The Ocean At The End Of The Lane) write modern fairy tales that reach into my heart. Neil Shusterman (the Unwind Dystology) and Jonathan Mayberry (Rot and Ruin series) have been building quite a reputation in YA lit, and Brandon Sanderson could drop the literary mic right now and walk with his legacy of epic fantasy ensured.

Yet Dean Koontz stands out to me. From The Corner of His Eye was the first his books that really got my attention; The Taking was next, revealing how well he could write a story both grim and hopeful. The Odd Thomas series, though, turned me into a serious fan. Pretty much everything he has written since then has served to solidify my admiration.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

"America's Blessings: How Religion Benefits Everyone, Including Atheists" (Rodney Stark)

“The French government has officially designated 173 religious groups (most of them Evangelical Protestants, including Baptists) as dangerous cults, imposing heavy tax burdens upon them and subjecting their members to official discrimination in such things as employment. Subsequently, Belgium has outdone the French, identifying 189 dangerous cults, including the Quakers, the YWCA (but not the YMCA), Hasidic Jews, Assemblies of God, the Amish, Buddhists, and Seventh-day Adventists.”

Christopher Hitchens claimed religion poisoned everything; Dawkins has compared a religious upbringing to child abuse. Are they right?  Are religious groups really such a threat that these kinds of measures should be taken? Sociologist Rodney Stark draws from an impressive range of studies to make the case that the opposite is true. Religion – specifically evangelicalism – helps everything it touches to flourish. 

Stark, a sociologist of religion, began his professional life as a research sociologist at the Survey Research Center and at the Center for the Study of Law and Society. He has since worked at the University of Washington and more recently at Baylor University.  He has written over 30 books (two of which won the Distinguished Book Award from the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion) and published over 140 scholarly articles.

He has described his early stance toward religion as that of an agnostic incapable of religious faith; in 2004, he claimed neither faith nor atheism; in2007, he described himself as an “independent Christian.” In other words, he spent years studying a worldview that he often did not support before aligning himself with the Christian faith. One would think that his long (and thoroughly researched) path from skepticism to belief at least affords him the dignity of being taken seriously. 

This book is not meant to be an apologetic for the Christian faith. It does not argue that Christianity is true. Mr. Stark merely makes a well-informed case that by multiple measures of what is popularly called ‘human flourishing,’ Christianity is the solution we’ve been looking for, not the problem we should be seeking to avoid.

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Girl On The Train: Unreliable Narrators and Hearts

“I have never understood how people can blithely disregard the damage they do by following their hearts. Who was it said that following your heart is a good thing? It is pure egotism, a selfishness to conquer all.”

Paula Hawkins' The Girl on the Train debuted at number one on the New York Times fiction list in early 2015 and stayed there for thirteen weeks. By August, it had sold three million copies in the United States alone. Considering its domination in the UK market and its publication in thirty-four countries, three million is just the tip of the iceberg. A film starring Emily Blount will hit the big screen on October 7, 2016. Here is a brief introduction to the plot courtesy of

“The Girl on the Train” is a mystery and suspense novel by Paula Hawkins. It follows the lives of three women – Rachel, Anna, and Megan – and the events surrounding Megan’s murder, ultimately bringing the lives of the three women together. Each day, Rachel takes the train to work in London, heading past the town of Witney. There, she can see her old house, where her ex-husband, Tom, and his new wife, Anna, live, and she can also see the home of another married couple a few houses down. Rachel becomes endeared by this couple, whom Rachel nicknames Jess and Jason. They appear to have the perfect life, and Rachel is both jealous of, and happy for them. 

One day, she discovers that Jess is having an affair, and this enrages her. Rachel has no idea how someone could cheat on someone as seemingly perfect as Jason. When Jess – who turns out to be Megan Hipwell – goes missing, Rachel is sure that the man she saw cheating with Megan is the culprit. She thus involves herself in the investigation, going to great lengths to try to get to the bottom of things.

One of the things that has endeared critics is that The Girl On The Train uses an ‘unreliable narrator’ (ala Gone Girl) in such a way that readers are never quite certain if the first-person account they are reading is accurate. While critical review has been largely good, reader reviews are often more along the lines of “Meh. It’s been done before by better writers and with more compelling characters.” I tend to agree.

However, since the purpose of this blog is to focus more on worldviews than on the literary merit of the books being reviewed, I will focus on two of the narrators who stood out to me as thought-provoking characters.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Hateful Eight

Quentin Tarantino's latest movie has already won or been nominated for awards centered around script, casting and the soundtrack, and rightly so. In Hateful Eight, he has assembled a stellar cast that delivers sharp dialogue in the midst of yet another homage to a classic genre of film - in this case, the Western.

Rotten Tomatoes gives a helpful overview of the plot:
Set six or eight or twelve years after the Civil War, a stagecoach hurtles through the wintry Wyoming landscape. The passengers, bounty hunter John Ruth and his fugitive Daisy Domergue, race towards the town of Red Rock where Ruth, known in these parts as "The Hangman," will bring Domergue to justice. Along the road, they encounter two strangers: Major Marquis Warren, a black former union soldier turned infamous bounty hunter, and Chris Mannix, a southern renegade who claims to be the town's new Sheriff. Losing their lead on the blizzard, Ruth, Domergue, Warren and Mannix seek refuge at Minnie's Haberdashery, a stagecoach stopover on a mountain pass. When they arrive at Minnie's, they are greeted not by the proprietor but by four unfamiliar faces. Bob, who's taking care of Minnie's while she's visiting her mother, is holed up with Oswaldo Mobray, the hangman of Red Rock, cow-puncher Joe Gage (Madsen), and Confederate General Sanford Smithers. As the storm overtakes the mountainside stopover, our eight travelers come to learn they may not make it to Red Rock after all...
Tarantino reminds me of Stephen King in some ways. He has a knack for capturing the bleak depravities of the human heart - and make no mistake, this movie plumbs the depth of evil that resides within. These eight are called hateful for a reason. They are the kind of people who have both received and doled out the kind of violence and wickedness that you pray never crosses your path. Tarantino himself was a little surprised at how the movie played out once he began to film it. He told Entertainment Weekly ("Quentin Tarantino: The Hateful Eight interview"):
"I was realizing when I was watching it about [seven] weeks ago that this could almost be a post-apocalyptic movie, to some degree or another. It’s like this frozen wasteland, and the apocalypse has destroyed every semblance of their society and their way of life, and these survivors are huddled together in this pitiless wasteland shelter. And suddenly they’re all blaming each other for the apocalypse, but the apocalypse is the Civil War."

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Photoshop, Memories, and Real Life

When I went hiking on the Boardman River with my mom and two of my boys, I wasn't really expecting much from Mother Nature since the peak of the colors had passed. Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised when the gold and red sprang from unexpected places.

SmartPhone in hand, I hiked and took pictures with the second app I figured out (Angry Birds was the first one). When we got home, I uploaded them to iphoto and let Mac do its magic.  My mom murmured kind words about my pictures, then said with a hint of sadness, "That's even nicer than it was."

And you know what? She was right. The pictures made our hike look a lot cooler than it was.  I clicked buttons and slid bars until I made a picture that, to a large degree, was not true.  The only picture that accurately captured the event was one where Vincent did NOT want his picture taken. When you see his face - that's how it was.

I was on a trip once in which a father and daughter were among the group.  When I saw photos after the trip, the smiling, affectionate freeze frame put the lie to a trip that was full of tension, avoidance, and drama. I remember thinking, "Hey, at least they have their pictures. I hope it makes up for the trip."

I embrace a worldview that grounds itself in words more than images.  Jews eventually became know as People of the Book, and Christianity arose from the soil of language over pictures. The Ten Commandments make clear that God was not interested in His people trying to capture His reality or nature through images. The Bible  contains lots of beautiful poetic imagery and word pictures to describe God, but that's not the same thing as the actual image. When Jesus incarnated as the express image of God, even that was temporary, not permanent.

That command about images always seemed odd to me, but I'm starting to feel differently. Is it possible that the Bible (and by extension, God) stresses the importance of words because both the power and the frailty of images are greater than that of words? Sure, images move us - one of them is worth 1,000 words - but that great blessing can also be a great curse.

As much as I love how my pictures capture time well spent with my family, I will also remember that the day was not quite that sunny, and the colors not quite that bright, and the lake not quite so blue.... and wonder what else about my life I have not remembered truthfully, and why I sometimes feel the need to photoshop my memories in order to treasure them.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Scream Queens

Season One of Scream Queens, Fox's star-studded horror comedy, has been nominated for two awards (Golden Globes and Satellite) and won another (the Critic's Choice TV Award in 2015 for Most Exciting New Series). In spite of a declining audience throughout Season One, it appears to have enough of a following that Fox will likely renew it for another season.

If you are not familiar with Scream Queens, imagine the Simpsons, Mean Girls, and Scream mashed together. The result is a funny, satirical, shocking, violent, crude, and occasionally insightful comedy/horror show that intends to offer a cutting commentary on college culture. That's the intent, anyway.

Scream Queens takes place on a college campus where coeds are being killed rather horribly (if not creatively). All the girls in the featured sorority scream a lot - thus the title of the show - but nobody sheds a tear. Well, not real ones anyway.