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.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Beyonce's Inadvertent Pro-Life Baby Bump



    ___________________________

Who knew Beyonce would turn her fans pro-life? It’s almost as if they suddenly recognized unborn babies for what they are – babies. If Beyonce were to miscarry, she and her fans would not mourn the loss of clumps of tissue. They would mourn the loss of her children. If Beyonce were attacked and she miscarried, I suspect the news reports would be full of language that talked about her babies, not her fetuses, being killed, and rightly so. Twenty-nine states would prosecute the attacker for murder. 

And yet Beyonce could have walked off the stage and, in seven states in the United States, gotten an abortion even if the babies were viable. (And yes - third trimester abortions are a real deal. See here and here and here and here and here.) Beyonce herself fights for the right to do this. This would be celebrated too, I suppose, because it's her choice. But then the term 'fetus' would be used, because it's a much more impersonal and dehumanizing way of referring to the unborn than 'baby'. 

The difference between 'baby bump' and 'fetal bump' apparently has nothing to do with ontology and everything to do with perspective. It's as if Planned Parenthood has convinced the world that Schrodinger's Baby will be what people want it to be when they finally decide whether or not to keep the baby. The Federalist asks, "Would Beyoncé’s Babies Still Be Babies If She Chose Abortion?" Well, yes.


As if to highlight this tension, there’s a bar in Chicago throwing her a baby shower – a baby shower – with the proceeds going to Planned Parenthood, which stops more baby showers than any other entity in America. 

Cognative Dissonance Level Rating: Epic. 


Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Good Place

When Eleanor is hit by a truck, she wakes up in the Good Place, a utopian afterlife in which all of her good deeds are about to be rewarded. There’s one small problem: she doesn't really have any. She’s not supposed to be there.

From this premise, The Good Place builds a remarkably, uh, good sitcom that takes a surprisingly thorough and very entertaining look at what it means for someone to be good – or bad. What kind of person would you have to be to deserve utopia? What kind of character, actions, and motivations would enable you to make the cut and avoid the Bad Place?*

[NOTE: This review is free of spoilers. I just can't give away the ending. That means some of my comments will be cryptic, but if you've seen it, you will know what I mean.]

Friday, February 3, 2017

Refugees, Immigrants, and Islam: In Search Of Truth And Justice

After reading all the debate about the immigration/refugee issue, I decided to do some of my own research. The result? I found out how complex this subject is. My intent is to provide a good foundation on which to begin building an informed opinion. It's certainly not the final word, but hopefully it's a good start.

Here, as best as I have been able to ascertain, are the facts. I am not attempting to persuade as much as to inform. There a lot of links; my summaries don't do justice, so I encourage you to click and read. When I sent out some early drafts, readers kept pointing toward more and more relevant information that I missed. I suspect that will continue. Feel free to comment or add helpful links in the comment section if you can help to bring greater clarity to this issue. I have no problem updating this post to reflect a growing understanding of a complex issue.

Refugees

According to unrefugees.org, "A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so."

Unlike Europe, our problems do not come from refugees. Perhaps because it takes three years through a grueling vetting process to get in instead of the three months for a visa, embedding operatives in the refugee system is a really low priority on ISIS’s list. There is not agreement on effective the vetting process is. The Heritage Foundation sees it as extensive but not perfect; Human Rights First likes it, as does USA Today; Fox News, The Washington Times, and even CNN have questioned the safety of the process.

 Since 1975, 20 refugees out of 3.2 million have been arrested for either planning or carrying out acts of terrorism. Only three Americans were killed - and that was by Cuban refugees in the 1970's. However, there are some discrepant numbers based on how one describes terrorism. The Independent has reported that "a State Department spokesperson said of the nearly 785,000 refugees admitted through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program since 9/11, 'only about a dozen — a tiny fraction of one percent of admitted refugees — have been arrested or removed from the U.S. due to terrorism concerns that existed prior to their resettlement in the U.S.  None of them were Syrian.'"

 No refugees from the countries identified in Obama and Trump's directives are responsible for an American death (though some tried). As the Cato Institute has noted, the chance of an American being killed in a terrorist attack committed by a refugee was 1 in 3.64 billion a year. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

NGOs, Abortion, and Federal Money: The Truth About The Mexico City Policy

The Mexico City policy (so named because it was announced at the United Nations International Conference on Population in Mexico City) has been implemented or suspended on strict partisan lines since the Reagan administration. All Republican Presidents implement it; all Democratic ones suspend it. The fact that President Trump has reimplemented it should surprise no one. However, now that it's getting either wildly applauded or criticized, it's worth looking at the reality of the policy.

Let’s begin by looking at the facts. First, from usaid.gov:

USAID'S FAMILY PLANNING GUIDING PRINCIPLES AND U.S. LEGISLATIVE AND POLICY REQUIREMENTS

Restrictions on Support for Abortions


Since the enactment of legislation in 1973, recipients of U.S. family planning assistance have been legally prohibited from supporting abortion as a method of family planning using U.S. funds. USAID is committed to expanding access to voluntary family planning and reducing unintended pregnancies which saves lives and reduces reliance on abortion. USAID continues to support post-abortion care, which includes emergency treatment, counseling on and provision of family planning options, and community mobilization.  
The Helms Amendment: No foreign assistance funds may be used to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions. Under the Helms Amendment, post-abortion care is permitted. USAID post-abortion care programs include emergency treatment for complications of induced or spontaneous abortion, counseling on and provision of family planning options, and community mobilization. 


The Leahy Amendment: The term "motivate," as it relates to family planning assistance, shall not be construed to prohibit the provision, consistent with local law, of information or counseling about all pregnancy options. 


The Siljander Amendment: No foreign assistance funds may be used to lobby for or against abortion. {Note: later amended to add ‘or against.’) 


The Biden Amendment: No foreign assistance funds may be used to pay for any biomedical research which relates, in whole or in part, to methods of, or the performance of, abortions or involuntary sterilization as a means of family planning.