Friday, June 9, 2017

Wonder Woman: The Hero We Need

There are a lot of really good reviews about the new Wonder Woman movie. I really feel no need to replicate them. One thing is clear: this (most excellent) movie has generated a lot of enlightening discussion about how women are portrayed in media.

I posted an article on my Facebook wall last week hoping for some discussion. I was not disappointed. Several friends whose opinions I value* weighed in with some thoughtful if not at times profound observations. Rather than writing a review, I am simply going to let this conversation unfold. (If you want the full effect, you will need to click on the links to read or watch the various links.) Feel free to add your thoughts in the comment section!

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Here is the opening article that started the conversation: 




Can we cheer Wonder Woman as a symbol while being disappointed in it as a movie?
UPROXX.COM

Comments
Becky Childs Maybe I'm missing something--she fought to *end* war and save innocents; that's not the same as fighting for the sake of war itself or for power. I do agree about wishing we lived in a world where this movie didn't have to seem groundbreaking.
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Anthony Weber I thought the article made a good point about her motivation. Is it really that different from the men's ? At least the good guys? They too want to end suffering. They too wish that war would end. And WW was just as ready to use violence to bring about peace as they were. She did it to end the suffering of the villagers right in front of her; they men did it to end all wars. Couldn't one argue these are complimentary things? I felt like the movie was trying to show that women wage war from compassion and love and men from...well, I don't know. Corrupt hearts because they are men? Because men love violence?I think one could argue that both men and women wage war and long for it to end for the same reasons. 

FWIW, I really liked WW's idealism and nobility. It was refreshing. She's right: she is too good for them. But that idealism also contrasted well with Steve's world-weary but honest realism. In the end they felt like compatible views to me, not contrasting ones. Both had something to offer the other.  I'm still mulling this over.... I may need to see the movie again... 
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Becky Childs Sure there are some similarities between WW and the male superhero counterparts (though how similar seems like a case by case comparison). She did strike me as having an extra compassion bone ("Oh, your sharp shooter can't shoot? That's cool, he can sing for us.") I guess it felt dismissive of WW by boiling it down to a gender swap, and what's the big deal anyway? With all due respect to the (male) writer, I am going to throw down the woman card and say there is a piece here you can't appreciate fully. Maybe just let us have this one.  Also, good idea about seeing again to be REALLY sure 
Becky Childs Also I felt like Steve had a heroism that was admirable too--WW had super powers to back her boldness, he did not. His bravery was going into battles with no certainty of winning. ALSO, YOU COULD HAVE SHOT THE PLANE FROM THE GROUND. đŸ˜­
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Karl Meszaros I think there's a massive difference between Steve's view of the war and WW's view. Steve is against the idea of war. He's concerned with the war in theory. He speaks of millions of people dying. But when he sees people suffering right in front of him, he doesn't really care. I think this true of many superheroes. They do what they do because they have a great responsibility to do so. WW does so not from duty or responsibility, but because she legitimately cares about people. It's one of the most admirable traits anyone can have.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A Closer Look At Sanctuary Cities

My hometown has recently begun considering whether or not to designate our city as a 'sanctuary city.' Considering the controversy this has raised, I decided to do some research on a topic I knew little about.

One thing is for sure: this is a confusing topic. There are remarkably contradictory studies quoted by equally passionate people, and there is a lot of dishonest reporting that distorts the facts (which is why both sides quote the same studies in some cases). I found more than one case where an article linking to a study totally misrepresented the study.

I will do my best to offer relevant facts, a variety of perspectives on how those facts are interpreted, and a summary of some issues that make the pursuit of truth and justice difficult but not impossible. I am not an expert. I'm just a guy wanting to find the truth.

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WHAT IS A SANCTUARY CITY?

“Sanctuary city” is a term that is applied by some to cities in the United States or Canada that have policies designed to not prosecute illegal aliens. The term generally applies to cities that do not allow municipal funds or resources to be used to enforce federal immigration laws, usually by not allowing police or municipal employees to inquire about an individual's immigration status.” 

  • "Policies or laws that limit the extent to which law enforcement will go to assist the federal government on immigration matters.
  • Policies that disregard requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to hold indefinitely immigrant inmates beyond their detention dates…
  • Policies that bar local police from asking for proof of citizenship and from arresting immigrants who lack documentation unless they are suspected of committing other criminal offenses."
Basically, local authorities in a sanctuary city will not try to track down illegal immigrants simply for being here illegally, and they will not donate time or resources to helping the federal government’s search. However, this does not mean what happens in that city happens in a law enforcement vacuum. 

When illegal immigrants are arrested and detained, their fingerprints are entered into a federal database that clarifies their status (and puts them on ICE's radar). ICE can ask local law enforcement to hold detainees who are here illegally, but they cannot require them to do so. Sanctuary cities still detain those they arrest by whatever standards they use for the crime, but not beyond what is warranted for the purposes of ICE. 

In addition, individual local law enforcement officers are free to tell the federal authorities information if they wish too. This right is protected by law.  In Chicago, which passed a sanctuary ordinance in 2012, “police can work with ICE to detain immigrants who have a pending felony prosecution or are listed in the police gang database.” Travis County, Texas, makes exceptions for murder, capital murder, aggravated sexual assault, and human trafficking.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword

I’m a big fan of the King Arthur legend. I read a lot about him when I was a kid; as a high school literature teacher, I forced juniors to read Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte D'arthur; I think I’ve seen all the modern movies and musicals. (Is it weird to have seen the Clive Owen version ten times at least? I’m asking for a friend).

So I wasn’t sure what to expect going in to Guy Ritchie’s recent incarnation of the tale. The critics’ reviews were generally bad (27% at Rotten Tomatoes), but the audience response was much more favorable (78%).  Was it the bombastic, frenetic desecration of a classic tale that borrowed heavily from Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones? Was it a highly entertaining and clever retelling of story never meant to have too tight of a connection to real history anyway?

Well, yes. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Alien: Covenant

Alien: Covenant, the next installment in Ridley Scott’s Alien universe, provides a passable filler
narrative between the disappointing Prometheus and the classic original Alien movie. I say “passable” because my first thoughts when I left the theater were…well, not much, really.

Alien: Covenant is generally getting decent reviews (72% at Rotten Tomatoes), but I didn't think it broke any new ground cinematically or thematically. There just wasn’t much there that initially provoked deep thought. However, if I’m generous, I think the movie may have been trying to offer a story about origins, gods, and the power of creators. Yeah. Let's run with that.

Monday, May 15, 2017

"I Am Negan" (The Walking Dead, Season 7)

Season 7 of The Walking Dead had some ups and downs. Ratings were low, likely because of a combination of violence that was extreme even by TWD standards, the death of some crucial characters, and a sense of “same story, different setting.” However, the character development and the moral complexities remained. 

Season 7 featured a character named Negan, a dictatorial megalomaniac with a remarkable capacity for violence. One of the most chilling aspects of his cruel rule is how he forces all those who follow him to identify themselves as Neegan. “I am Negan” becomes a phrase that we dread. 

That chilling phrase keeps ringing in my head. There is something about it that captures the true horror of The Walking Dead: not the undead, but the living who had died inside long ago.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Guardians Of The Galaxy 2

Guardians Of The Galaxy has roared onto the screens as everyone expected. It’s big, beautiful, highly entertaining, and at times surprisingly moving. We can debate whether or not it’s as good as the first one, but one thing is for sure: there is something in this movie franchise that is drawing people in droves. Yes, it’s fun cinema, but I think it’s more than that.

First, it’s a movie about self-identified “a-holes” saving the universe. On the one hand, that bothers me. You’d think we could find somebody – anybody – who doesn’t fall into that category. On the other hand, maybe it’s just an honest acknowledgment that no one is righteous. For every Captain America, there are a thousand Peter Quills; that’s probably a good reflection of real world percentages. The movie is too flippant about the seriousness of many of the offenses of different characters in the movie, but it captures the messiness of human sinfulness mixed in with nobility and honor. Sometimes people end well even if they have not lived well.

Yondu is a great example. On the one hand, we find out that he bravely kept Peter hidden from his demi-god father, Ego, for all these years because he knew that Ego was a terrible man. On the other hand, he is a Ravager (read 'space pirate') who gets kicked out of the club for trafficking children (which he claims he didn't know). On the other hand, he eventually channels Boromir and does his best to atone for his failures.

I long for heroes who are brave, pure, good and true. In Guardians, you are not going to get the full list. There are no King Arthurs or Captain Americas. There are instead people like Peter Quill who, when offered good and bad, will choose to do a little of both. Such is life. I would like to see a story that shows a trend in the characters toward the good not just in their deeds but in their hearts; Guardians Of The Galaxy at least gets us to long for it.

Friday, April 28, 2017

S-Town: John B., Aural Literature, And The Battlelines Inside Our Hearts

S-Town (from the makers of Serial and This American Life) has become something of a global phenomenon, and rightly so. It’s a remarkably well done series: the storytelling is fascinating, illuminating and heartbreaking; the editing is superb; the way in which it reveals a compelling and eccentric cast of characters in small town Alabama is riveting.

It’s also deeply disturbing. The language is coarse (almost entirely from recordings of people in their own words), the topic is sobering if not heart-breaking at times, and the revelation of the vagaries of human nature is epically tragic – and often very hard to listen for all the reasons listed above. It will shock you. It will move you. It may well crush you at times.

(SPOILER ALERT AND A WARNING. I will be revealing crucial plot details in order to discuss this story fully. Also, be aware that this podcast and parts of this review are not for the faint of heart. If podcasts had ratings, this would be a hard R, though almost all of that material is from recordings. In other words, it's at least honest rather than gratuitous.)

John B. McLemore lived in Woodstock, Alabama, or S***town, as he called it. He believed there had been a murder that’s been covered up by a corrupt police department. When reporter Brian Reed finally went to Woodstock to meet John, he found a lot more – and less – than he thought he would find. First, he discovered that there was no murder cover up. Then John B. killed himself. That's when the heart of the story really begins to unfold.

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.

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 BeyoncĂ©’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.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Why I Am Pro-Life

"Being pro-life" could potentially cover a lot of issues (capital punishment, euthanasia, etc). There is also a discussion to be had about the importance of protecting and honoring all born life. However,  that's too much for one blog post. I am going to focus on abortion, a 'life' issue that is front and center in our culture, especially as we approach a day during which hundreds of thousand will March For Life. 

I am going to give four different arguments for this position. The first two arguments draw from Judeo-Christian history; the others will offer arguments that can be made apart from a belief in the veracity of the Bible.

1. THE ARGUMENT FROM SCRIPTURE

Historically, the Judeo-Christian consensus has been that the unborn child is a human being.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The OA

In an entertainment world awash in TV shows, The OA has managed to catch the attention of a lot of people, and for good reason: the writers do a great job building compelling characters; the uncertainty of what is actually happening holds one's interest and piques one's curiosity; and there is a complexity lurking beneath the surface that keeps the show the show simmering in the back of the viewer's mind. 

Don't get me wrong - it's not a perfect show by any means. However, when compared to the plethora of current TV series, it holds its own well against the competition. Rather than dive into the rabbit hole of the baffling final episode, I would like to address some worldview messages embedded within the show.

I may be giving the writers more credit than they deserve – I don’t know how complex of a story they were attempting to tell. Nonetheless, bidden or unbidden, a worldview is present. That worldview is what I would like to unpack.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A Monster Calls

I read Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls a year ago. I chose not to write about it because it was too personal, too magnificently beautiful to risk messing with the way it lingered. Now that the movie is out, I think I’m ready.

SPOILERS WILL ABOUND!!

As a young boy struggles to navigate the reality of his mother’s cancer and the increasingly futile treatments, a monster calls. This monster, an ancient tree that comes to life, insists the boy called him. Now that he is there, he will tell the boy three stories and the boy will tell him the fourth. These storytelling episodes are interspersed with real world challenges: he is being bullied at school; his estranged father is visiting again; his relationally distant grandmother is being forced to play an increasing role in his life; his mother is steadily succumbing to the cancer she is trying to hard to defeat.

The monster’s stories are meant to prepare the boy for what is inevitable. When I first read the book, the stories confused me, but as I watched the movie’s depiction some pieces fell into place. Here’s my theory for what it's worth. The stories are about some of the greatest fears in universal human experience: Life is unfair (the first story), hope and faith can be lost (the second story); and we will never matter (the third story). [1]

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Getting What We Deserve

Snapshot One: A few years ago, I attended a concert by Johnny Lang and Buddy Guy. While Lang’s performance left me in awe, a different memory has lingered just as strongly. When Buddy Guy finished his first song, he said something along the lines of, “Where’s the f****** crowd?”  Within minutes, audience members were shouting the f-word back at him. When Guy left the stage and began to work the audience, his speech, songs, and actions were full of innuendo – and once again, the audience responded in kind. It was all part of the stage show – Guy knows how to work a room – but I’ve never forgotten how the entire mood changed when Guy gave the audience permission to interact with him in a certain way by establishing what was appropriate. He didn’t have to tell them they could; they rightly inferred it from what he demonstrated. [1]

Snapshot Two: I once attended a soccer game in Costa Rica between two teams with a long and intense rivalry. My friend who took me, thinking himself funny, bought me the jersey of the visiting team to wear.  “Oh,” he noted, “don’t be surprised if people walking past you say insulting things.” Indeed, that’s exactly what happened. I wore a visiting rival’s shirt to a rivalry game; what else should I expect?

Snapshot Three: I saw a documentary that included some scenes from a music festival a few years back. A band introduced a song by saying, “There’s only one rule tonight: there are no f****** rules!” Shockingly, fans swarmed the stage, and the band had to stop while security enforced that particular rule. Limp Bizkit (“Break Stuff”) and Rage Against The Machine (“Killing In The Name”) have seen similar incidents at their concerts when fans went ahead and acted out what the band sang.

Snapshot Four: Last week, one of Mac Miller’s fans came up to him and said about Miller’s girlfriend, Ariana Grande, what Miller says all the time about women – specifically, how great it must be to “hit that.” If you are wondering why that fan thought it was appropriate to say that, just check out some of Mac Miller’s lyrics. Or not. The message matters.[2]