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.”