Monday, August 31, 2015

Visiting Heaven and Hell: A Look At "Heavenly Tourism"

"Heavenly tourism" books are serious business. Don Piper’s 90 Minutes In Heaven has sold 6.5 million copies in 46 languages; Heaven is For Real has been on the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association's bestseller list every month since it hit the shelves in 2010;  23 Minutes In Hell (which I guess falls under the category of 'hellish tourism'?) spent several weeks on the NYT best-selling list after its release in 2006 and continues to be influential.

This popular genre relies on the testimony of those who claim to have had either visions or near death experiences (NDE’s). There has been enough documentation about NDE’s that it’s hard to deny that people experience something when by all medical reasoning they shouldn't.  NDE’s offer fairly compelling support for the existence of a mind or soul – that is, something distinct from our physical biology – but I would be hesitant to claim anything beyond that.  Making an argument for the supernatural is one thing; making a claim to supernatural revelation is quite another.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Planned Parenthood, Fusion GPS, and the Smokeless Gun

The big story this week is that Planned Parenthood hired Fusion GPS to take a look at the Center For Medical Progress's unedited videos to see if they were truly unedited. To the surprise of no one, the group Planned Parenthood hired to exonerate them exonerated them. The story has legs - my Facebook feed is full of gleefully overhyped headlines.  However, there is much more to the story than meets the eye.

First, its' worth noting that this is the same Planned Parenthood that a mere six weeks ago apparently faked a hack on their own website and blamed it on extremists. I felt very comfortable not accepting the news reports at face value - which is why I studied Fusion GPS's report of the videos for myself (more on this later). 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children

“I don't mean to be rude' I said, 'but what are you people?'
'We're peculiar,' he replied, sounding a bit puzzled. 'Aren't you?’
'I don't know. I don't think so.'
'That's a shame.”

Ransom Rigg's Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children was a New York Times best-seller,
reaching the #1 spot on the Children's Chapter Books list during its 90 week run. The book has sold 15 million copies, and the graphic novel adaptation checked in with a 50,000 copy first printing. A movie is in the works from 20th Century Fox (Tim Burton is the director; he is a good fit for this story). Hollow City, the 2014 second installment in the trilogy, had a 500,000 printing order for its release.

Mr. Riggs notes on his website that this book was ”born out of my love for vintage photography and bizarro stories.” It’s a cleverly told story built around a multitude of very unusual photographs he found in different vintage collections. I often don't like how pictures shape my imagination when reading a story, but in this case I enjoyed it quite a bit. Seeing the next picture - and knowing it was an actual, historical photograph - kept me engaged almost as much as the story.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

A Response To “Planned Parenthood is Not Selling Baby Parts, You F****** Idiots.”

When Skepchick Rebecca Watson wrote her now viral post on the Planned Parenthood scandal, no one had to guess which side she was defending or what she thought of the pro-life crowd. The article is worth considering – not because she's right, but because what is presented as fact is so woefully wrong in so many ways.

As I respond to her arguments, I will be quoting the shortened blog version of the video that she posted on her website. A lot of what I have to say will challenge her claim that nothing illegal is happening. The rest will hopefully point out why it shouldn't be legal in the first place.

Planned Parenthood is in the news a lot these days thanks to a maliciously edited video making it look like they SELL BABY PARTS.

First, the Center for Medical Progress released the uncut video along with the edited one. All anybody has to do – including all the journalists and bloggers who keep repeating this silly charge - is watch the whole video or read the transcript CMP provides on its website. If CMP were trying to deceive, they would have kept the uncut video a secret.

Second, if you think the edited videos makes it ‘look like’ Planned Parenthood is selling baby parts, just watch the videos and see for yourself. You will hear the following:
  • "We don’t want to get called on…selling fetal parts across states.”
  • “If you have someone in a really ‘anti’ state doing this for you, they’re probably going to get caught.” Get caught at what? Obeying the law?
  • “I think a per item thing works a little better, just because we can see how much we can get out of it.”
  • “I think for affiliates, at the end of the day, they’re a non-profit, they just don’t want to—they want to break even. And if they can do a little better than break even, and do so in a way that seems reasonable, they’re happy to do that.” Every business would like to do a little better than break even. That's called profit. It's probably worth noting that In 2014, Planned Parenthood's revenue exceeded their expenses by $90 million.
  • “The Federal Abortion Ban is a law, and laws are up to interpretation.”
  • “Here’s the heart. My fingers will smoosh it if I try to pick it up. The heart is right there… A lot of times I‘ll get a full torso, spine, kidneys. You could send the whole thing or pick that apart… It’s a baby.” There's the baby parts. 
  • “If someone delivers before we get to see them for a procedure, then they [the babies] are intact…” Which is good for those clients who want intact babies. 
If you think I am trying to trick you or I am ripping quotes out of context, please go watch the videos or read the transcripts.