Monday, July 24, 2017

War For The Planet Of The Apes

War For The Planet Of The Apes has received widespread accolades, and rightly so. More importantly than the remarkable special effects, it tells a thoughtful story about war, morality, revenge, justice, goodness, and hope. And it once again features apes riding horses, which is hard to beat in terms of sheer entertainment value.

What stood out to me in this final (?) installment of the series was the remarkable biblical imagery. I said to my son after I watched it, "That was a story of Caesar, the Ape Moses, leading his people to the Promised Land." I went home and jumped online, and sure enough - that's what the director had in mind:
In Reeves’ mind, the character’s death was almost biblically preordained. “He was sort of this ape Moses, so for him not to be able to be in the Promised Land with them — I thought reaching this place could be tremendously emotional,” he said.
 Director Matt Reeves told EW:
“We watched Bridge on the River Kwai...We watched The Great Escape. We watched Biblical epics, because I really felt like this movie had to have a Biblical aspect to it. We watched Ben-Hur, The Ten Commandments. We didn’t go, like, ‘Let’s take a little bit of this, a little bit of that.’ When you surround yourself with something that feels emotionally right, there are connections that make sense to you that somebody else might not see…[the films] informed the vibe we felt about this thing.”
The parallels to the biblical epic of Moses are unmistakable.

The Shape Of Reality: What Is Justice?

As noted in the opening post in this series, I believe Christianity offers compelling reasons to believe that truth is found most fully and consistently within the framework of a Christian worldview. The second post addressed the need for an objective foundation for morality. The language of morality only makes sense if we are significant moral agents who have an obligation to choose good and avoid evil, so the third post addressed the issue of whether or not we are really free.

The concepts of freedom and moral obligation brings with them the idea of justice. If right and wrong are objectively real, and we are people deserving of praise and culpability based on how our choices align with moral goodness, then part of the morally obligatory good would be to treat people justly. So, what is justice?

Thursday, July 13, 2017

SpiderMan: Homecoming

Spiderman: Homecoming, the latest movie in the Marvel Universe
franchise, is getting great reviews (93% at Rotten Tomatoes from critics, 92% from the audience). It’s not the best movie Marvel has done, but it’s solid. This version of Spider-Man is going to be an interesting addition to the Avengers: he’s lighthearted, somewhat naïve, and not yet jaded (matured?) by life; he’s also strong, fast, brilliant, and incredibly excited about fighting evil and injustice with his heroes. But, as this movie makes clear, he’s got some growing up to do.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Etcetera #3: What Comic Book Superheroes Tell Us About Ourselves

Thanks, Karl Meszaros, expert on "everything that could stop you from getting a date," for joining us for this podcast's discussion of comic book superheroes heroism, and the impact is has in both society and individuals. In this episode, we look at several different aspects of this cultural phenomenon:
  • the rise of the superhero genre
  • the changing nature of what is considered heroic (how did we get from Superman to Deadpool?)
  • the reflection of and impact on readers and viewers
  • the benefits and pitfalls that this type of storytelling has to offer
You can link to the podcast on Soundcloud here; you are also welcome to join a post-podcast discussion on our Facebook page. Meanwhile, here is a list of related articles that you may find helpful.

In an act of bald self-promotion, here are links to some of my reviews, which include occasional guests appearances by both Beth and Karl (whose perspective influenced probably all of these reviews):

Friday, July 7, 2017

Freedom

“There are two freedoms - the false, where a man is free to do what he likes; the true, where he is free to do what he ought. “ Charles Kingsley

“Order without liberty and liberty without order are equally destructive.” Theodore Roosevelt

“Freedom, like any other virtue, does not exist in a vacuum. It must be worked and practiced to exist at all. And like any other virtue, it imposes upon those who would have it the unpleasant tasks of discipline and sacrifice. A materialistic people do not learn these tasks by reading posters or listening to pep talks, any more than you can learn to play the violin by the same methods.” Ralph Austin Bard, United States Assistant Secretary of the Navy,

“What is this liberty that must lie in the hearts of men and women?
It is not the ruthless, the unbridled will; it is not the freedom to do as one likes. That is the denial of liberty and leads straight to its overthrow. A society in which men recognize no check on their freedom soon becomes a society where freedom is the possession of only a savage few — as we have learned to our sorrow."  Learned Hand, in "The Spirit of Liberty"

“The basis of self-government and freedom requires the development of character and self-restraint and perseverance and the long view. And these are qualities which require many years of training and education.” John F. Kennedy

“The truth is that we are not yet free; we have merely achieved the freedom to be free, the right not to be oppressed. We have not taken the final step of our journey, but the first step on a longer and even more difficult road. For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. The true test of our devotion to freedom is just beginning.” Nelson Mandela, in Long Walk to Freedom

“Only free peoples can hold their purpose and their honor steady to a common end, and prefer the interests of mankind to any narrow interest of their own.Woodrow Wilson, address to Congress.

* * * * * * * * * *
Freedom in our culture often means the right to be and do as you please, how you please, when you please, where you please. It means doing your own thing, being your own boss, looking after number one first. The Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary says it means “exemption from necessity in choice and action.” It is the right to any choice so long as it is your own personal choice.

I’m not so sure this is the deepest, truest form of freedom. It’s probably better described as license. John Milton wrote in Tenure of Kings and Magistrates that “none can love freedom heartily, but good men; the rest love not freedom, but license.” As is easy to see simply by surveying our world, license results far too often in an exploitative callousness that objectifies others and deadens one’s own conscious.

We can fill our brain on fake news sites; we can engage in addictive behavior; we can blow every paycheck rather than make long term plans; we can tweet whatever we want or troll any social media site; we can watch all kinds of pornography; we can use dating apps to go through people as if they were playthings; we can pollute; we can support entertainment that spoils the moral fabric of our culture; we can take all the toilet rolls in a portable toilet and throw them into the toilet (sorry...recent experience that really peeved me); we can gorge yourself with food or drink ourselves into a stupor.

We can do all that. But at what cost? Check out Chase Holfelder's rendition of "My Way." He captures the ambivalence well - it's supposed to be a song celebrating radical license, but  it's sung through tears, with some regrets, with an acknowledgment that at times he bit off more than he could chew. This version lingers: it's not the breezy, careless Sinatra version. It's a haunting reflection of one who is desperately - and uneasily - wondering if "my way" was the right way to live.


Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Etcetera #2: Travel Bans, Immigrants, And Refugees

The President's recent 'travel ban' and the Supreme Court's partial affirmation of it have been front and center in the news lately. In this week's podcast episode of Etcetera: More Than Talking Points, we take a look at several aspects relevant to this discussion.

  • The details of the 'travel ban'
  • The ruling of the Supreme Court
  • The Trump Administration's use of the Immigration and Nationality Act to define "bona fide relationships" as it applies to family members
  • The threat to national and personal security (or lack thereof) posed by refugees and immigrants

You can link the the podcast on Soundcloud here; you are also welcome to join a post-podcast discussion on our Facebook page. Meanwhile, here is a list of related articles that you may find helpful.

The Shape Of Reality: Are We Really Free?

As noted in the opening post in this series, I believe Christianity offers compelling reasons to believe that truth is found most fully and consistently within the framework of a Christian worldview. The second post addressed the need for an objective foundation for morality. Of course, using the language of morality only makes sense if we are moral beings - that is, if we are significant moral agents who have an obligation to choose good and avoid evil.  This can only happen if we are free to make that choice, and therein lies another key question: Are we really free?
Generally, people believe that at some point everyone freely chooses  to make good and/or bad choices. Jaegwon Kim, philosopher at Brown University, has noted,

"We commonly think that we, as persons, have a mental and bodily dimension.... Something like this dualism of personhood, I believe, is common lore shared across most cultures and religious traditions." 

 Mind and Language published a paper in 2010 entitled “Is Belief in Free Will a Cultural Universal?” After studying a broad sample of people in the United States, Hong Kong, India and Columbia,
“The results revealed a striking degree of cross-cultural convergence. In all four cultural groups, the majority of participants said that (a) our universe is indeterministic and (b) moral responsibility is not compatible with determinism.” 
Consensus is not an air-tight way to arrive at truth, of course, but it is an insightful way to see what experiences humanity in general share. Most people believe we exercise some form of free will.

Not everyone agrees. When Rodney Brooks and Rosalind Picard debated the question, “Can Robots Become Human?” at a Veritas Forum at MIT in 2007, the following exchange took place (as recorded in “Living Machines” and published in A Place For Truth) :
Brooks: “ I think of myself as a robot, as a bag of skin full of biomolecules, and if I step back, that’s what [my wife] is, that’s what my kids are. But I have this completely different way of interacting with them, with unconditional love, which is not part of that scientific view. So I have multiple views I operate under every day.”
Picard: “I don’t just call those multiple views, I call those inconsistent views…so there’s no purpose, there’s no meaning, there’s no free will.”
Brooks: “That’s why I said I have a set of inconsistent views that I live under, because that’s really desolate, but it’s the truth.”
Picard: “Yeah, that does seem pretty desolate, and I wonder how you – why you care?”
Brooks: “I live in a fantasyland. That’s the fantasyland I’ve chosen to live in…”
So what is actually happening?

Monday, July 3, 2017

The Shape Of Reality: Identifying Evil

As noted in the opening post in this series, I believe Christianity offers compelling reasons to believe that truth is found most fully and consistently within the framework of a Christian worldview. Considering what we read in front page headlines, it seems appropriate to begin by looking specifically at ethics and morality.
In the aftermath of the Penn State scandal, everyone agreed that a long-standing taboo ought to remain: child molestation is not good. The case involving Dr. Gossnell’s butchery of newborn children, as well as terrorist incidents such as the bombings at the Boston Marathon  engendered an additional outcry against the presence of moral evil in the world.

People from all walks of life have found common ground in their stand against this type of injustice. However, it is increasingly difficult to find a consistent explanation for why these are examples of objectively bad things - that is, actions that are wrong irregardless of individual feelings and preferences.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Shape Of Reality

“Any benefit that people get from religion – any power it has to fulfill them emotionally or motivate them morally – comes from the conviction that it is first of all true.”  Nancy Pearcey, Saving Leonardo

The Christian worldview claims to provide a rational, compelling presentation and defense of the Christian faith. Through reason, revelation (of the natural and supernatural world) and experience, we search for knowledge about God and His creation. This accumulation of knowledge is not simply a process of absorbing dull facts; it's the way in which we access foundational, transformative truth.

Christian theologians and philosophers claim to say something profoundly true about human experience. The claim is supported in numerous ways: archaeology; historical documents; eyewitness testimony; deductive, inductive, and abductive arguments; philosophy and transcendent personal experiences. But if the truth claims of the Christian faith don’t actually explain our existence truthfully and meaningfully, none of these things matter.

“Your worldview has to have the same shape that reality does.” – J. Budziszewski

Monday, June 26, 2017

Etcetera: More Than Talking Points

I am excited to be starting a podcast called "Etcetera: More Than Talking Points" with Beth Milligan, a journalist and long time friend. Our goal is to take the time to delve deeply into issues that effect our lives: religion, politics, ethics, entertainment, philosophy, theology, and a lot of current event issues (immigration, sanctuary cities, abortion, health care, religious freedom, free speech, science and tech, marriage and the family...the list could go on and on!) You can access what we currently have available at the following places:


We are working on several other social media platforms as well as putting more streaming opportunities in place. I will update this post as our platform broadens.

If you listen, please feel free to leave comments, suggestion, questions, etc. We want this to be interactive. Hopefully, we can offer a groundwork of truth that can promote a healthy, respectful and vigorous discussion of the issues in life that matter most.

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!

* * * * * * * * * *
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... 
Edit
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. 😭
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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.

* * * * *

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)
* * * * * * * * * *


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.
* * * * *

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.