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Chris Queen

All Chris Queen wanted to be growing up was a game show host, a weather man, or James Bond. But his writing talent won out. By day, Chris is a somewhat mild-mannered church communications director, but by night, he keeps his finger on the pulse of pop culture and writes about it. In addition to his Disney obsession (as evidenced by his posts on this website), Chris's interests include college sports -- especially his beloved Georgia Bulldogs -- and a wide variety of music. A native of Marietta, GA, Chris moved with his family as a child to nearby Covington, GA, where he still makes his home. He is an active charter member of Eastridge Community Church and enjoys spending time with family and friends. In addition to his work at PJ Media, Chris spent nearly a year as a contributor to NewsReal Blog. He has also written for Celebrations Magazine and two newspapers in Metro Atlanta. Check out his website, www.chrisqueen.net.
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Why Have Americans Become So Sensitive?

Saturday, July 25th, 2015 - by Chris Queen

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Over the last few years we’ve seen some seismic changes in our nation, and it’s tough to know where it began. We used to be a society with an attitude of “live and let live” and “agree to disagree” toward our differences, even when it comes to the most fundamental of disagreements. But these days, I can’t help but wonder: why have Americans become so sensitive?

In 21st century America, we suffer a sort of tyranny of the offended, having to walk on eggshells everywhere we go. Our speech isn’t even free these days. As Ann Coulter so astutely pointed out a few years ago:

Liberals are obsessed with language and controlling the words people use. If they can control our words, they can control us. They simultaneously promote as many languages as possible in American — other than English — and frantically censor words and speakers. Soon the only words we’ll be allowed to use are: “I’m offended.” (“Estoy offendido.”)

Everyone must tiptoe around in order to avoid setting off the alarms of the offended. And there’s no statute of limitations on past offenses either — even if there’s no concrete action to back up the offending words. Say something that offends someone else in public, or admit that you said it in the past, and you’re just as bad as someone who tortures puppies or knocks grocery bags out of the hands of old ladies.

Remember the controversy surrounding celebrity chef Paula Deen a couple of years ago? She admitted to using the N-word (the only word it seems is off limits these days) in one instance about 30 years prior, and the media treated her like she had burned a whole field of crosses. Some of her sponsors dropped her like a pariah, and the Food Network canned her like a bumper crop of veggies from the garden. Deen had the last laugh, of course, picking up new sponsors and launching lucrative new ventures. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not justifying using racial epithets, but uttering one years ago in the depths of anger (in Deen’s case, she was describing a bank robber who pointed a gun at her head) does not make one a racist now.

And now we have to worry about microaggressions. Psychologist Derald Wing Sue defines microaggressions as

…the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership. In many cases, these hidden messages may invalidate the group identity or experiential reality of target persons, demean them on a personal or group level, communicate they are lesser human beings, suggest they do not belong with the majority group, threaten and intimidate, or relegate them to inferior status and treatment.

It’s not enough that we have to watch every little thing we say in public and private, we now have to tailor every single mannerism to avoid offending the sensitive. According to Dr. Wing Sue, if a person notices a woman clutching her purse tighter as she walks by, he or she has every right to be offended, because that’s a microaggression. Don’t speak too loudly to a blind person, because that might be seen as you assuming that he or she is disabled in other ways, too. And on and on it goes. Even the most innocent of actions can come across as offensive to someone else, and Lord knows we can’t have that.

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A Word of Encouragement to Christians

Sunday, July 12th, 2015 - by Chris Queen

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Recent events and trends explain why people of faith feel frustrated and even hopeless with the direction of the country. The shifts in our culture, both minuscule and tectonic, have marginalized many faithful Christians. But the truth is, Christians should have less reason than anyone else to feel hopeless and frustrated if they remember Jesus’ words.

Scott Moore, the lead pastor at Eastridge Community Church where I work (and of which I’m a member), reminded us of this fact this past Sunday, and his message inspired me to share it here. Scott’s sermon centered on a conversation Jesus had with His disciples:

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

14 “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”

15 Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. 18 Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. 19 And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.”

Matthew 16:13-19 (NLT)

Jesus brought His disciples to this city, known for its disgusting rituals and pagan worship, known colloquially as the “Gates of Hades,” to announce His plans for His church. He tells us that the “powers of Hell will not prevail against” this community of believers. Nothing will prevail against God’s church — not evil, not hatred, not racism, not perversion, not greed.

Scott used this passage to remind us as believers that the church (not a particular denomination, but the global family of Christians all over the world) is the most prevailing force the world has ever known. He reminded us that we are stronger than we believe we are if our faith is strong. If we abide in Jesus, in prayer and in His Word, we can’t help but overcome even our worst feelings of inadequacy and despair. He said, “The church is strong because it is built upon the foundation that Jesus is the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Son of the supremely divine, living God.” How could we not prevail?

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An Open Letter to Pretty Much Everybody About the Marriage Debate

Sunday, June 28th, 2015 - by Chris Queen

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Dear America (and any of my international friends who may be reading this):

Since Friday, I’ve seen many opinions on the Supreme Court’s decision in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage everywhere in the nation. From the viewpoint of social media, people have never been so divided over any single issue. In the light of these divisions, someone needs to speak some truths. That someone may as well be me, so here goes.

To those of you who oppose the Supreme Court’s decision: you will never win someone to your case by over-lamenting the ruling as the beginning of the decline of American civilization. Displays of anger and bile probably won’t change anyone’s mind, and neither will name calling — nobody likes a sore loser, no matter how high the stakes. As passionate as you may feel about the traditional definition of marriage, shrieks of indignation can come across to others as petulant or self-righteous. Many proponents of traditional marriage who claim to be followers of Jesus have behaved in less than Christlike fashion, and this is troubling as well.

To those of you who support the judgment of the Court: behaving like a sore winner is bad form. Plastering everything with rainbows comes across as a little too in-your-face, and it won’t bring people around to agreeing with you. (Especially the rainbow version of the American flag. Remember how the Confederate flag offended people? Yeah, this one does, too.) Refrain from using the word “hate” to characterize those who disagree with you. The fact is, most people who don’t agree with the verdict don’t harbor any hatred toward gays at all; they just see the definition of marriage as being one man and one woman. Oh, and you probably should lay off the word “hypocrite” too — for some reason it rubs people the wrong way when you call them hypocrites.

The vitriol on both sides not only divides, but it also deepens the hurt that results from that division. Each side raises the volume a little higher until everyone is shouting, while nobody is really getting a word in edgewise. All of us need to remember this one fact: not everybody is going to agree with you. The sooner we get used to that truth, the more civil I believe our disagreements can become.

We also need to remember that we live in a fallen world; that’s been the case long before the Supreme Court made any decisions. But, to borrow a phrase from a song on Zac Brown Band’s new album, “love is the remedy.”

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Ultimate Classic Rock Got It All Wrong: Here’s a True Ranking of the Beatles’ Albums from Worst to First

Saturday, June 20th, 2015 - by Chris Queen

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The folks over at Ultimate Classic Rock published their ranking of the Beatles’ albums a couple of weeks ago. God bless them, they tried, but they got it all wrong. So I’m here to set them straight with my ranking. Enjoy!

13. Yellow Submarine (1969)

#13 on UCR‘s list

Yellow Submarine is really only half a Beatles album — the other side is George Martin’s score for the lackluster animated film. Even the half that belongs to the Fab Four contains only four original songs joined by two tunes that appeared earlier. The Yellow Submarine soundtrack really only has value to hardcore Beatles fans.

12. Beatles for Sale (1964)

#12 on UCR‘s list

You can tell on Beatles for Sale that the demands of Beatlemania had taken their toll on John, Paul, George, and Ringo. The weary, somber faces on the cover and the tunes produced on the quick within demonstrate how weary the Fab Four must been at that time. Even though a subpar Beatles album beats most any other artist any day, Beatles For Sale is a noticeable drop from “A Hard Day’s Night,” which preceded this album by a mere 21 weeks.

11. Please Please Me (1963)

#10 on UCR‘s list

Here is the beginning of the Fab Four in all their sweaty, frenetic glory. Soulful, immediate, and exciting, Please Please Me shows the promise of so many great things to come. It’s easy to see how Great Britain — and the rest of the world soon after — would succumb to the charms of the lads from Liverpool.

10. Let It Be (1970)

#8 on UCR‘s list

It’s obvious without even seeing the movie that the Beatles had fractured beyond repair. Graceful moments like the title cut and “The Long and Winding Road,” the band’s final two number one hits, and other magical songs like “Across the Universe” and “Two of Us” fall in between odd tracks, creating a record that’s uneven as a whole. At least closing the album with “Get Back” allows the Beatles to leave on a high note.

9. Magical Mystery Tour (1967)

#9 on UCR‘s list

For the Beatles’ 1967 television special Magical Mystery Tour, the band released the soundtrack in an unusual format in the UK — a double-EP consisting of two seven-inch records with three songs each. The U.S. release appeared on an LP with five singles that hadn’t appeared on an album previously added. The TV special songs range from the infamous, inscrutable “I am the Walrus” to the elegant, nostalgic “Your Mother Should Know,” and the addition of the singles prevents the soundtrack songs from being too uneven. Magical Mystery Tour is a pleasant little collection.

8. With the Beatles (1963)

#11 on UCR‘s list

This album is a perfect snapshot of Beatlemania. With the Beatles captures the R&B drenched, ready-for-live-performance vibe of the Fab Four’s early work. The soul covers blend in well with the spirited originals. I dare you: try not to tap your foot or clap your hands. And if you close your eyes, you can almost hear the teenage girls screaming.

7. Help! (1965)

#6 on UCR‘s list

The Fab Four’s second film soundtrack serves as a nice bridge from their lighter-weight early days to the deeper, more experimental stuff to come. Only the first seven cuts appeared in the movie Help!, but the other songs — including the two cover tunes — fit nicely with the soundtrack songs. The Beatles rock nicely on hits like the title track and “Ticket to Ride,” while leaving space for more delicate, acoustic moments like the Simon & Garfunkel-esque “I’ve Just Seen a Face” and the eternally beautiful “Yesterday.” It’s a fine effort for a band at a turning point in its career.

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Someone at Cracked Thinks You Should Be Terrified of Disney Theme Parks

Sunday, June 14th, 2015 - by Chris Queen
Photo via AP Images

Photo via AP Images

Not long ago, I wrote about Cracked.com‘s unfunny TED Talks parody of Walt Disney. The writer of the video filled it with so much knee-jerk character assassination that it took me two posts to refute the abject lies, all of which were meant to make Walt Disney look like a bigot and all-around bad guy.

It turns out that somebody in the Cracked organization apparently has some sort of ax to grind with Disney, because their site is littered with list posts intended to smear Disney as some sort of horrible organization. A friend of mine forwarded me an email from them a couple of weeks ago entitled “Disneyland Is Secretly Terrifying For Visitors (And Worse For The Staff)” which features two articles from 2010 and 2012 that seek to paint the Disney Parks as, at best, tacky and, at worst, downright evil. The two posts are not particularly funny nor do they unearth much new information.

The first one I clicked on tells readers about “The 5 Most Unsettling Disney Theme Park Easter Eggs.” Before I go into much more detail, suffice it to say that none of these “Easter Eggs” were unsettling at all — unless you paint them with an anti-Disney agenda. The post begins talking about the Utilidors: the first-level corridors underneath the Magic Kingdom’s surface that make for unobtrusive passage from one land of the park to another (so guests don’t see a Frontierland cowboy hoofing it through Tomorrowland) and house cast member break rooms, storage, and the computer systems that run the attractions and parades. According to the author, the Utilidors take on a “sinister” tone because Disney’s custodial crews can move quickly from one place to another to clean up messes. That’s right — to Cracked, Disney’s cleanliness is “sinister.” Let that sink in for a minute.

The next section of the article discusses Club 33, the not-so-secret “Secret Club” (the author’s words) at Disneyland, which isn’t really a big deal to anyone who isn’t obsessed with class warfare — so we’ll skip over it and move on to what the author refers to as “Scent Based Mind Control.” (Conspiracy wacko much?) What the phrase “mind control” really refers to is Disney’s innovative use of scents to help immerse guests in the experience of specific lands or attractions (my favorite examples are the pine and orange scents that Disney uses to great effect on Soarin’).  Much to the author’s presumable chagrin, retail giants use this tactic as well to enhance their customers’ shopping experiences — and to entice them to spend more money. But it’s only “unsettling” when Disney does it.

One of the most absurd examples of the author’s horror at Disney’s innovation occurs when he reveals the terrible truth that the Tree of Life at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is based on the design of an offshore oil rig:

But here’s the catch: The whole thing is constructed from an offshore oil-drilling platform. Which is like secretly using an animal carcass to symbolize your vegan restaurant, except not really, since that sounds like something PETA would totally do.

The Imagineers struggled to figure out how to construct the park’s iconic structure in a way that would allow it to support what was initially a restaurant, but later became the theater for a multimedia attraction. So, after watching a documentary on oil rigs, they found the perfect base for the Tree of Life. It’s clever and not creepy or unsettling by any means. Finally, the author apparently just gave up at the end and tried to insinuate that hidden Mickeys are some nefarious plot rather than playful inside jokes that reward observant guests.

It got worse when I checked out the next article, “6 True Stories About Disneyland They Don’t Want You to Know.” (Why do I even dignify them with a hyperlink?) These authors throw their Disney hatred out there with boldness — it’s right there in the intro when they write, “We’ve said that Disney movies teach bad lessons” and “Disneyland is the combination of the only three things that matter: cartoons, rides and thinly concealed evil.” But all they have to show for their vitriol is half-truths and urban legends.

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The Future in Tomorrowland Is Bright, Optimistic, and Fun — Just Like Walt Disney Envisioned It!

Thursday, May 28th, 2015 - by Chris Queen

This post contains some minor spoilers. If you don’t want to know some of what happens in Tomorrowland, go — right now — and see the movie first. We’ll be right here waiting when you get back.

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Tomorrowland was one of the three movies I was looking forward to this year. (The others? SPECTRE and Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.) Tomorrowland presents an exhilarating vision of what could be that matches what I call the optimistic futurism of the studio’s founder, Walt Disney, in the form of an adventure tale in which Frank Walter (George Clooney) and Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) rush to save the world by ridding the title city (which I can best describe as Walt’s utopian city in another dimension) of its negative influence. As I walked out of the theater at the end of the film with my friend, I turned to her and said, “I wonder what people who aren’t familiar with Walt Disney’s futurism will think of it?”

We didn’t have to wait long to find out the answer. Rotten Tomatoes has measured critical reaction to the film at 50% – not exactly a ringing endorsement from the non-Disney set, and so far the movie hasn’t lived up to box office expectations either. Breitbart and The Daily Beast have aimed their sharpest daggers at Tomorrowland, managing to prove at the same time that they don’t know what the movie is really about:

But perhaps the most surprising criticism of the film comes from liberal outlet the Daily Beast. In a piece titled “George Clooney’s Global Warming Shaming,” the outlet’s Kevin Fallon knocks Clooney for “shaming us for causing the end of the world.”

“He’s the one who, like all of us, is educated on the environmental issues and human behaviors that are leading to the destruction of the Earth and the end of civilization,” Fallon writes. “He, like all of us, knows that we hold the power to fix these things, should we choose to do so. And he, like all of us, is resigned to not doing anything about it.”

“That is, until the right person and argument – or futuristic utopia based on a region in a Disney theme park – comes along to convince us to get motivated.”

Here’s the thing: the movie isn’t really about global warming. Environmental disasters are just part of what could contribute to the end of the world according to Tomorrowland, and the only character who specifically mentions global warming is the villain, Governor Nix (Hugh Laurie). In fact, the screenplay indicts those who promulgate a vision of negativity and dystopian doom-and-gloom on the world. Breitbart‘s Daniel Nussbaum and The Daily Beast‘s Fallon have revealed their ignorance in hanging their criticism of the movie on the issue of environmentalism alone.

Instead, Tomorrowland does a decent job in articulating Walt Disney’s vision for the future — one in which the best and the brightest dreamers, thinkers, and doers work together to innovate and generate hope and excitement for the future. The film’s conflict stems from the fact that Tomorrowland has lost that sense of hope and has fallen under the cynicism and gloom of Governor Nix.

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Zac Brown Band’s Jekyll + Hyde: A Contrarian Review

Friday, May 15th, 2015 - by Chris Queen

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For years Zac Brown Band has walked an interesting line between country and rock. Those of us who had the privilege of seeing them before they became famous can remember shows that featured more rock than country moments, and every one of their albums has featured moments of Southern rock, Buffett-style island pop, reggae, and jam band stylings.

Two weeks ago, the band released Jekyll + Hyde, their most ambitious and eclectic album to date, and the critics just don’t know what to do with it. Some reviewers have complimented the record, with Billboard magazine stating that the band “captures its onstage madness” on the new release, and Rolling Stone says “they bang out styles with such preposterous ease — Seventies Philly soul, old-timey gospel, Celtic folk, metal, reggae, jazz — they could incorporate as a single-band music-placement agency.”

But then there are the complaints. Consequences of Sound‘s review sounds positive on the surface, but read deep and you’ll find plenty of backhanded statements that come across as negative (especially coming from a reviewer who calls herself an “elitist” when it comes to country music). The New York Times characterizes the album as containing “the kind of omnivorousness that went in and out of fashion in hip-hop more than a decade ago, but still feels novel in country” and repeatedly trashes Brown’s voice on a record where he stretches his range further than ever. Entertainment Weekly gives Jekyll + Hyde a grade of C+ and accuses the band of “self-indulgence.”

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But the best bad review has to come from Saving Country Music. I usually love the way this blog pokes holes in the current bro-country genre that has become so popular and highlights some traditional country acts who might otherwise fall through the cracks, but their reviewer seems to have plenty of daggers for Zac Brown Band while admitting what all of us longtime fans know: that they’re not strictly a country band. Reviewer “Trigger” seems to have real issues with the band being good at what they do, regardless of musical style:

Music is not a skills competition. This isn’t the decathlon. They don’t hand out Grammy Awards for the band that can play songs from the most genres. They give Grammys to the artists who steady themselves and prove they are the best in a given musical discipline. I’ll give credit to the backing band of Weird Al for their alacrity. With the Zac Brown Band, I just want to hear good songs. I’m not impressed that they can segue from a Frank Sinatra-inspired sonnet into progressive grunge. If I’m feeling in those moods, I’ll go listen to the bands and artists who’ve mastered those mediums and made music from inspiration, instead of someone trying to impress me with their shape shifting ability.

Here’s the thing: Jekyll + Hyde is a mess of an album, but it’s a glorious mess. Leadoff single “Homegrown” proves that Zac Brown Band still knows how to deliver a country hook, but the band hops from genre to genre throughout the album, stretching their impressive chops and covering territory they’ve never ventured into before. As mainstream country embraces dance-pop, the opening track “Beautiful Drug” dives headlong to irresistible effect, while “Tomorrow Never Comes” incorporates electronic elements into its country/folk foundation, though the acoustic version at the album’s end is more haunting.

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Tunes like new single “Loving You Easy” and “One Day” combine breezy pop and classic soul elements that sound retro and fresh at the same time. Pop chanteuse Sara Bareilles joins in on the playful big band number “Mango Tree,” which sounds far less like a band tune than a straight duet with Brown and Bareilles. The sweet folk of the first half of “I’ll Be Your Man (Song For A Daughter)” will certainly bring tears to many a dads’ eyes – at least until the song devolves into a bizarre ad-lib competition. The one cover tune, Jason Isbell’s “Dress Blues,” tells of a soldier’s funeral in a moving story song.

But Zac Brown Band is at its best when walking that rock line. Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell adds his distinctive voice to “Heavy Is The Head,” a hybrid of grunge, progressive rock, and Southern rock that topped Billboard‘s Mainstream Rock Tracks chart for two weeks. “Junkyard” revisits a tune from their first independent album and gives it an even edgier rock kick. The touching country ballad “Bittersweet” morphs into an even more powerful rock track by its end.

The highs and fascinating moments on Jekyll + Hyde don’t mean that the album is without its low points. “Castaway,” the record’s requisite Coral Reefer nod suggests that the band may have drawn from the Buffett well one too many times. The quasi-gospel of “Remedy” loses its power in a muddy universalist message that’s tough to get behind. And some of the least appealing numbers are the ones that fall most squarely into the country vein – “Wildfire” and “Young and Wild.”

With Jekyll + Hyde, Zac Brown Band has delivered one ambitious free-form radio station of an album. It’s one that demonstrates the true capabilities of these guys as both musicians and vocalists, and it’s sure to please the band’s longtime fans just as it has managed to confound so many critics.

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Can Conservatives & Libertarians Unify? A Review of The Conservatarian Manifesto

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015 - by Chris Queen

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Both conservatism and libertarianism carry a certain reputation for adherence to core principles, and while both philosophies share a few common ideals, there are certain sticking points — like immigration, the war on drugs, and abortion– that tend to separate the two philosophies. Conventional wisdom holds that conservatism and libertarianism sit in different areas on the right side of the spectrum, and never the twain shall meet.

But is such generalization really the case? There appears to be a growing movement among the right of people who find themselves somewhere between conservatism and libertarianism. Over the last couple of years I’ve found myself falling somewhere in between the two distinct philosophies. That’s why I became excited when I heard about The Conservatarian Manifesto.

National Review‘s Charles C. W. Cooke has created a unique document that seeks “to remind the American Right that ours is an iconoclastic movement.” He reaches out to the people who find themselves firmly on the right but don’t feel like they firmly identify as conservative or libertarian.

Some among this group have become sufficiently frustrated with their brothers-in-arms to have established new and discrete groups, even abandoning or amending the “conservative” and “libertarian” labels traditionally used to describe the two strongest building blocks of the Right’s coalition. These are the “conservatarians” referred to in the title of this book, and they have an important to make.

Boy, do they (or should I say, “we”), and with Cooke as spokesman, the conservatarian movement may help unify the right.

Cooke begins his journey by picking apart both the positive aspects and negative assumptions of the conservative and libertarian movements. He also looks at what he sees wrong with the conservative movement, examining in particular the big-government conservatism that existed under George W. Bush.

During the Bush administration’s turbulent eight years, the Republican Party steadily ruined its reputation, damaging the public conception of conservatism in the process… Most of all, the Republican Party lost its reputation for fiscal restraint, constitutional propriety, and mastery of foreign affairs.

The author concludes his chapter on the problems that exist on the Right by noting that “Republicans must reestablish themselves as the party of liberty, demonstrating to a skeptical but interested electorate that they are committed to laissez-faire.” Interestingly enough, Cooke does not advocate a wholesale adherence to libertarian ideology, but he does acknowledge that conservatism and libertarianism can, and should, coexist.

One of the key tenets that conservatarianism must adopt, according to Cooke, is a devotion to federalism. He writes that the right should advocate that “as few decisions as possible are made from Washington, D.C.” and that lovers of freedom should “render the American framework of government as free as possible and…decentralize power.”

Cooke then takes a look at institutions like the media and the educational system. The right has done well to establish some alternatives to the traditional, left-leaning media outlets, but conservatives and libertarians alike have their work cut out for them when it comes to reforming the educational system. He then steals a glimpse into the importance of the Constitution to the right and why that attachment remains crucial to a nation that values freedom.

After his march through America’s institutions, Cooke tackles specific political issues and delves into what a conservatarian position could or should be on many of them. He starts with gun control, citing stats that prove the inefficacy of gun-control attempts, as well as information that demonstrates the growing popularity of the protection of gun rights. Cooke then points out why it is important for the right to nevertheless acknowledge that guns can be dangerous, no matter how free our society is.

Next, Cooke contrasts the success of the pro-gun movement with what he calls the failures of the war on drugs. Citing incarceration statistics, he points out how he believes that federal efforts to deter drug use are not working. But he notes that

…this is not to say that conservatives should be “pro-drug.” Indeed, the beauty of opposing federal involvement is that it affords us a free hand elsewhere. Conservatives can quite happily agitate for federal withdrawal and continue to argue against the wisdom of using drugs and leave the legal questions to the states and localities.

At this point, Cooke offers a few suggestions like leaving drug enforcement to the states and relying on churches and non-profits as well as supporting the demilitarization of the police.

Cooke then goes on to tackle a host of other issues. He makes one of the most eloquent and sensible arguments for the pro-life cause that I’ve heard and dismantles the follies of the advocates of abortion on demand. He delves into what he sees as the inevitability of same-sex marriage, preparing the right to get used to it, while at the same time advocating for the protection of those who do not agree with it.

Looking at foreign policy, Cooke acknowledges the fatigue that many Americans have toward the interventionist tack that the country seems to have undertaken, but he doesn’t necessarily call for a neutralist or isolationist stance. Instead, he argues for a continued strong defense because of the United States’ lone superpower status. Cooke notes that American primacy lends stability to much of the world order, but he notes that “[it] is entirely feasible for America to lead without needing to rush to the scene of every fire in every corner of the world.” He likens the hegemony of the United States to an insurance policy against problems in many areas of the globe.

Lastly, Cooke argues against the demography-is-destiny mindset that seems to plague both parties these days. He advocates for an immigration policy that is fair and does not become a welfare program.

Cooke sees the future as a golden opportunity for freedom-loving people on the right end of the political spectrum. His conclusion is for conservatives and libertarians to band together to ensure that freedom is a positive message that appeals to everyone. Some of the ideas in The Conservatarian Manifesto won’t appeal to everyone — I certainly had issues with a couple of the solutions in the book — but the book does put forth some encouraging strategies for what could be a united right, one we sorely need if we’re going to win in 2016 and beyond.

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Why I Am Non-Denominational Christian

Sunday, March 15th, 2015 - by Chris Queen

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Dear Ana Marie Cox,

Like countless others, I read your essay “Why I’m Coming Out as a Christian” with mixed emotions. At times you encouraged me, baffled me, and infuriated me, but at the end, I walked away satisfied, knowing that, even though you and I may not agree on everything (or much at all, maybe?), you and I are on the same side of the ultimate decision of all: the decision to follow Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

You impressed me most with some of your elegant descriptions of faith:

In my personal life, my faith is not something I struggle with or something I take particular pride in. It is just part of who I am. [...] I try, every day, to give my will and my life over to God. I try to be like Christ. I get down on my knees and pray. [...] Here is why I believe I am a Christian: I believe I have a personal relationship with my Lord and Savior. I believe in the grace offered by the Resurrection. I believe that whatever spiritual rewards I may reap come directly from trying to live the example set by Christ. Whether or not I succeed in living up to that example is primarily between Him and me. My understanding of Christianity is that it doesn’t require me to prove my faith to anyone on this plane of existence. It is about a direct relationship with the divine and freely offered salvation.

A perfect world would greet your essay with the same fanfare it greets people who make all sorts of declarations about their personal life, but as believers in Jesus you and I both know that the world we live in is far from perfect.

Like my colleague, Jon Bishop, I thought that sharing my experiences might add to the conversation. I grew up in the church — there has never been a time in my life when my family wasn’t actively involved in church. The church we attended from the time I was a child until my 11th grade year was a Christian Church. Though they claim not to be a denomination, and there is no hierarchy like a denomination, there’s a doctrinal hegemony within much of the Christian Church, and the congregations share common educational institutions and mission organizations.

In the church where I grew up, I often heard the saying, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, love.” Yet this congregation didn’t practice much unity — in fact, every three years or so a big blow-up would take place which would set the church back in many ways.

(It may be worth nothing here that such schisms dot the timeline of the Restoration Movement, which began during the Second Great Awakening in the 19th century and produced the Christian Church, as well as the more liberal Christian Church [Disciples of Christ], the Church of Christ [both the congregations who use musical instruments and those who don't], and the Evangelical Christian Church in Canada. Disputes over organization, worship style, and theological liberalism have led to splits within the movement over many years.)

During one of those blow-ups at my home church when I was 16, my family along with about half a dozen other families set out to start a new congregation, one that was truly independent. We saw a need that was lacking in our community and sought to meet it by providing a casual, contemporary worship experience in a theologically conservative setting.

We maintained the loosest of ties with the Christian Church, largely because our pastors and earliest members came from that tradition, but also for the sake of camps for children and students, as well as missionaries. We’ve also kept a few of the Christian Church’s traditions — taking the Lord’s Supper every Sunday and an emphasis on baptism by immersion (though, while the Christian Church considers baptism essential to salvation, we don’t believe that baptism saves an individual — we do consider it a requirement for church membership and an important sacrament for a new believer to undertake).

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After 25 years, give or take a few months, Eastridge Community Church has refined its mission — the mission God gave us — to make disciples who love God, love people, and reach the world. We have served our community in countless ways and sent members on mission trips to Mexico, China, India, Honduras, Ethiopia, and Rwanda. We’ve become a multi-site church with a second campus in the southern area of our home county, and we sponsor churches in India.

One of the most remarkable features of our history is that, other than one change in leadership, we’ve remained largely unified with no splits (save an exodus of some members surrounding that leadership change). It’s the kind of unity that can only come from a congregation that is committed to following God above any other agenda.

How has Eastridge shaped me? It’s where I learned how to serve selflessly, where I developed many of my creative talents and leadership skills. The church has taken me to Mexico to build houses — twice. I’ve been discipled and I’ve discipled others. I love Eastridge so much that I spend six years on staff and recently came back on staff!

Without the involvement in and support from an independent, non-denominational church for a little over 25 years, I wouldn’t be the man of God that I am. I truly believe that, and I’m grateful that He’s allowed me and the rest of my family to experience these years at Eastridge.

Sincerely,

Chris Queen

******

Please join the discussion with us on Twitter. The essay above is the twenty-first in volume 2 of the cultural discussions between the writers of PJ Lifestyle and Liberty Island exploring the history of counter-cultures, the future of conservatism and the role of new, emerging counter-cultures in restoring American exceptionalism. Want to contribute? Check out the articles below, reach out, and lets brainstorm: @DaveSwindle

The essay is the third in a series of inter-faith dialogues on Sundays, see the first from Jon Bishop on March 8, “Why I Am Catholic,” and the second by Susan L.M. Goldberg published earlier today, “Why I Am Jewish.”

Volume II

  1. Frank J. Fleming on February 26, 2015: What Is the Future of Government? Why It Won’t Look Like Star Trek 
  2. Aaron C. Smith on February 26, 2015: What Is the Future of Superheroes? Why They Need To Start Killing Super-Villains
  3. Mark Ellis on February 26, 2016: What Is the Future of Gen-X Manhood? Adam Carolla Vs Chuck Palahniuk?
  4. David S. Bernstein on February 26, 2015: What is the Future of Fiction? You’ll Be Shocked Who’s Fighting the New Conservative Counter-Culture
  5. Aaron C. Smith on March 2, 2015: The House Loses: Why Season 3 of House of Cards Utterly Disappoints
  6. Michael Walsh on March 2: What the Left Doesn’t Get About Robert A. Heinlein
  7. Frank J. Fleming on March 3: 8 Frank Rules For How Not to Tweet
  8. Susan L.M. Goldberg on March 4: 7 Reasons Why Backstrom Is Perfect Counter-Culture Conservative TV
  9. Frank J. Fleming on March 5: What Is the Future of Religion?
  10. Aaron C. Smith on March 5: The Future of Religion: Why Judeo-Christian Values Are More Important Than Science
  11. Spencer Klavan on March 5: Not Religion’s Future: ISIS and the Art of Destruction
  12. Chris Queen on March 7: 5 Reasons Why Big Hero 6 Belongs Among The Pantheon Of Disney Classics
  13. Jon Bishop on March 8: Why I Am Catholic
  14. Frank J. Fleming on March 11: 6 Frank Tips For Being Funny On the Internet
  15. Becky Graebner on March 11: 5 Things I Learned In My First 6 Months As a Small Business Owner
  16. Frank J. Fleming on March 12: This Is Today’s Question: What Does It Mean To Be ‘Civilized’?
  17. Mark Ellis on March 12: The Future of Civilized Society: One World
  18. Aaron C. Smith on March 12: Why Civilization Is a Gift to Bullies
  19. David S. Bernstein on March 12: Nihilism & Feminism for Girls: Has Judd Apatow Let Lena Dunham Self-Destruct Intentionally?
  20. Susan L.M. Goldberg on March 15: Why I Am Jewish

See the first volume of articles from 2014 and January and February 2015 below:

2014 – Starting the Discussion…

January 2015 – Volume I

February 2015

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5 Reasons Why Big Hero 6 Belongs Among The Pantheon Of Disney Classics

Saturday, March 7th, 2015 - by Chris Queen

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WARNING: this post contains plot spoilers! If you haven’t seen Big Hero 6, go watch it – RIGHT NOW! – and then come back to read this.

I recently watched Disney’s latest Oscar-winning animated feature Big Hero 6 for the first (and second) time. I loved the film so much that I watched it twice in less than 24 hours. The story of Hiro Hamada, his robot buddy Baymax, and their college pals who become unwitting superheroes surprised me in so many ways that I believe Big Hero 6 deserves a place among the classics of Disney animation, and here are a few reasons why.

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5. Big Hero 6 contains some of the most appealing characters Disney has introduced in a long time.

Over nearly a century, Disney has brought us some memorable and wonderful characters, and though the Big Hero 6 originated in the Marvel universe, the characters in the film Big Hero 6 wind up being some of the best Disney characters in recent memory.

Hiro takes many character tropes – the young teen, the plucky orphan, the prodigious genius – and overcomes them with his sense of wonder at the world around him. Tadashi’s selfless nature manifests itself beautifully in his love for his brother, and Aunt Cass is both high-strung and grounded as guardian of her nephews.

Hiro and Tadashi’s friends are terrific characters in their own right. Go-Go counters her surface misanthropy by revealing her heart at just the right times, while Honey Lemon breaks through a vapid exterior with intellect and concern for others. Wasabi’s quirky neuroses belie a maturity that drives him, while Fred proves he’s more than just an apparent stoner ne’er-do-well.

And then there’s Baymax, my personal favorite. His robotic deadpan turns out to be the perfect delivery for some of the movie’s best lines (what he mines from a simple “oh no” is worth its weight in gold). Baymax proves that artificial intelligence can generate genuine heart.

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4. The self-esteem message in Big Hero 6 contains more substance than anything else in our culture today.

Nowadays pop culture tends to send the same message to young people – embrace your weirdness, let your freak flag fly. It seems like films, music, and television tell our kids that unless they’re an oddball in some way they’ll never fit it.

Big Hero 6 conveys a self-esteem message that runs counter to current pop culture: the notion that everyone has talents and ways that they can make the world a better place. Sure, the Big Hero 6 are weird, but their value lies not in embracing their weirdness but in the skills and knowledge they possess (or, to paraphrase Tadashi, their big brains). That’s a message that carries more substance than the freak flag ever will.

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3. Big Hero 6 appeals to boys better than most of Disney’s prior attempts.

Let’s face it: Disney’s animated output has been princess-centric since the beginning, and it seems like the studio has upped the ante since discovering the princesses’ marketing power a few years back. Disney has attempted to appeal directly to boys over the years, but for various reasons, those attempts haven’t really stuck long term.

As wonderful as The Sword In The Stone is, it has never ranked among the classics with long-term staying power. The Black Cauldron? Nope, too dark. Unfortunately, Aladdin has had to suffer the “Princess Movie” label, despite the fact that the protagonist and titular character is a guy. The Lion King is one of the rare Disney “boy movies” that rank among the classics, and I firmly believe Big Hero 6 will join that short list.

Big Hero 6 is the total package for a guy’s movie: edge-of-the-seat action, high and low comedy, and a heroes-versus-villains tension (even if the villain’s evil is driven by family revenge). The movie balances these elements with the right amount of heart, as well as including sly jokes that parents can laugh along with. I feel strongly that the film has the kind of staying power that will resist changing trends and attitudes, despite it’s current cutting-edge style.

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2. There are elements of countercultural conservatism in Big Hero 6.

Whether the filmmakers intended them or not, we can find threads in Big Hero 6 that suggest countercultural conservative themes. I’ve already discussed the unique (and positive) message of self-esteem we see in the film. We also see evidence of the value of hard work and perseverance when Baymax shows Hiro the footage of Tadashi working on his prized robot.

In spite of his off-the-charts intelligence (the kid graduated high school at 13, for crying out loud!), Hiro must work hard to produce a unique invention to ensure his admission into the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology’s robotics program. He even receives in invitation to work with the billionaire industrialist Alistair Krei as a result of his presentation.

The most interesting countercultural conservative thread runs through the villain story. When Alistair Krei approaches Hiro after his robotics presentation, the earnest Professor Callaghan decries Krei as a selfish robber baron. Yet the villain turns out to be Callaghan, and Krei is his target. It’s also worth noting that, with Krei’s obvious success, his major failure is the government-sponsored teleportation project.

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1. Big Hero 6 conveys a message about innovation that would make Walt himself proud.

One underlying – and possibly intentional – lesson from Big Hero 6 has to do with innovation, and the movie delivers it in a way that would make Walt and his inner circle proud.

For starters, the competition which results in Hiro’s admission to SFIT is one where prospective students seek to create truly innovative robotics applications, and Hiro wins over both Krei and Professor Callaghan with his microbots. But the kicker is Tadashi’s encouragment to Hiro which leads to his invention of the microbots.

When Hiro hits a dead end in coming up with ideas for the competition, Tadashi gives his younger brother advice in an unusual way:

Tadashi: Hey, I’m not giving up on you.

[Tadashi grabs Hiro by the ankles and hangs him upside-down over his shoulders. He begins jumping around the room, with Hiro flopping behind him.]

Hiro: Ahhǃ What are you doing?

Tadashi: Shake things up! Use that big brain of yours to think your way out!

Hiro: What?

Tadashi: Look for a new angle.

[Hiro groans and decides to humor Tadashi. He looks around the room from a new angle and spots Megabot. He gets an idea.]

Tadashi’s advice would make Walt proud and even reads like a page out of The Imagineering Way. Hiro dishes it out when the team runs up against trouble in their battle against Callaghan. He tells the team, “Listen up! Use those big brains of yours to think your way around the problem! Look for a new angle!”

And while we’re at it, let’s consider the coolest innovation of all – Baymax. Tadashi set out to help people, and in doing so he created the ultimate innovation in health care, one that didn’t require massive federal bureaucracy.

I’m telling you, Walt would be proud.

*******

Please join the discussion on TwitterThe essay above is the twelfth in volume 2 of the cultural discussions between the writers of PJ Lifestyle and Liberty Island exploring the history of counter-cultures, the future of conservatism and the role of new, emerging counter-cultures in restoring American exceptionalism. Want to contribute? Check out the articles below, reach out, and lets brainstorm: @DaveSwindle

Volume II

  1. Frank J. Fleming on February 26, 2015: What Is the Future of Government? Why It Won’t Look Like Star Trek 
  2. Aaron C. Smith on February 26, 2015: What Is the Future of Superheroes? Why They Need To Start Killing Super-Villains
  3. Mark Ellis on February 26, 2016: What Is the Future of Gen-X Manhood? Adam Carolla Vs Chuck Palahniuk?
  4. David S. Bernstein on February 26, 2015: What is the Future of Fiction? You’ll Be Shocked Who’s Fighting the New Conservative Counter-Culture
  5. Aaron C. Smith on March 2, 2015: The House Loses: Why Season 3 of House of Cards Utterly Disappoints
  6. Michael Walsh on March 2: What the Left Doesn’t Get About Robert A. Heinlein
  7. Frank J. Fleming on March 3: 8 Frank Rules For How Not to Tweet
  8. Susan L.M. Goldberg on March 4: 7 Reasons Why Backstrom Is Perfect Counter-Culture Conservative TV
  9. Frank J. Fleming on March 5: What Is the Future of Religion?
  10. Aaron C. Smith on March 5: The Future of Religion: Why Judeo-Christian Values Are More Important Than Science
  11. Spencer Klavan on March 5: Not Religion’s Future: ISIS and the Art of Destruction

See the first volume of articles from 2014 and January and February 2015 below:

2014 – Starting the Discussion…

January 2015 – Volume I

February 2015

Read bullet | Comments »

Wouldn’t You Like To Be a Prepper Too?

Monday, February 16th, 2015 - by Chris Queen

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You’re reading a post for Preparedness Week, a weeklong series of blogs about disaster and emergency preparation inspired by the launch of Freedom Academy’s newest e-book, Surviving the End: A Practical Guide for Everyday Americans in the Age of Terror by James Jay Carafano, Ph.D. You can download the e-book exclusively at the PJ Store here.

People who go overboard to prepare for disaster scenarios are easy targets. I think back to 1999 during the whole Y2K scare, when the pastor of our church at the time held a seminar about what to stock up on when all the computers failed on New Year’s Eve at the stroke of midnight. I’ll never forget grown men arguing over who had the bigger food stash. My own personal stash consisted of two cans of green beans, and those cans helped me survive the crisis of what to serve with pork chops one day in January 2000.

National Geographic’s Doomsday Preppers series brought the eccentricities of modern disaster preppers to light in an entertaining way, showing us what some otherwise normal Americans do to prepare for “when the s*** hits the fan,” as so many of them were apt to say. These folks could have been your neighbors, except unlike you they were also worried about implausible scenarios like the super-volcano underneath Yellowstone Park erupting and throwing New York City into chaos. We’re talking about people who make plans to live off bathtub water or stockpile liquor to use as barter — people whose endearing wackiness packs a perverse fascination.

But the reality is that we do have genuine threats to worry about and ways to prepare for the worst without going off the deep end. That’s the point national that security expert and my PJ Lifestyle colleague James Jay Carafano, PhD makes in his brand new book Surviving the End: A Practical Guide for Everyday Americans in the Age Of Terror. Nowhere in this book will you find advice on how to create the ideal liquor stockpile or how to “bug out” to the wilderness, and you won’t read about an eruption at Yellowstone Park. What you will find is sober-minded advice on how to prepare for real, plausible scenarios that threaten the American way of life.

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Carafano writes not with a Chicken Little doomsday mentality but with an eye toward clear thinking and calm judgment in a crisis (and with just the right amount of humor). His solutions are not over the top or prohibitively expensive — rather, his ideas only require reasonable amounts of time and money. Most simply put, Carafano drills down his philosophy of preparedness to health, faith, family, and education.

In Surving the End, Carafano looks at five distinct threats: epidemic disease, nuclear explosions, terrorism in its may forms, EMPs (electromagnetic pulses), and cyber attacks. While each of these scenarios carry their own scariness, they’re all quite real and carry their own far-reaching consequences. With each threat, Carafano examines the potential danger and fallout (no pun intended) and looks at practical and reasonable ways to ensure safety and long-term survival in each situation.

One theme that emerges throughout the book is that we should be proactive as families and communities to prepare for the worst, rather than relying on the federal government to help us out in a crisis. While he admits that Uncle Sam does provide some good resources and gets responses right once in a while, Carafano goes to great lengths to point out the failure of federal authorities when both sides are in charge. Glaring recent examples like Hurricane Katrina and the Fukushima nuclear disaster stand alongside historical records like the 1918 Swine Flu epidemic to warn all of us that governments rarely have the answers in a crisis.

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Carafano’s recommendations in the book are always practical and doable. Some of them require investments of time and money, of course, but so do most worthwhile pursuits. Nothing the author suggests requires the odd leaps of faith that eccentric preppers promote. The fact that Carafano recommends so many well-researched and sensible responses to worst-case scenarios lends a genuine credibility to his writing. Surviving the End is no doomsday manual — it’s a guidebook for practical preparedness.

When all is said and done, Carafano has brought a new attitude to the arena of disaster prep — neither the quasi-Biblical urgency of a Glenn Beck nor the smug fatalism of reality show preppers, but a common-sense, can-do approach to readiness. And in the end, Carafano encourages us to realize that being sensibly prepared is the American way.

This guide has given you the best there is to offer of simple, practical, useful measures you can take to keep your loved ones safe. But there is another important message in the guide as well. We all will survive better if we pull together – not as mindless lemmings following Washington, but as free Americans who fight together for the future of freedom.

As terrible as the terrors we have talked about here are, they are no worse than the suffering at Valley Forge, the slaughter of Gettysburg, the crushing Great Depression, the tragedy of Pearl Harbor, or the terror of the Cuban Missile Crisis. This generation of Americans is every bit as capable of besting the worst life has to offer. If we do that together, our odds are more than even.

You know, he’s right. I really only had to read this book for the sake of this review, but I’ve already begun making a list of things I want to do to become more prepared (including getting in shape — as if I needed another reason to remind me), and I’ll recommend that my loved ones do the same. For this kind of sober-minded preparation boils down to common sense, plain and simple.

Carafano suggests that we all become preppers, and if we take the advice we read in Surviving the End, we can do so. We won’t turn into the kind of weirdos who are ready to off the pets and high tail it out to the wilderness or move to a bunker with more canned food than a Super Walmart “when the s*** hits the fan,” but we’ll be the kind of people who embody the robust, enterprising American spirit that has made our nation so great. And we’ll do our part to help ensure that America survives just as much as our families survive.

Learn more about the inspiration for Disaster Week by downloading Surviving the End on the PJ Store today, and make sure your family is prepared.

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4 More Examples Of Disinformation In Cracked.Com’s Walt Disney Parody

Friday, January 30th, 2015 - by Chris Queen

Last week I shared with you the examples of disinformation in the unfunny recent Cracked.Com parody of Walt Disney giving a TED Talk. I only got through a fraction of the video before I reached 2,000 words! So I went back to the video (I sacrificed so you don’t have to watch it) and found even more examples of the type of disinformation that the Left makes up to try and destroy Walt Disney. Here are four more of them, along with rebuttals based in fact.

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Disney legend Ward Kimball (left) shared a love of trains with Walt, but the two didn’t share the same political views.

1. “In my vision of the Disney universe there’s no room for pinko, liberal, bleeding hearts to spoil the magic…”

As I’ve written before, although Walt Disney did become a conservative, he grew up under the influence of a Socialist father, and he remained politically naive for much of his adult life. He once said:

A long time ago, I found out that I knew nothing whatsoever about this game of politics and since then I’ve preferred to keep silent about the entire matter rather than see my name attached to any statement that was not my own.

Walt didn’t care about the political leanings of his staff, for the most part. Some of the animators and Imagineers in his inner circle held beliefs far to Walt’s left, and the studio employed plenty of left-wing artists and writers. All Walt worried about was the quality of their work. Michael Barrier writes:

An employee’s politics were not of any particular concern to him if that employee was not challenging him as Art Babbitt and Dave Hilberman had. Some of Disney’s employees, like Ward Kimball, flourished even though it was no secret that their politics were far more liberal than his. Maurice Rapf, who worked for Disney as a live-action screenwriter for two and a half years in the middle 1940s, was an extreme example. He wrote many years later that Disney “knew very well that I was a dedicated left-winger. He may have even known that I was a Communist.”

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5 Reasons Why Cracked‘s Parody of Walt Disney Is Nothing Like the Truth

Friday, January 23rd, 2015 - by Chris Queen

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I enjoy good satire that really makes a point. The problem with satire is that, for it to be truly good and genuinely funny, the satire must find its basis in truth. Satire that isn’t based in facts doesn’t work and is generally unfunny.

I’ll give you a recent example: over at the humor site Cracked, a recent video by some guy named Michael Swaim presented a fictional TED talk by Walt Disney. The title of the post was “Why Walt Disney Is Nothing Like You Think He Was,” of course guaranteed to generate buzz.

In the video, an actor — Swaim, maybe? — dressed like a used car salesman and, not even trying to imitate Walt’s Missouri twang, spouts off the usual suspects of Disney disinformation. I didn’t embed the YouTube clip here, because it’s not safe for work or kids and because it’s six minutes of your life you’ll never get back. But I will highlight and refute five of the worst smears in the video.

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Newsweek Throws the First Stone

Sunday, January 18th, 2015 - by Chris Queen

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In the Gospel of John, we read a story where a group of Jewish Torah teachers and Pharisees (members of a legalistic sect of Judaism) bring to Jesus a woman whom they caught in adultery, asking Him what punishment He thinks the woman deserves. Masterfully — as He always did — Jesus answers the scholars with a simple, yet profound statement:  “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7, NIV).

Recently, Newsweek featured a cover article on the Bible in which author Kurt Eichenwald — not a Biblical scholar but a business writer with a clear agenda — lets forth on how Christians misinterpret the Bible. In his piece, Eichenwald throws the first stone, not even pretending to mask an agenda against conservative Biblical scholarship:

They wave their Bibles at passersby, screaming their condemnations of homosexuals. They fall on their knees, worshipping at the base of granite monuments to the Ten Commandments while demanding prayer in school. They appeal to God to save America from their political opponents, mostly Democrats. They gather in football stadiums by the thousands to pray for the country’s salvation.

They are God’s frauds, cafeteria Christians who pick and choose which Bible verses they heed with less care than they exercise in selecting side orders for lunch. They are joined by religious rationalizers—fundamentalists who, unable to find Scripture supporting their biases and beliefs, twist phrases and modify translations to prove they are honoring the Bible’s words.

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The 10 Most Essential Christmas Specials and Holiday Movies

Wednesday, December 24th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

Editor’s Note: This article was first published as “Essential Christmas: The 10 Best Holiday Specials And Movies” in 2011 and is now resurrected and republished as part of today and tomorrow’s Ghost-Lists of Christmas Past Series.

In a day when parents and children rarely watch the same TV shows, Christmas TV specials and holiday movies still somehow manage to continue to bring families together.

These days it’s even easier than it used to be to share these traditions. ABC Family has made an art out of holiday programming with their “25 Days of Christmas” programming blocs that package specials throughout the month of December. Home video and streaming services also allow families to watch programs whenever they want.

In the spirit of Christmas, I’m offering to you this list of the ten most essential specials and movies of the season.

We’ll start with a pair of very different types of animation from a production company synonymous with Christmas specials…

10. The Year Without A Santa Claus

Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass are synonymous with their stop-motion Christmas specials of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Viewers not familiar with their names will recognize their unmistakable round-headed characters, candy-colored landscapes, and softly falling snow. A few of their specials are on this list, starting with The Year Without A Santa Claus.

In this 1974 special, Mrs. Claus (voiced by Shirley Booth) tells the story of the year Santa (voiced by Mickey Rooney) decides — on doctor’s orders — to take a vacation. Two of his elves and the young reindeer Vixen take a trip to find enough Christmas spirit to cheer Santa up. Along their way, the elves battle the Heat Miser and Snow Miser and visit Southtown, USA, where they get lost. Santa journeys south to find Vixen and discovers that the children of the world need him. He can’t skip Christmas.

The Year Without A Santa Claus is a clever story with some memorable scenes and catchy songs, including those involving the villains.

It’s not as ubiquitous as Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer or Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, but The Year Without A Santa Claus is trippy holiday fun.

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10 Reasons Why a Disney Christmas Is the Best Kind of Holiday

Sunday, December 21st, 2014 - by Chris Queen

If your family is anything like mine, you have plenty of holiday traditions that you cherish. Many of ours revolve around Disney (go ahead and try to act like you’re not surprised). From Disney cartoon shorts, to theme park experiences, to decorations and recipes, we love making Disney a big part of our Christmas celebration.

Here are ten reasons why a Disney Christmas is the best kind of holiday. Enjoy!

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10. Prep & Landing (2009)

After several years with very little new Christmas content (save for holiday episodes of Disney Channel and Disney Junior series), Disney released the computer animated TV movie Prep & Landing in 2009. This winning comedy tells the tale of the elves who work in Santa’s elite Prep & Landing division on Christmas Eve.

An elf named Wayne is bitter at being passed over for a promotion, so he decides to leave most of the work to his new trainee, Lanny. When a snowstorm makes landing at one boy’s house seem impossible, it’s up to Wayne and Lanny to make it happen one way or another.

Prep & Landing spawned two sequels. It’s a cute, funny movie that everyone in the family can enjoy.

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34 Holiday Gifts for the Southern Culture Lover on Your List

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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This holiday season, I know you’ve been wondering: what can I give the Southern culture lover on my gift list? Well, worry no more, because I, your intrepid Southern culture expert, have decided to swoop in like a Christmas miracle and save the day!

Here’s a list of 34 awesome gift choices that cover just about every area of the culture below the Mason-Dixon line. The best part: nearly everything on this list is eligible for Amazon Prime, for all you procrastinators. Enjoy!

5. Explore The Literary South

One of the greatest traditions in the South is storytelling, and a classic Southern story makes a wonderful gift for the bookworm on your list. Here are just a few recommendations.

William Faulkner is one of the best known and most respected authors in the South or anywhere. I’ve always had a difficult time keeping my concentration reading his novels, but I love his short stories. I highly recommend The Collected Stories of William Faulkner (also available for Kindle) as a sort of greatest hits collection and The Uncollected Stories of William Faulkner for deeper cuts (get it here for Kindle).

Georgia’s own Flannery O’Connor also made a name for herself in literary circles, and her short stories are some of the best in American literature as a whole. Check out The Complete Stories (also on Kindle) to experience her true genius in all its glory, but I also recommend the slim volume A Prayer Journal (also on Kindle) for some of the most beautiful, lyrical Christian prayers I’ve ever read.

Of course, there are plenty of great Southern novels to choose from, but here are some of my favorites. Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God delves into the lives of black people in rural Florida with a lyrical flair. In Ellen Foster, by Kaye Gibbons, a precocious orphan tells her own story. James Dickey’s Deliverance is the same harrowing story as the movie, but with greater depth. And Family Linen by Lee Smith is my all-time favorite novel — a twisty, darkly comic family tale.

You can’t go wrong with any of these choices for literature lovers.

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10 Great Southern Destinations for the Christmas Season

Thursday, December 4th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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A region as varied and storied as the South has plenty of wonderful holiday traditions. From the biggest of cities to the tiniest towns, Southerners — and Yankee tourists — have plenty of special ways to spend the Christmas season.

Honestly, I had a tough time picking ten destinations, but I think the ones I chose demonstrate the variety of Southern experiences. Enjoy!

10. Biltmore Estate, Asheville, NC

Ok, so I took some heat for putting Asheville in my list of the 10 Most Overrated Destinations in the South, but I stand by my choice. However, one of Asheville’s most iconic locations makes the list of the ultimate holiday destinations.

The Biltmore Estate is grand and gorgeous year round, but, like so many other places, Christmas decorations add even more beauty. George Vanderbilt’s palatial home hosts a display of holiday cheer that’s hard to top.

During the day, Biltmore offers wine tastings, visits with Santa, and tips for exquisite décor. At night, the estate features candlelight tours and impressive lighting displays. It’s enough to consider fending off those Asheville hipsters!

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A Radical Ranking of Disney’s 8 Best Animated Features

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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You may remember my experience last week where I received the strange basket of apples with a cryptic note from Valerie. I ate one of the apples and fell into a deep sleep, after which I received the strangest ideas for how to improve Walt Disney World. So I wrote them down, and my editor posted them here.

Well, I decided to try a second apple from the basket. One bite of this next apple, and I passed out again. I woke up with the inspiration to rank some of Disney’s best cartoons. Get ready, because I guarantee you that you’ve never seen Disney’s films in this light…

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8. Wreck-It Ralph (2012)

Just picture it: a large, virile character roams the world, and though people see him as a bad guy, he’s really good inside, and in the end, he saves the day!

Am I talking about Wreck-It Ralph? Of course I am, but in reality I’m talking about the man whose life I’m convinced the movie is a metaphor for: our wonderful ally Vladimir Putin. Just think about it.

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The South’s Church Culture and Its Dangerous Problems

Sunday, November 23rd, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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One of my favorite things about being on staff at a church is that I get to engage in discussions about faith and spiritual life with other men and women who are passionate not just about their relationship with God but also about helping others to deepen their relationship with Him.

Last week, I was brainstorming with our creative arts director and the student pastor at one of our campuses about improving one particular element of our services, when the student pastor remarked about how he knew people who thought of our church as light on doctrine and substance, largely because we don’t engage in activities like “altar calls.” Near the end of that part of the conversation, I remarked that Christianity in the South is more of a culture than a relationship with God.

In a now-famous quote, Flannery O’Connor once said, “I think it is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted.” She may have been more right that she realized, because the dominant Southern Christian culture concerns itself largely with seeing and being seen, with church attendance as an end to the spiritual journey rather than a beginning, and with safely sheltering families from an increasingly messy world.

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7 Ways to Radically Improve Walt Disney World

Monday, November 17th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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The basket of apples appeared on my door step. At first I wasn’t sure where they came from until I saw the note card that read VJ’s Organic Co-Op, Washington, DC. The note inside the envelope read:

Dear Chris,

Try these apples. I guarantee you’ve never tasted anything like them.

Love, Valerie

Valerie? I wasn’t sure who this Valerie was, but I figured organic apples couldn’t be all that bad. I made sure to wash one of them thoroughly, and I took a bite.

Whoever Valerie was, she was right. It didn’t taste like any apple I’d ever eaten, and soon after the first bite, I fell asleep, right there on the kitchen floor!

When I woke, I had all these ideas in my head on how to improve my favorite place on the planet — Walt Disney World. So I wrote them down, and here they are:

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7. An Updated CircleVision 360 Film For China At Epcot

Epcot’s China pavilion does a wonderful job celebrating the rich history of its home country, but there’s very little mention of the successes of the last sixty or so years. Wonderful triumphs like the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, and defeating those pesky students in Tiananmen Square don’t get the mention they deserve at Epcot.

To remedy that problem, I propose that Disney replace the current Reflections of China film with an informative and interesting documentary I’ll call Forward: China from Mao to Now. The film will look back at the great history of the People’s Republic of China from the earliest days of the revolution to China’s bright future.

Of course, such a short film would not have time to delve too deeply into certain aspects of the nation, so concepts like human rights and economic freedom would probably have to go by the wayside. But I think a CircleVision 360 movie dispelling the myths about the People’s Republic would be worth seeing, don’t you?

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The 10 Greatest Moments from the Disney Renaissance

Friday, October 24th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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Editor’s Note: Check out the previous installments in Chris’s series exploring Disney history: “10 Disney Cartoons from the 1930s that Reflect the Can-Do Spirit That Survived the Great Depression,” “10 Ways World War II Affected Disney’s Filmmaking,” “10 Examples Of How Disney’s Productions Reflected The Changing America Of The 1950s,” “Walt Disney’s 7 Most Radical Ideas From His Last Decade on Earth,” “Disney’s Wilderness Years, Part 1: How The Studio Reflected The Chaos Of The 1970s” and “Disney’s Wilderness Years, Part 2: How The Studio Navigated The Hit-Or-Miss 1980s.”

A few years after Walt Disney’s death, the studio he founded entered a creative drought of nearly 15 years. The projects Walt had his hands on had dried up, and the most creative minds in the company were working directly on the theme parks. Ron Miller, Walt’s son-in-law, oversaw the company during most of this era, and, though the studio managed to produce some underrated cartoons and live-action films during this time period, nothing matched the artistry and innovation of the years when Walt was still alive.

When Roy E. Disney and Sid Bass brought Michael Eisner over from Paramount to head Disney — along with Frank Wells — the company experienced an almost immediate injection of creativity. In the realm of animation, most everyone dubs the period beginning with 1989′s The Little Mermaid the Disney Renaissance. (Some people end the Renaissance with the execrable Tarzan from 1999, but for me, this period ends with 1995′s Pocahontas.)

A lot of exciting things took place at Disney during the first few years of the Eisner-Wells tenure, and here are the ten best of them.

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10. Pocahontas (1995)

Pocahontas marked the end of the Disney Animation Renaissance of the late-’80s and early-’90s, as far as I’m concerned. And it’s nowhere near as good as the films that preceded it, largely due to its over-earnestness, Judy Kuhn’s vocal melisma, and the screenplay’s loose play with history.

However, Pocahontas deserves mention because of its firsts. It was the first Disney animated feature based on a historical person, and it also brought the Disney Princess banner to an American character (something the studio did much better in 2009 with The Princess and the Frog). Disney also deserves some credit for turning the dramatic “Colors of the Wind” into a smooth pop hit.

Even though Pocahontas isn’t the greatest of the Disney classics, it does belong among the highlights of the early Eisner-Wells era.

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Disney’s Wilderness Years, Part 2: How The Studio Navigated The Hit-Or-Miss 1980s

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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For the past few weeks, we’ve looked at the company Walt Disney built and how it has survived over the decades. We talked about how the studio reflected the can-do spirit that beat the Great Depression in the 1930s, as well as how World War II affected Disney. We’ve also discussed the changing world of the 1950s and how Disney reflected it, and we looked at Walt’s seven most radical ideas from the 60s.

Last week, we delved into what I call Disney’s wilderness years – the period after Walt’s death when the company had exhausted all of its founder’s projects and its output suffered creatively. We looked at the 1970s and how Disney reflected the both the general malaise and the leadership crisis the country faced.

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Disney’s Wilderness Years, Part 1: How the Studio Reflected the Chaos of the 1970s

Thursday, October 9th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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We’ve been looking at the output of the Disney organization by decade, from the 1930s to the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s, and this week, we’re looking at the 1970s. Everyone who experienced that decade has an opinion about its culture, or lack thereof. From polyester leisure suits to Pet Rocks, the ’70s were the decade of disposable culture (in spite of some true classics like The Godfather films and Star Wars). I consider myself more of a child of the ’80s, since that’s when I came of age, but I remember my younger childhood in the ’70s — especially a lot of the music — fondly.

Much of the culture of the decade reflects a certain escapism. From the disco kids partying their troubles away, to the punk rockers flipping a middle finger at pretty much everything, to the banal pop of the mainstream, much of the music of the era plays on a desire to get away from the troubles of reality. Movies and television share a similar escapism — witness the endless disaster films and idiotic sitcoms of the day.

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