PJ Lifestyle

PJM Lifestyle

Nicer Than the Terminator—But That is not Saying Much

Thursday, July 23rd, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano
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Meet Buddy, a “family-oriented household robot…. inspired by robots from pop culture like R2-D2 from “Star Wars” and Disney’s “WALL-E.”  A French tech start-up is marking a machine that can hang around the house and make itself semi-useful or at least amusing.

Buddy has more to do with movie killer-robots such as the Terminator than one might imagine.  War machines (like all the other kinds of autonomous technologies that are likely to be part of future) will evolve based on designs informed by the experiences of our everyday interactions with robotics. Robots such as Buddy are going to teach us lessons in how humans and robots work side-by-side. That in turn will help us think through the human-robot future.  In peace and war the sooner we start living with robots, the sooner will we figure out how to live with robots.

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Xena Rumored to Return to Television

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

Rumors suggest early development of a Xena: Warrior Princess reboot at NBC Universal. In an era where old franchises like Jurassic Park and Star Wars are returning to the big screen, television is poised to deliver its own set of reworked classics. Variety reports:

Also at NBC are the “Coach” sequel and “Heroes Reborn,” which bows this fall. Other shows coming back to the smallscreen are “The X-Files” on Fox, Showtime’s “Twin Peaks” and Netflix’s “Fuller House.”

Nostalgia sells, it would seem.

The Xena reboot would reportedly recast the title role:

The “modern reboot,” first reported by the Hollywood Reporter, may bring back [original actress Lucy] Lawless, though those involved with the series reportedly would like for her to have roles both in front of and behind the camera. However, she would not appear in her original role.

For her part, Lawless denies the rumor.

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From First to Worst: NBC’s “Hannibal” Goes from Broadcast’s Best Crime Drama to a Sick Mess

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015 - by David Forsmark
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“Believe me, you don’t want Hannibal Lecter inside your head.” – Jack Crawford, The Silence of the Lambs

That sage advice has been ignored by every writer and director to use the character of Hannibal Lecter ever since the huge popularity of Jonathan Demme’s great film and Anthony Hopkins’ Oscar winning portrayal—including Thomas Harris, the author who created the character.

The most common complaint of a filmed book is usually that it doesn’t quite live up. However, the worst thing you can say about every embodiment of Hannibal Lecter post-Silence of the Lambs is that it follows the author’s vision.

Thomas Harris is a reclusive writer who popped up every 6 or 7 years to deliver a great and filmable thriller, beginning with Black Sunday in 1975, (made into a movie with Robert Shaw and Bruce Dern) about terrorists who want to blow up a blimp over the Super Bowl.

His 1981 book Red Dragon introduced the world to FBI behavioral sciences profiling, now a staple in thrillers to the point of cliché. This book, arguably the best serial killer novel ever written, featured Hannibal Lecter as an imprisoned chilling side character who was consulted by FBI profiler Will Graham in his pursuit of another killer.

But it was the follow up six years later, The Silence of the Lambs, that put the focus forever on the evil psychiatrist, Dr. Hannibal Lecter—and led to the creative ruin of Thomas Harris.


Hannibal Becomes an Anti-hero:


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The Hannibal Lecter in Hannibal, a popularity-driven sequel, became not the embodiment of evil who gave us nightmares, but a garbage collector who took out the irritating among us—and did it with charm and panache. He had become a character to amuse us, not to horrify us.

In my review at the time, I wrote:

Worse, while the other books have chilling portraits of sadistic behavior, “Hannibal” is an exercise in sadism. Readers are invited to revel in the pain of others without moral context or even the cheap thrills of hoping the innocent can escape. The deaths in “Hannibal” are of nasty people, delivered with relish by a charming sadist with whom we are encouraged to sympathize.

Harris begins one of his chapters with this question: “Now that ceaseless exposure has calloused us to the lewd and the vulgar, it is instructive to see what still seems wicked to us. What still slaps the clammy flab of our submissive consciousness hard enough to get our attention?”

Well, how about this book, for starters.

The inevitable film that followed was just as bad. If anything, it doubled down on the sadism. Jodie Foster refused to reprise her role as agent Clarice Starling, and I wrote that “everyone involved in this film should be ashamed.”

A prequel by Harris, called Hannibal Rising, trafficked in the Freudian excuses Red Dragon eschewed, making Hannibal the victim of a horrific upbringing (and was predictably followed by a terrible movie adaptation.)

Which brings us to the show “Hannibal” on NBC: After nearly two decades of horrible Hannibal offerings, I thought it was the worst idea I’d heard of in a while, and probably inspired by the success of “Dexter.”

But the first clue that I was wrong about TV’s “Hannibal” came in the credits, which said the show was “Based on the book Red Dragon by Thomas Harris.” Next was the casting of the brilliant Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal, which signaled the writers were not going to try to make this sadistic monster a charming fellow.

And for two seasons, “Hannibal” was brilliant– if gruesome– television. But it has always struggled for ratings as it’s not for all tastes— and yes, pun intended.

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Mom Arrested for ‘Abandonment’ of Kids 30 Feet Away

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

Apparently, my parents were criminals. Yours probably were too. In my day, I would hop on my bike (without a helmet) and ride off into the neighborhood with no guidance beyond “be home when the street lights come on.”

Fast-forward 25 years. A mom in Houston was arrested last week after taking her two young children to a mall food court where she interviewed for a job. KHOU reports:

Browder sat her children down inside the food court near a McDonald’s and went to her interview, she said. The interview wasn’t for a job at the mall, but the food court was a meeting ground for each party.

Browder said she wasn’t more than 30 feet away from her children at any point and they were always in her line of sight. After Browder returned to her children, a police officer was on scene and arrested her.

The charge was “child abandonment.” How can you abandon your children when they remain in sight?

If this lady deserves to be arrested, I guess all my neighbors do too. Their children play in the street without any supervision at all, another thing I used to do when I was young. We’re all criminals now.


You Can’t Tell Me How I’m ‘Allowed’ to Raise My Child

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Minority Report? It’s Not Science Fiction in NYC

Tuesday, July 21st, 2015 - by James Jay Carafano

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In the future, top cop Tom Cruise uses sci-fi technology to single out and arrest violent criminals before they commit a crime. The 2002 hit movie seemed like such a super cool idea that Fox is bringing the concept back as a series starting in September. But the cautionary tale, originally penned by science fiction writer Philip K. Dick in 1956, may be more than science fiction after all.

According to news reports, “The New York Police Department is embarking on a new experiment with ‘predictive policing.’” The department will study “neighborhood-specific data like weather, time of year, school calendars and past criminal activity to create statistical models that forecast where and when certain crimes are likely to occur.”

Intelligence-led policing (trying to figure out where the crimes are going to be) is a controversial but increasingly more common tactic of metropolitan police departments.

The NYPD is taking the task to the next level through sophisticated software that merges predictors together and kicks out probabilities that certain kinds of crimes are more likely to occur. The Big Apple actually isn’t the first to try out this approach. It has also been used in cities in Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Nebraska.

If that sounds one step closer to the Minority Report, “that’s not happening,” said the CEO of the company that developed the software.

We’ll see if the ACLU agrees.

7 Most Lethal Killer Robots in Movie History

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Bill Cosby: Separating the Message from the Man

Tuesday, July 21st, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

Television columnist Brian Lowry has a great piece over at Variety articulating the complicated emotional response fans of Bill Cosby are having to “snowballing” accusations of sexual assault. He writes:

Beyond working clean, Cosby tapped into these universal themes in a way that almost literally guided young men from seeing through the lens of a child to early (and eventually, older) adulthood. His transition to television, moreover, yielded a historic breakthrough with his three consecutive Emmy wins, the first for an African-American lead actor, for the 1960s series “I Spy.” If “The Cosby Show” broke across lines of race in spectacular fashion two decades later, Cosby’s ability to do that as a performer had long been established on stage, screen and vinyl.

Stripped of any context, the comedy routines still hold up, but there’s no way now to separate them from their author. As new details emerge from his extended deposition, the charges of hypocrisy alone would be damning – given his Jell-O-pitching image and lectures about personal responsibility – even without the alleged criminality, rendered moot only by the statute of limitations…

In theory, it should be possible to separate who people are from what they do – but not unconditionally, especially when victims are involved. What those who once embraced Bill Cosby’s work should be allowed is grief – not for him, but for themselves, since they have experienced a kind of loss.

The Cosby scandal reveals a truth about humanity which proves uncomfortable for many of us. While it may be tempting to believe that good people do bad things, the truth is that bad people do good things.

Cosby presents a particularly stunning example. However, none of us live up to the principles we espouse, and we should not abandon principles on account of flawed spokesmen.

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Here’s Why You Should Be Watching Amy Schumer

Monday, July 20th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

Amy Schumer’s debut film Trainwreck opened in theaters this past Friday. As the weekend drew to a close, Variety made the bold declaration that Schumer has catapulted onto “Hollywood’s A-list:”

“This is the birth of a new film star,” said Phil Contrino, vice president and chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. “She’s going to get tons of offers. This puts her in the same realm as Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig.”

The film exceeded box office expectations, pulling in $30.2 million. Roughly one-quarter of moviegoers cited Schumer as their reason for buying a ticket.

My wife and I went to see the film on Friday. As the raunch dialed up, we noted an older couple leave the theater.

It’s easy to understand why some people dislike Schumer’s brand of comedy. On the surface, she comes across as a flighty and hedonistic… well… slut.

It takes some time with her to realize that’s just an act. Had that older couple remained, they would have seen that Trainwreck actually argues against the vices which Schumer plays for laughs. It ultimately presents a strong argument for the emptiness of promiscuity and the value in approaching relationships with grace and a predisposition toward forgiveness.

Schumer’s sketch comedy show Inside Amy Schumer also hints at her substance. Anyone who writes satire based on 12 Angry Men or Schindler’s List requires a minimal level of intellect and insight, especially to make it work as well as it does.

If you haven’t checked out Inside Amy Schumer or Trainwreck, give it a chance. You may find her an acquired taste.

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‘Football, Faith, and Flannery O’Connor: A Love Letter to the South’

Monday, July 20th, 2015 - by PJ Media

Today we’re pleased to announce that our latest Freedom Academy e-book, Football, Faith, and Flannery O’Connor: A Love Letter to the South by PJ Media contributor Chris Queen, is now available for pre-order! To celebrate, we’re releasing the book’s cover for the very first time here on the blog.
queen cover

Take a journey down the “backbone of the South,” and learn about the small towns and quirky customs that can only be found off the beaten path. Your guide is Chris Queen, a Georgia native who uses his family’s annual road trip from Atlanta to Disney World as the frame story for a walk through Southern history and culture.

Chris will take you through the town where Vampire Diaries fanatics indulge in macabre walking tours, just a few miles away from a church with a neon cross. On Chris’s road trip you’ll experience the other side of Southern music – the side that produced REM – and a fantastic world of kitsch that feels like it leapt straight out of a John Waters film.

The South, Queen beautifully illustrates in this book, is a diverse and vibrant region teeming with innovation, community spirit, and cultural offerings. Whether you’re new to all the South has to offer, or you’re a fan of the South looking for a sentimental tour of everything you already love, Football, Faith, and Flannery O’Connor is a humorous, insightful, and entertaining glimpse into a vibrant and diverse region.

Football, Faith, and Flannery O’Connor features an introduction from Florida native Lisa De Pasquale. The e-book will be available for sale on August 11, but you can sign up now at www.FootballFaithandFlannery.com and be the first to know when you can order your copy!

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Football, Faith, and Flannery O’Connor: A Love Letter to the South: New PJ Media E-Book

Monday, July 20th, 2015 - by Rick Moran


Today we’re pleased to announce that our latest Freedom Academy e-book, Football, Faith, and Flannery O’Connor: A Love Letter to the South by PJ Media contributor Chris Queen is now available for pre-order! To celebrate, we’re releasing the book’s cover for the very first time here on the blog.

Take a journey down the “backbone of the South,” and learn about the small towns and quirky customs that can only be found off the beaten path. Your guide is Chris Queen, a Georgia native who uses his family’s annual road trip from Atlanta to Disney World as the frame story for a walk through Southern history and culture.

Chris will take you through the town where Vampire Diaries fanatics indulge in macabre walking tours, just a few miles away from a church with a neon cross. On Chris’s road trip you’ll experience the other side of Southern music – the side that produced REM – and a fantastic world of kitsch that feels like it leapt straight out of a John Waters film.

The South, Queen beautifully illustrates in this book, is a diverse and vibrant region teeming with innovation, community spirit, and cultural offerings. Whether you’re new to all the South has to offer, or you’re a fan of the South looking for a sentimental tour of everything you already love, Football, Faith, and Flannery O’Connor is a humorous, insightful, and entertaining glimpse into a vibrant and diverse region.

Football, Faith, and Flannery O’Connor features an introduction from Florida native Lisa De Pasquale. The e-book will be available for sale on August 11, but you can sign up now at www.FootballFaithandFlannery.com and be the first to know when you can order your copy!

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The Great Downloadable Content…Well, not ‘Wars.’ ‘Squabbles,’ Really.

Saturday, July 18th, 2015 - by Moe Lane


So, let us talk about downloadable content, or DLC. This essay will be covering the basics, so feel free to skip right ahead to the comments section on this one if you are so inclined. Certainly, if you know what DLC is, then you also have an opinion on the subject.

For everybody else: DLC is anything officially added to a computer game after that game has been released. When it comes to computer RPGs, that usually means extra missions, a new game board or two, improved weapons and armor, perhaps a mini-campaign… and, most importantly, new costumes for your doll. Excuse me: “character.*” Players will buy all of this stuff, and game studios will sell it; so no problem, right? Well… no. Not even close. The topic of DLC can be a bit, well, fraught; and the issue is not entirely cut and dried.

From the players’ point of view, DLC often appears as a way to scam more and more money out of the fans. The most infamous iteration of this, according to some, is “Day One DLC”: that’s when a game company sells you the basic game for price X, and lets you know that there are additional adventure/character packs that you can instantly buy alongside of it for price Y (or else just buy the Deluxe Game for X+Z). Players naturally suspect that the DLC is not actually extra, but instead necessary for properly gameplay; and they also naturally suspect that they’re being ask to effectively pay more than the listed retail price for a game. But even the DLC that shows up later in a game’s sales-life cycle suffers from a mildly poor reputation: either the DLC is necessary for gameplay, in which case it should have been included; or it’s not necessary, in which case it’s just trying to squeeze more money out of a stone.

The game designers, on the other hand, have a slightly different opinion on the matter. First off, many of them do DLC seemingly fairly reluctantly, and apparently mostly because the fan base expects it. One thing to remember that while people may make games sometimes for the sake of the art, they typically sell them in order to make enough money to live on. A company that spends years on elaborate computer game worlds does it largely for that sales payoff at the end of the process; after which, they typically want to start on a new multi-year project, not spend six months making ever-more baroque versions of horse armor. There’s more money and buzz in new, rather than in old; and DLC is the epitome of “old.”

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The Meaning of Ramadan to Me: An Enlightened, Modern and Western Sufi Muslim

Friday, July 17th, 2015 - by Michael van der Galien

Abdullah bin Hamid Ali is a teacher of Islamic law, jurisprudential principles and the prophetic tradition at Zaytuna College in Berkeley. He has taught at that school since 2007.

This week, he decided to write an opinion piece for Patheos about Ramadan, the 30-day fasting period for Muslims, ending in the Sugar Feast. Since I’m in Turkey, the festivities have already started (it’s one day earlier in Turkey then in the rest of the Muslim world).

Now, most people assume I don’t get involved much in Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr (the Sugar Feast), but I converted to Sufi Islam around eight years ago. So to me, Ramadan certainly is an important month… and these three days of festivities are something I’ve been looking forward to for weeks if not months. It’s basically our version of Christmas (which I celebrated as a youngster).

Back to Abdullah’s piece. In his article he explains what Ramadan is all about and what it’s supposed to do for Muslims:

Fasting is better for more than the simple health benefits that accrue to fasters. To limit the benefits of fasting to the material benefits is to strip fasting of its spiritual facets. Like all other acts of Islamic worship, one of the ultimate goals of rituals is to inculcate moral virtue. The prayer, performed with the correct understanding and awareness, contributes to deeper humility. Charity contributes to a number of virtues, like altruism, generosity and empathy with the poor. Fasting contributes to patience, self-control and endurance. The hajj is a consummate worship combining all the aforementioned virtues.

He adds that fasting isn’t only meant to be a physical experience, but also a spiritual one. It improves one’s virtues (perseverance, self-control) and makes one truly grateful to God for all one has (try not to eat and especially drink during the day, when it’s 40 degrees Celsius…. Trust me: it’ll make you very grateful to drink a glass of water in the evening). Although, he says, you can “buy off” fasting by giving to charity (literally: giving a poor person something to eat), it’s better for the Muslim to actually fast (it says in the Quran: “Fasting is still better for you if only you knew”).

As an enlightened, modern and Western Sufi Muslim (I adhere to the spiritual school in Islam, especially to that of Mevlana, who’s also known as Rumi in the West), my take on Ramadan and the Sugar Feast is similar in some ways, but different in others.

For, although I do recognize that fasting is incredibly effective if one wants to improve one’s virtues, I don’t think it’s the only way to “get there.” In fact, I usually only fast a few days and give to charity instead. The reason I don’t fast? I work during the day and have noticed that, when fasting, I work at a slower pace and the quality of my work is… let’s say, questionable. Fasting might be great for you personally, but it’s nothing more but theft if you don’t do what you’re paid to do. Obviously, I refuse to be guilty of theft while praising myself for withstanding hunger and thirst. The sin is bigger than the reward.

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After Ten Years of Marriage: An Open Letter to My Younger Self

Friday, July 17th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

Dear 2005 Walter,

This is your 2015 self, transmitting back ten years from the day you take your vows and wed Carrie.

I know exactly what you’re thinking. I know what questions and doubts tug at the fringes of your mind. I know what self-assurances counteract those doubts. I know, because I was there.

While I don’t want to give away too many spoilers regarding the decade before you, I would like to share some words of encouragement which will come in handy throughout the years to come.

First, here’s the bad news. Right now, you think that today won’t change anything. You think that shacking up with Carrie these past few years has been essentially no different than being married. You think that, once all the pomp and circumstance has subsided, the two of you will settle back into your comfortable routines as if nothing of significance has happened. You are wrong.

Sure, in the short term, there will be little circumstantial difference between your day-to-day last week and your day-to-day after the honeymoon. But outward circumstance isn’t the first or most important thing that changes.

Up until now, whether you’ve been keen to acknowledge it or not, there has always been an escape hatch in your relationship. You haven’t wanted to go. You’ve never even entertained the possibility. That surety is a big part of why you are wearing a tux today. However, after today, you will become keenly aware that the escape hatch has shut. The finality of it, the permanence, will begin to loom on the horizon of your consciousness.

The effect will be an enhancement of your annoyance. Things which didn’t bother you before, or at least didn’t bother you enough to warrant reaction, will suddenly bother you a lot. In the back of your mind, you will know that you can’t get away. Before, there was an option. You didn’t seriously consider that option. But it was there. It’s being there provided some distant comfort. Everything was chosen, and you renewed your consent each day. But from now on, the choice will have been made once and for all, and you have to deal with it or break a sacred vow.

That’s not even the bad news. That’s just the prologue to the bad news. Here’s the actual bad news.

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Urban Chicken Coops: Should They Be Banned?

Thursday, July 16th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

As a newly elected city council member, one thing that has stood out during my first months in office has been the inherent nosiness of municipal politics. When someone comes before us or one of our committees with a project they would like to pursue, the questions they face aren’t always germane. Too often, a chief consideration seems to be whether people like whatever is being proposed.

“Does this fit with the character and nature of the neighborhood?” That’s a nice way of asking whether the neighbors will like it. My question has always been, why does the neighbor’s opinion matter?

An example of an issue which may come before our council in the near future is urban chicken coops. Our city of Albertville lays on the outskirts of the Twin Cities metro area in Minnesota. It’s a bedroom community surrounded by agricultural land, but close enough to “town” to be considered suburban. Our neighboring city of St. Michael will reportedly be asked to consider allowing chicken coops on residential lots. We may be next on the list. A local paper, North Wright County Today, opines:

“Well, I don’t want to be woken up at 5 a.m. sunrise by my neighbor’s backyard chicken,” you might say.

Well, don’t worry. Most ordinances already on the books – including those in Otsego and Minneapolis, for example – do not allow roosters. Only hens. And the most you’ll hear out of a hen is a startled cluck when your neighbor’s reaching in for the four eggs needed for his morning omelet.

“What about the smell from the chicken poo? Won’t that get bad?”

Probably not. The coops do need to be cleaned out, but local chicken owners can get a lot of help with some sawdust and a shovel. The rest is up to said chicken coop owner.

The principle I bring to bear in this and all issues is individual rights. To the extent we restrict any activity, whether the posting of signs, the playing of music, or the owning of chickens, we should do so only when it presents a clear violation of a neighbor’s right.

The difficulty comes in setting objective criteria by which to judge when a right would be violated. Am I entitled to live without certain sights and smells? Should my desire to not see or smell chickens overrule my neighbor’s desire to raise them? Either way, someone’s not going to get what they want.

Generally speaking, in my role on council, I favor the right of people to use their own property above neighbor’s objections to that use. A restriction should be based on a uniformly predictable scenario where a particular use will result in a quantifiable harm to others. “I don’t like that” doesn’t qualify as being harmed in my book.

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Caitlyn Jenner’s ESPY Speech and the Respect That Trans People Deserve

Thursday, July 16th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

Caitlyn Jenner, formerly Bruce, accepted the Arthur Ashe Courage Award during Wednesday’s ESPY Awards. Variety notes it was her “first formal award… since announcing her transition [from man to woman].”

In her acceptance speech, Jenner called upon society to treat transgendered people with respect. From Variety:

“Trans people deserve something vital,” she said. “They deserve your respect. And from that respect, comes a more compassionate community, a more empathetic society and a better world for all of us.”

“If you want to call me names, make jokes, doubt my intentions, go ahead. I can take it. But for the thousands of kids coming to terms with who they are, they shouldn’t have to take it.”

Jenner’s call for respect should be heeded to the extent that all human beings deserve to be treated with a certain level of dignity. Calling people names and making jokes at their expense is generally disrespectful regardless of their status.

“They’re getting bullied,” Jenner said of trans youth. “They’re getting beaten up. They’re getting murdered. And they’re committing suicide.”

No one should get bullied. No one should get beat up. No one should get murdered. These aren’t statements exclusive to transgendered people. Few rotten souls object to the notion that transgendered people should have their individual rights recognized.

However, a crucial distinction should be made between the respect that all people are due and an expectation of acceptance and approval. Jenner expounded:

“With attention, comes responsibility. As a group, as athletes, how you conduct your lives, what you say, what you do, is absorbed and observed by millions of people, especially young people,” she told the room. “I know I’m clear with my responsibility.”

She went on to tout a simple goal: “Accepting people for who they are.”

Respect and acceptance are neither mutually exclusive nor tied at the hip. I can respect someone and uphold their rights without approving of them or what they represent.

Through the ongoing LGBT movement in our culture, this distinction continues to be clouded or disregarded. We’re expected to accept and approve of alternative lifestyles. If we don’t, then we’re somehow disrespectful.

Of course, that’s a two-way street. If it’s disrespectful for a Christian to disapprove of homosexuality, then it’s likewise disrespectful for a homosexual to disapprove of Christianity. That is if we have any real interest in fairness and equity.

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How Dangerous Is Synthetic Cannabis?

Wednesday, July 15th, 2015 - by Theodore Dalrymple
"USMC-100201-M-3762C-001" by Lance Cpl. Damany S. Coleman via Wikimedia Commons

“USMC-100201-M-3762C-001″ by Lance Cpl. Damany S. Coleman via Wikimedia Commons

Man is a creature that likes to change his mental state, even if it is for the worse. It is the change that he seeks, not the end result; Nirvana for him is a constantly fluctuating or dramatic state of mind. This, for obvious reasons, is particularly so for the bored and dissatisfied. In the prison in which I worked, for example, the prisoners would take any pills that they happened to find in the hope that they would have some — any — effect on their mental state, irrespective of the dangers that might be involved in producing it.

A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine draws attention to an increase in the United States of reported side effects caused by the consumption of synthetic cannabinoids. These were first synthesised in the 1980s as research tools, but soon escaped the laboratory. (How, at whose instigation and for what reasons, one would like to know?) Now there are illicit chemical laboratories, mainly in Europe, producing an ever wider range of such cannabinoids, the law limping after them with its prohibitions, only for new compounds that are legal (until banned) to be synthesised almost immediately. The story is a tribute, in a way, to human ingenuity.

Between January and May 2014, poison control centers throughout the United States received 1085 calls concerning possible side effects of synthetic cannabinoids, but in the same period in 205 received 3572 such calls, which mysteriously the CDC calculated as a 229 percent increase, when it is a 329 percent increase.

Of the 2961 calls concerning cases in which the medical condition and outcome was known, 335 were serious, which is to say life-threatening or resulting in significant disability, and a further 1407 necessitated medical treatment. 1219, therefore, were minor and quickly self-limiting.

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Amanda Seyfried Claims She’s Underpaid for Films

Wednesday, July 15th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

In an interview with the Sunday Times, actress Amanda Seyfried took aim at so-called wage inequality between men and women. By way of example, she cited her own experience. Variety reports:

“A few years ago, on one of my big-budget films, I found I was being paid 10% of what my male co-star was getting, and we were pretty even in status,” the actress told the newspaper. “I think people think that just because I’m easy-going and game to do things I’ll just take as little as they offer… It’s not about how much you get, it’s about how fair it is.”

In any given market transaction, each party always offers as little as possible. If you want more, you say no. Pretty simple. Perhaps, if Seyfried wants to be paid more, she should communicate that she’s less “game to do things.”

As Variety goes on to demonstrate, Seyfried’s claim that women are specifically underpaid doesn’t mesh with reality:

More recently, the flip-side of wage inequality was brought to the fore this past weekend during San Diego Comic-Con when it was reported that Jennifer Lawrence would make $20 million in her upcoming flick “Passengers,” while her co-star Chris Pratt will make much less.

Such disparities in actor pay are normal. Certain stars command more compensation than others for a variety of reasons. To re-purpose Seyfried’s sentiment, it’s not about how much you get, it’s about how much you’re worth.

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Actually, Women Do Regret Their Abortions

Tuesday, July 14th, 2015 - by Brianna Sharbaugh


The headline of an article at Time this week screams: HARDLY ANY WOMEN REGRET HAVING AN ABORTION, A NEW STUDY FINDS. Time describes a study recently published in the “multidisciplinary academic journal PLOS ONE” that concluded: “Ninety-five percent of women who have had abortions do not regret the decision to terminate their pregnancies.” The study, which surveyed 670 women three years after their abortions, downplayed the emotional impact on women. “Certainly, experiencing feelings of guilt or regret in the short-term after an abortion is not a mental health problem,” the study assures women. “In fact, such emotions are a normal part of making a life decision that many women in this study found to be difficult.” (Time glanced over the part of the study that said women who struggled with the decision to have an abortion had poorer emotional outcomes.)

You can examine the criteria used for this particular study, but I would caution you not to draw conclusions on the impact of abortion based on just one study. A finding about 95% of the women in this one study, at this point in their lives is very different from what Time is asserting in its headline.

My knowledge of the post-abortive woman has been shaped by a decade of experience counseling them. In the past ten years I have heard the stories of hundreds of these women as I’ve worked at three different crisis pregnancy centers (in both a staff and volunteer capacity) throughout the Midwest.

One post-abortive woman whose story impacted me the most is my friend Maggie,* who became pregnant when she was just fourteen years old. Her mother was eager to spare the family embarrassment and told Maggie to either have an abortion or take her fourteen-year-old self and find another place to live. Without any easy options and a mother who continually coerced her, Maggie had an abortion. In the following months, her grades in school plummeted and she began pursuing destructive relationships. At age sixteen Maggie became pregnant again. Fearing her mother would force yet another abortion, Maggie ran away from home. At sixteen Maggie did everything she could think of to provide for herself and her son.

Several years later, she met a man who loved her and her son and wanted a future with them both. They married and had another child, a daughter, who completed their family. A few years later Maggie recognized a pattern of anger in herself that she couldn’t explain. As she worked through counseling (over a decade after her abortion) she recognized that the anger was always directed toward her children. She realized that every time she looked at her two living children, she was always thinking about the one child she never got to meet. She could not stop thinking about her third child, and the regret of her abortion was impacting her parenting decisions every day.

Another young woman, Anna, a sophomore in college, discovered that an unplanned pregnancy would forever impact her life. She had been taking a medication with known adverse affects for pregnancy. Anna sought the counsel of every doctor she could find in the phone book and every single one told her the only option she had was to terminate her pregnancy. Her boyfriend drove her to the abortion clinic and they both decided abortion was the best decision. Several years later this boyfriend became her husband and they were eager to start a family. They soon welcomed a little boy that blessed their lives in ways they never thought possible. Anna confessed that every time she snuggled her little boy she could not help but think about the child she and her husband had aborted. They would never know if their baby was a boy or a girl. They would never get to watch their first child go on his or her first date, or graduate from high school, or enjoy the college years as Anna and her husband had. Every milestone their son reached was overshadowed by a mom and dad who were heartsick because of the “what if’s” they would never have answered.

Laura found herself suffering a similar heartache long after her abortion decision. Each Christmas Laura would enter into a deep depression and struggle to make it through each day of the month of December. While she later married a man with two children and delivered a son to complete their family, it was never enough. Laura could only think of the fourth child she wouldn’t be buying Christmas presents for. Every holiday was as difficult as Christmas as she struggled with grief. Special anniversaries were a struggle as well, remembering what the spring air smelled like the day she had her abortion, knowing the day her child would have celebrated each birthday, kindergarten graduation—they all reminded her of the hole in her life…the hole put in her life because of her decision to have an abortion.

*Because of confidentiality policies, the names have been changed in the stories to protect the identities of these women. Their symptoms and the impact abortion has had and continues to have are very real and have not been changed.

More stories on the next page…

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Is It Right for a Publisher to Accept Only Women’s Books?

Tuesday, July 14th, 2015 - by Robert Wargas


The phrase “wheels of justice,” of shady proverbial origin, is a popular way both to celebrate and lament the process of law. These wheels do turn, we are told, but they turn slowly. Are there not also wheels of injustice, constructed of a much stronger alloy, and forever counterposed to the forces of equity and morality? Most certainly there are, and they operate in too high a gear for us to bear.

The worst injustice is that which its perpetrators claim is meant to correct another. Nowadays one finds examples of this almost at random. A small British publishing house called “And Other Stories,” for instance, has committed itself to publishing only women writers for the year 2018. The stated reason is to correct the imbalance in women’s representation in the literary world, particularly when it comes to writing prizes. A senior editor at the publisher, Sophie Lewis, took to the pages of The Independent, one of London’s daily papers, to explain her company’s decision.

And Other Stories normally publishes men—in fact, according to Ms. Lewis, “even though most of us [at the company] are women, most of our books are by male authors. Fascinating, experimental male authors, but still male.” She continues: “We have been putting it about, gently, for the last few years, that we’re particularly looking for fiction by women. They could be from anywhere really. And what do people send us? Why, more exciting, boundary-pushing men, of course.”

Now, it’s possible, though not at all likely, that since its establishment And Other Stories has received submissions almost exclusively from male writers. Since they have published women, they obviously receive submissions from both men and women, even if the number of submissions from men has been consistently higher. Which means that during its regular selection process, the company’s editors are willing to reject women on grounds of quality, and have done so. I’m assuming, of course, that And Other Stories doesn’t automatically publish every woman writer who sends work over the transom. Again, mathematically possible, but not likely. The year 2018, then, will be a time when the publisher will offer its readers the kind of writing that might ordinarily end up in a rejection pile. This ought not to surprise anyone familiar with quota systems. Identity politics, by its very nature, is concerned with quantity rather than quality. (This, by the way, would also be true if the publisher had decided to accept only men for 2018.)

The implicit admission is that the publisher does not, on average, find the women writers who send them their manuscripts to be as good as the men: if it did, there would be no need for this pledge, as the proportion of women writers in its output would already be higher than it is, if not as high as it would be if the company adopted a women-only policy. In promising to publish only women under these special circumstances, the publisher is demonstrating that it would not do so under normal circumstances.

One could argue in return that the problem is a general lack of submissions from women writers, not just lower rates of acceptance. Still, unless every woman who submits a manuscript is accepted automatically, this excuse doesn’t hold: And Other Stories is normally willing to reject women writers, even when they submit at much lower rates than men.

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What This Guy Said About Women Might Change What You See In the Mirror Forever

Tuesday, July 14th, 2015 - by Tricia Lott Williford


“How great is it to belong to the beautiful half of society?”

Well, now there’s a question! I didn’t even know how to answer, but I wanted to know how he divided society into these two kinds of people. There are beautiful truths you can learn in a vulnerable, intimate conversation with a man who is your friend. I have a sacred collection of these in my life—these men who are also conversationalists—and so I also have a lot of their truths that I carry like rubies in my pocket.

When a man is willing to speak his mind, when he’s not posturing for anybody, when there isn’t a battle to win or lose, when there isn’t the fate of a girl—or a date with a girl—on the line, there’s an unfiltered voice so many of them have. These conversations are rich and the moments are fleeting, so I’ve learned to be ready to listen.

“What do you mean?” I asked him, very honored that his estimations placed me in the beautiful half, whomever this half may be.

“You’re a woman. I’m talking about all of you girls—you’re all just so beautiful. All the lines and curves of a woman, the silhouette line from your chin to your shoulder—even the way you girls hold a coffee cup. It’s all so beautiful. It must be wonderful to look in the mirror and see yourselves.”

I laughed out loud. (Remember that safe conversational place I talked about? It’s not especially kind to laugh in that sacred space.) He waited. “I’m not trying to be funny,” he said.

“No, no, I’m sorry. I don’t mean to laugh. It’s just. . . well, we’re all pretty hard on ourselves. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a woman who straight up delights in staring at herself in the mirror.”


I laced my fingers and placed my hands on the tabletop, carefully not laughing this time. “Um, yes. Really.”

“How can you all not think you’re beautiful? I mean, the breasts alone are a profound invention. It must be great to have those beautiful somethings on you everywhere you go.”

Again with the suppression of laughter. “Honestly, they’re a much bigger deal to you guys than they are to us.”

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Cop Teaches Peers to Deal with Autistic Suspects

Tuesday, July 14th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

As a father to a son on the autism spectrum, I learned early on that traditional forms of discipline don’t always have the desired effect. A child with autism does not respond in expected ways. The ways in which they do respond can seem like defiant tantrums.

When the confrontation takes place between parent and child or teacher and child, that’s one thing. When the confrontation takes place between the child and law enforcement, things can get dangerous very quickly.

St. Paul police officer Rob Zink understands that. As the father of two sons on the spectrum, Zink has worked to bring awareness of autism and its behavioral manifestations to his fellow law enforcement officers. He has formed the Cop Autism Response Education (CARE) Project to advance the cause. From the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

“I understand them,” Zink said. “A regular cop is not going to understand it when someone on the spectrum doesn’t do what they are told. Lights, sirens, yelling — those things can make them go into panic mode.”

Cmdr. John Bandemer, the head of patrol for the Western District where Zink works, said it can be hard for officers to tell the difference between someone with autism and someone who just doesn’t want to do what police are telling them to do. Zink’s efforts might keep incidents from escalating, Bandemer said. There now is talk in the St. Paul Police Department about including training for autism calls with other mental health training efforts.

Such training could save lives. Officers are typically trained to meet apparent threats with escalating force. The problem with folks on the autism spectrum is that they respond to escalation with escalation. That leads in a dangerous direction. Officers who learn to recognize autistic behavior may be able to deescalate situations by employing alternative methods.

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Would You Rather Have Your Naked Pics Leaked or Your Financial Data Stolen?

Monday, July 13th, 2015 - by Paula Bolyard

Image via Flickr MasterCard News

According to a survey released by MasterCard last week, 55 percent of Americans would rather have naked pictures of themselves leaked online than have their financial information stolen.

My husband and I were riding in the car together when we heard this news blurb and our conversation went something like this:

Me: I don’t even have to ask what your answer would be.

Husband: I know what your answer is, too. So I guess I should just change mine, because all our financial information is going to be out there anyway.

(After 26 years of marriage, the blanks in the conversations basically just autocomplete.)

What about you? If given the choice, would you rather have naked pics of you all over the internet or have your financial information out there for all the world to see? Do you and your spouse agree? 

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Latest Batman v Superman Trailer Promises Big

Monday, July 13th, 2015 - by Walter Hudson

The last week saw this year’s annual San Diego Comic Con, typically a huge event for the unveiling of movie news. There, Warner Bros. dropped a new trailer for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Zack Synder, who previously helmed Man of Steel, returns to direct this follow-up.

Trailers don’t always present an accurate portrayal of the final film. That said, if this one does, we’re in for a far superior experience than Synder gave us his first time out.

One criticism of Man of Steel focused on its exhaustive action in the third act. Lots of buildings blew up and fell over, but we never saw the personal impact of that devastation.

Batman v Superman appears to fill those emotional gaps. It turns out that Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne was present in Metropolis on the day Superman’s fight with Zod destroyed a significant portion of the city. Among the buildings demolished was one owned by Wayne and staffed by people he considered family. Wayne’s experience gives weight to what was in Man of Steel little more than popcorn entertainment.

The new film seems poised to run with the themes only hinted at previously, particularly Pa Kent’s apprehension at how the world would react to an alien among us. Indeed, if Holly Hunter’s senator and Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor are any indication, there are plenty of people displeased with the Man of Steel.

Other imagery in the trailer suggests that we will get a glimpse of the Joker, at least a reference if not in the flesh. It appears as though the clown is aware of the Dark Knight’s true identity and actively trolling him.

Another cool bit, Synder appears to be borrowing liberally from the “Injustice: Gods Among Us” storyline where a rogue Superman raises an army and ascends to global dictatorship. While that turn of events seems unlikely in this film, the visual comparisons are undeniable. Just look at those soldiers with Superman’s emblem sewn on their shoulders. Perhaps they are some kind of misguided militants acting in his name. Perhaps Lex Luthor is working to undermine Superman’s public image. Either way, that scene with Batman taking on a squad of these super-troopers looks unlike anything we’ve seen before.

We won’t have to wait too long. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice hits theaters on March 25th next year.

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A Word of Encouragement to Christians

Sunday, July 12th, 2015 - by Chris Queen


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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Want to Revisit Your Youth? Why Not Try Paper-and-Pencil Roleplaying Games

Saturday, July 11th, 2015 - by Moe Lane


So you experimented in college. Why is unimportant. Maybe you grew up being told that this thing that you now wanted to try was wrong, and you decided to find out for yourself. Maybe you always really wanted to try it, but you were afraid of social ostracism if it ever came out that you were that way.  And maybe you just sort of drifted into doing it because your new friends all liked it, so they figured you would. And you did! So you got into it, then after a few years you got out of it because you felt you needed to conform to society’s expectations of you.  Only, lately, you’re starting to feel that urge again.

Well, I’m here to tell you that you needn’t feel ashamed. It’s OK. You can go back to playing roleplaying games (RPGs), and never mind the haters.

Seriously, though: I get people on a semi-regular basis sidle up to me at various venues and quietly admit that, yeah, they used to throw down the dice on Saturday nights. But then they tell me that they’ve stopped; and usually they’re a little surprised when I asked them why. Because it’s perfectly possible to keep doing this hobby as an adult, and I’ll be happy to give you some reasons why you should.

First off, one good reason to start gaming again as a real-life “grown-up” is because you are a grown-up now, and can do as you please. This may seem patently obvious to many, but I encounter folks who seem to think that the absurd and artificial micro-society that dominates high school and college still applies here. You no longer have to care what your peers think of your hobbies.  You didn’t back then, either, but we don’t have time travel to fix that.

Second, the general gaming experience can improve with age. Note “can”: there’s a stereotype of a certain type of older gamer which is unfortunately not entirely inaccurate. But there’s generally less self-destructive backstabbing, pointless arguments, and other personal drama at the table when gamers get to their thirties and forties; that stuff gets old, yes? — plus, younger gamers bring munchies; older gamers bring food.

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