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Be Clear

Dovetailing off of the George Lois quote that I wrote about yesterday, I’m tacking on some more thoughts about communication today. 

I do believe it’s great advice to think long and write short, because it gets to the point, and I think that it also cuts out the ego. However, sometimes I think we function in the reverse: think short, write/talk long. It’s long been my belief that we love our own stock. So much so that in some cases we love to hear ourselves speak and we end up giving long-winded, unnecessary thoughts or responses to whatever topic we’re addressing. In my youth I was probably just as guilty of this as the next guy, but I think it’s something worth truly considering when you think about how you communicate with others. Whether it’s written or verbal, I find myself asking, “Is this to the point, or am I having trouble landing this plane?” Or, quite simply, “Do I know enough to even give a meaningful response?” More often than not I do find myself having issues in landing the plane and so I scrap whatever it is that I’m writing. I get frustrated, delete it, walk away. Totally unaccomplished. Time totally wasted. Super. And, truthfully, what value is there in speaking about a topic of with you have little to no real working knowledge of? 

I’m willing to guess I’m not alone on this subject. I’m also probably not alone in my thoughts that for some it’s just a matter of ego and love for one’s own speaking voice that is the culprit. Other times it could even be this weird defense mechanism whereby the rambler is merely trying to cover for the fact that they know nothing about the topic. And, so, they just end up talking you in a circle so that you’ve been on such a long, winding journey of bloviation that you no longer remember what the original topic was. I’ve witnessed this, many times. And, if I’m being honest, it’s always fun to then bluntly restate the original question or point. But then it’s not a lot of fun because you the same silly response.

As I’ve grown older and struggled with the idea of being succinct or to the point, I’ve found communication less complicated. But, I’ve also lost patience with unnecessarily long answers or responses–from myself and others. If you’ve thought long and hard about it, it probably shouldn’t be all that difficult to get right to the point and deliver with clarity. Or, if you don’t know, just say go with that response. I don’t know. It’s surprising liberating to not know the answer to something and avoid giving some half-cocked, under-informed answer.

Don’t use seven words when four will do.

The CIA, Torture, And How We Should Feel About It

Senate-CIA-TortureReport_Page_001.jpg

If you even so much as glanced a headline in the last week then you’ve most likely seen something in regards to the CIA, torture, and some senate report that was released. To say the revelations in the report about the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation tactics,” a.k.a. torture, are somewhat of a bombshell is an understatement. In fact, those very revelations have proven to be a lightning rod of sorts whereby an intense national debate about how the United States goes about it’s business when it comes to gathering intelligence. 

Let’s be honest: previous to 9/11 most Americans had exactly no clue, none, as to the extent to which militant extremists would go to harm us, or how deep their hatred ran. In the years since our understanding of that reality has become quite acute. And, just when we believe that we’ve seen the worst and there cannot to be a more hateful, vile, and evil group declaring a war against us, along comes a group like the Islamic State (ISIS). And while I’m not a sensationalist, I dare say that sooner or later the U.S. and it’s allies will ultimately destroy ISIS’s complex network and they will fade, and, sadly, another group will probably step in to fill the void of true, real-world villainy. And, they may prove to be even more hateful, vile, and evil. As I said – just when we think we’ve seen the worst…

The odd reality of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report, given that it outlines a number of the CIA’s interrogation tactics, is that while those tactics are pretty heinous, to anyone who has watched a good spook or war movie it’s not like we should be surprised to learn what we did. There is a reason that the movie Zero Dark Thirty while receiving rave reviews also took a lot of criticism for what many believed to be the glorification of “enhanced” interrogation tactics. They were on full display in the interrogation of one character. Said character was waterboarded, shackled at all times, made to stand for long periods, humiliated, and left in a small box for long periods of time. The truth is Zero Dark Thirty was as accurate then as it is now in light of the committee’s report. Yet, the report comes out and suddenly everyone is incredulous to learn what the CIA has been up to all these years. And, much to everyone’s chagrin, we’ve learned from the report and testimony from folks who have first-hand account that those tactics failed to produce their intended result. In most cases, it seems from the report, those enhanced tactics failed to produce little, if any, actionable intelligence. In fact, the report details who some agents of the CIA did not feel at the time that the tactics were useful, and tried to stop them from being employed. Their superiors, however, ordered them to continue. And, not only have these tactics been utilized against man, and probably women, and damaged them forever without producing intelligence the CIA sought, but subsequent reporting and research has shown that it’s also damaged the CIA employees who were tasked with utilizing those tactics. 

Now, one thing I should say before moving on with the rest of my thoughts is that it’s worth noting that I’m no pacifist. I realize that someone reading this is seeing the writing on the wall in respect to where I’m headed in the following words and will simply let out of huff of derision and simply say, “Oh here we go… another bleeding heart.” While I do not relish the idea of war, nor believe we should go looking for it, I do understand that in light of the evils that, at different times, imperil our world that taking up arms and defending ourselves or our allies will become a necessity. Simply standing idly by and watching evil march onward is not an option, and in those times nations will have to engage that evil for the good of humanity. So, don’t go labeling me a bleeding heart pacifist or something to that effect. That is not what I’m getting at and should not misattributed or applied here. 

What I am getting at is that these “enhanced” interrogation tactics are nothing more than blatant torture. Not only do they violate the Geneva Conventions, a point that cannot be argued, but they also violate basic American principles and standards. To sit by and root for such an avenue of intelligence gathering is naive, negligent, and absurd. The records show that these tactics were not useful in gathering the intelligence the CIA sought, so let’s not go about glorifying the act of torturing someone as though we live in the same world as Jack Bauer, because we don’t. I’ll admit it, I’ve sat around watching 24 while rooting on Jack Bauer’s fight against terrorism. Guilty. However, I never sat there and watched Jack torture anyone for information and believed it to be how the real world works. The committee report proves that reality. “But Shaun, you yourself mentioned Zero Dark Thirty and that instance you referenced was useful in getting intelligence.” Yea, but it’s also a movie. The true circumstances of that particular element of the plot are questionable as a result. And, within the movie itself there are other instances where prisoners suspected of being terrorist or having ties to terrorism provided more useful information without being tortured. So let’s not try to split hairs here. 

If it’s not saddening enough to read at least portions of the report, something I encourage everyone to do, then it’s even more saddening to read that former Vice President of the United States, Dick Cheney, marched out on NBC’s Meet the Press, and doubled-down on the CIA tactics outlined and even offered that time-honored gem that we so often as a result of woeful pride… “I would do it again in a minute.” This is typically something we seem to hear when we learn that a situation was mishandled, and the person responsible for the mishandling demonstrates just insane pride makes us. In the face of official documentation that essentially says, “these practices did not produce the results we’d hoped,” a former vice president still has the gravitas to say, “I’d do it the same way if I had to.” Well, no, actually the rational and reasoned approach if faced with the same situation would be to say, “Well, we know that this approach doesn’t work, so let’s try something else, shall we?” I’m just boggled by the sentiment each and every time I hear it or read it. Again, pride is a deadly creature. 

So, in light of the revelations found in the committee’s report, how then are we to proceed? 

Well, the reality of this is we can’t continue with these programs in their current state. Secret jails? Waterboarding? Neglecting basic medical attention of detainees? We can’t do this and we as Americans shouldn’t accept it. I know some would like to argue that this is a politically charged and motived report aimed at further painting the Bush Administration in negative light, but you can’t argue the facts contained in the report. You can’t argue that one of the primary architects of the enhanced interrogation program himself has stated that it’s not as beneficial as they initially believed. Or that he is one of the two people identified in the report as raising concerns about it’s usefulness. Those are hard facts to get over when playing the “playing politics” card. You may also try and assert that it’s nothing short of what the enemy is doing to us and these are prisoners of war. The problem is that effectively puts on on their level. The fact that the enemy employs such torturous means isn’t a justifiable reason as to why we should also. The fact is the United States should hold itself to a higher standard for conduct and treatment of human life. It’s hard to imagine that everyone the CIA detained was a dyed-in-the-wool terrorist or co-conspirator. What do we make of those cases? And what do we make of the hard fact that while the Attorney General (whomever that was at various points) believed such tactics to be legal at various points, the CIA utilized tactics that were not covered in the AG’s view? Those are out of bounds and as such shouldn’t be utilized by any means. 

And, for the Christian, how should this be received? Well, it shouldn’t be received. It should be systematically rejected. Torture is never a resource that a Christian should endorse, regardless of circumstance. Sorry, there just isn’t a Biblical argument for such a course of action. Defending one’s own self? Yes. Defending one’s home? Yes. Defending one’s family? Yes. Taking up arms in the face of an encroaching and evil enemy? Yes. Torturing another human being in order to obtain actionable intelligence, much of which could be fabricated, questionable, or outdated? No. It just isn’t permissible. As the church we should advocate that those detained on allegations of terrorist actions, or knowledge thereof, be brought to justice where the legal system can be brought to bear it’s full weight on those individuals should they be proven guilty. If not for the humanity of it, then for the honor of our nation in this world. I won’t go about Jesus-juking anyone here, but you simply cannot make the argument that there is scriptural evidence for torture. There just isn’t. In fact, that’s the punishment that Jesus himself bore: torture. This is not to say that you can sit and reason with a terrorist and reform them. Stranger things certainly have happened, but if we’re going to hold ourselves to any standard it cannot be done by employing torture, which many would argue is warranted because terrorists use it on us. I would invite you to see the error in such logic. Additionally, high alerts were placed on all foreign embassies of the United States in preparation for international outrage over the release of the report. It puts other individuals serving the interests of our country needlessly in harms way. And, furthermore, the goal of the church is to advance the cause of the gospel, and, like it or not, many around the world see American missionaries darkening their doors. Programs like that of the CIA that involve torture by definition only serve to put a black eye on Americans everywhere and thus hurt the cause of advancing the gospel. To some it may seem folly, or naive, but I for one believe that the peace found in the gospel is the only thing that will every truly put an end to terrorism and it’s efforts. We should grieve and plead for their souls more than we wish to see vengeance. This is not to negate the honor of our men and women serving valiantly on our behalf against deadly foes. On the contrary, we should honor them, hold them in high regard, and pray for their safety as well. They face an enemy that we as civilians cannot even fathom. However, we shouldn’t wish them into wars simply for the sake of seeking revenge. While we honor men and women protecting us, war takes it toll on our people also, and it is right for us to pray and hope that they never have to bear their arms and do violence on our behalf. Ultimately because we live in a broken world, they will, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pray they don’t. 

At the end of the day it’s simply not valid to say that such disregard for life yielded overwhelming successes. That argument just can’t be made based on the documents from the CIA that have been reviewed, some 6 million of them. That’s a pretty healthy study conducted over the course of 5 years. At some point we have to place the value of life, dignity, and our legal system over such a practice. Especially one that is wrought with questionable returns.


Rolling Stone Isn't Really Helping Rape Victims

If you’re not a regular reader of Rolling Stone (RS) or aren’t particularly culturally-adept, then you probably haven’t heard much about the controversy RS and one of it’s contributing editors/writers, Sabrina Rubin Ederly, have found themselves in these last few weeks. 

Ederly penned an article which RS published as a featured story in their December edition, as well as on their website. The article focuses on the story of Jackie, a name first believed to be a pseudonym, and her harrowing account of attending a date event at a fraternity house on the campus of the University of Virginia. Jackie claims that she was forcibly taken into a room by 7 fraternity pledges where she was then gang raped. In the weeks since the article was published, a controversy has erupted around the truthfulness of Jackie’s allegations. As a result, I wanted to take a moment and speak to the controversy and it’s implications with regards to victims of rape. 

Jackie’s story, as I’ve referenced, has created quite a controversy because in the last couple weeks her story has begun to unravel. The fraternity in question has vehemently denied the allegations, and has supposedly been working with local authorities to conduct an investigation into Jackie’s claims. What they’ve found was that there was no event held at the fraternity’s house, nor by the fraternity, on the night Jackie claims she was raped. Furthermore, Jackie identified one of her attackers to friends, and noted that he worked with her on campus as a lifeguard at the pool. The significance of this claim is that the man she identified is not a member of, nor a pledge, at the fraternity where the alleged rape took place. The Washington Post contacted the man identified by Jackie, and he acknowledged that he essentially knew of her, but didn’t know her. He also stated he’d never taken her on a date before, and wasn’t a member of the fraternity, as already stated. This is a detail that even the university has corroborated per it’s own records. Furthermore, according to the Washington Post, who has spoken with Jackie, some of her friends who are sex-assault awareness advocates have stated that while they believe something traumatic has happened to Jackie, they have now come to doubt her story. Some friends have also claimed that the details of Jackie’s story have also changed as well. Jackie claims the attack was part of the frat’s pledge/initiation process, a claim the fraternity has denied. Alex Pinkleton, a friend of Jackie’s who has herself survived a rape, states that she’s spoken with Jackie several times and now feels misled by Jackie. Additionally, the Washington Post spoke with one of the students whom Jackie contacted in the wake of her alleged assault and his claims contradict the claims made by Ederly and RS. This student, “Andy,” stated that Ederly’s claims that Jackie identified the specific frat house to her friends and that they found her bloodied, was inaccurate. Ederly also wrote that “Andy” and a few other friends advised Jackie not to report it, a claim “Andy’ also said was untrue, and that Jackie instead decided not to report it and simply returned to her dorm. 

We’ve also learned that Ederly and RS failed to contact the fraternity or the man Jackie identified as one of her attackers. Nor did they apparently contact any of Jackie’s friends who met her that evening after her attack. In fact, Jackie herself even claimed to the Washington Post that while RS accurately reported the details of her attack, other details may not be accurate. She also stated that she felt manipulated by the RS interviewer in such a way that she didn’t feel as though she had control over her own story. This is all a crucial misstep by both Ederly and RS. In the days since most of these revelations have come to light, RS has even gone so far as to issue an apology to readers on their website. 

“In the face of new information, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account, and we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced,” said Rolling Stone managing editor, Will Dana. 

Rolling Stone has, apparently, since quietly deleted the part about misplaced trust. Ederly is not commenting on the story. Jackie stands behind her story, despite all it’s holes. It also turns out that Jackie is her real name, it’s not a pseudonym at all. So, at least we know that part is correct, which is good. Ultimately the reason Ederly wrote the article was because she wanted to amp up the spotlight on sexual assault on college campuses. It wasn’t even a story she wanted to specifically report because she sympathized with Jackie. Ederly sought out a story that would fit the nature of her article, and she found it in Jackie. Which, to me, at least, only adds to the murkiness of the story. The truth is, in this matter, Rolling Stone and Ederly are guilty of some really shoddy journalism.

So why is this significant? It’s significant because of the potential ramifications it has for other victims of rape.

Let’s be clear: Rape is one of the most reprehensible, vile crimes known to man. It is perpetrated by seriously depraved individuals who have no regard for human life and dignity. I cannot speak against this particular crime enough. It’s a particular sin that I have an intense amount of hatred for. Statistically speaking, the vast majority of rapes are committed against women. I have a wife. I have a daughter. I am well-aware of the commandant that thou shalt not murder, but if either of these ladies whom I love dearly were ever to be attacked in such a way, I would personally have an issue not breaking such a commandment should I ever come into contact with the attacker. It seems a cliché thing for a husband or father to say, but that’s the reality of how I feel about rape. I have a feeling that I’m not the only husband or father who feels this way. 

However, the problem is that if Jackie is falsifying any part of her story, it has profound impact on other victims of rape, past, present, and future. According to 2008 to 2012 statistics from the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ National Crime Victimization Survey and the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) as well as 2013 criminal victimization rates, it is estimated that somewhere between 35%-40% of rapes are reported to police. That means as many as 60% of rapes are reported to the police. Clearly, rapes are woefully underreported. Now you could easily chalk this up to several factors, such as, but not limited to– the fear of reprisals by the attackers if reported; feeling shameful about the attack; and, the worst of all… the fear of no one believing their story. 

But, why wouldn’t anyone believe their story? Because there are far too many stories like the story of the 2006 Duke Lacrosse team where 3 players were accused or raping a stripper. It turned out that the stripper had made false claims before, and her story had more holes than a slice of Swiss cheese. And, as Jackie’s story begins to unravel in front of our eyes, it does serious damage to people who are actually victims of this vile, heinous crime. 

This is why the truth matters. And why telling the truth matters significantly. Because the reality of our broken world is that every day, somewhere, multiple women are raped. And it’s unbelievably evil. And the victims deserve to be heard, and taken seriously. Now, certainly one of the reasons that some rape victims are not believed when they allege they were raped is because people are just callous human beings sometimes. Other times, it’s because of cases like this one and the ones I’ve mentioned above where the allegations just aren’t holding up under scrutiny. In some cases we’ve come to learn that someone just wants to hurt another person so they allege rape. It’s a hard label to get out from under once it settles in alongside someone’s name. And, cases where rape is alleged and it turns out to be completely fabricated really anger me. Why? Because as I’ve already stated multiple times now: Rape is a horrible, reprehensible crime against human life and dignity. And, again, those who are victims of rape deserve to be heard, taken seriously, and their attackers brought to justice. Making false accusations hurts their case, and that’s infuriating. 

Is Jackie telling the truth? I don’t know, but the discrepancies that have come to light are hard to ignore. They’re not even new; we’ve seen this before in other cases. And, in a lot of them, it didn’t go well for the accuser when the facts actually came to light. Such as with the Duke Lacrosse case of 2006. 

The three men the victim in that case accused were all cleared of all the charges. One of the accused even had an air-tight alibi for his whereabouts on the night and time of the attack. Can we trust Jackie? Hard to say, but at this point it goes without saying that the police and university need to continue to investigate her claims. Her own friends claim to believe something happened to Jackie, just not what she’s alleging. If that’s true, then maybe there is still a case there to prosecute and someone is guilty of committing a crime against Jackie. All I know is that I grieve the reality that rape is even a “thing” we have to worry about at all, and it infuriates me that one of the reason why victims choose not to report their case and why some people choose not to believe a victim’s claims is because we’ve had a few cases too many where people make a false accusation that they were raped. If you are murdered, it’s really hard to make the claim to anyone that you were murdered. You lose that ability, you know? Rape victims are left with the scars of their experiences for the remainder of their lives, and for some it’s pretty crippling. Every claim of rape should be taken seriously, and investigated with the same amount of seriousness. Victims need and deserve that respect from us all, which is why it breaks my heart that anyone would ever hurt the cause of victims by claiming something happened… when it didn’t. Again, I don’t know if Jackie is being truthful, I don’t know Jackie. But, I really hope she is, for her sake and for the sake of all the other victims of rape. The reality that by publishing this story and the controversy that has erupted out of it, Rolling Stone isn't helping victims of sexual assaults. If Jackie's story ends up 100% legit, they aren't even helping her out because of the controversy that's birthed out of their negligent reporting practices in this case. 

There is too much on the line for this nonsense. Even though false claims are actually pretty low in occurrence, the problem is their shadows loom large and feed a pervasive and devestating myth. Again, there’s too much on the line for victims. Lord, come soon. 

Related Sources:

Original Rolling Stone article w/ editor’s note

Analysis of Rollling Stone reaction

Key elements in doubt


The Baymax Fist Bump

Big Hero 6 will forever be an essential film for me. Not only is it a fantastic contribution to the Disney catalogue of movies, but it's also the very first movie that we took our first born, Cohen, to see in a theatre. That's a big deal. You're first born child presents so many firsts to experience with them, so you try and make the most of the significant events because some of them are so hard to nail down. My son's first Christmas, for instance. He wasn't aware of what was going on because he was only about 4 months old. Even his 2nd Christmas was touch and go because he wasn't really aware of what all was going on. He knew he got to rip some stuff open, but there again it was sort of abstract for him. His 1st Birthday, too. He was 1 year old, he didn't get it. He didn't even smash his cake, he simply sat in his high-chair and sort of stared at everyone with a, "What is going on here" type of look in his face. 

So as you can tell, this film occupies a significant moment in the life of our first born. Which is why it's always really interesting to read about some of the creative work that went into producing a film like Big Hero 6. Maybe it's the comfort I get from knowing that the people who were working on it weren't just looking for a way to make a truck-ton of money; I believe there are people in the front office of Disney that do that after the film is done. But the filmmakers and the production team actually writing, animating, and producing the finished project seem to put a lot of time and thought into the film. It wasn't just a bunch of slapstick, but some heartfelt moments that go beyond just a funny little moment. The Baymax fist bump in the video leading this piece is a for instance. And, to further evidence the proof that there is heart behind the film, read this article from Entertainment Weekly about the creative process involved in bringing that fist bump to life and the ramifications it has for later in the film. My son, who is 3, legitimately laughed at that moment, and still giggles today when I try and reproduce it with him. Which is cool because I get to play Baymax's part. 

Taking your kids to their first cinematic experience though, that's something you can plan and plot out. For Cohen, he'd watched the Big Hero 6 previews and got excited whenever they came on the TV. So, we knew that this was the movie that we needed to take him to the theatre for the first time to see. And it was awesome. He did awesome, watched the whole movie. Ate popcorn. During the big battle at the end he was literally standing up fighting along with Hiro and Baymax (and without even bothering others around us). And, again, the movie is fantastic. He's hooked on Big Hero 6, specifically Baymax, and is getting some Big Hero 6 toys for Christmas. My friend recently visited Disney Land with his family and grabbed him one of the last Baymax dolls in the entire park. He even cooked up a little something special for my boy as well. 

As someone living and working in the creative arts, I love this sort of peak behind the curtain. Maybe it seems like I'm making a big deal out of something insignificant, but I would disagree. I'll remember for the rest of my days that Big Hero 6 was the first movie we took our first born child to see at a movie theatre. Every time I see that fist bump, I'll remember his reaction to seeing it. Whenever I now see people share a fist bump, I think of that scene, and I think of my son. That's a tender moment I like to relive. And, it's obvious from movie co-writer Robert Baird's own remarks at the end of the article that the scene has life beyond the screen.


Interstellar Gets Interviewed

Interstellar is a movie I've been pretty excited about for some time now. I'm a fan of Christopher Nolan's work, and this movie looks to be no less entertaining than his previous works. His movies are imaginative, creative, and grand in scale. He always seem to hit after some ideas that other writer/directors in modern cinema just don't. And he's not afraid to be a little crazy. Have you ever seen Memento? That movie still confuses me. He catches some flack from some on the Internet because they believe his movies always have these obvious or gaping plot holes in them, or that some of the characters lack emotional depth, but overall his films make up those problems in their creativity and imagination as far as I'm concerned. But, these are the things that the Internet does: It moves people to over-analyze and hyper-criticize things rather than just enjoy them for what they are. And, as the old saying goes, "Those who can't do, end up on the Internet criticizing it." I just made that up. Nobody says that. But it's sort of true, you know?

I'm amazed by space in general. The universe and all that we know and do not know of it capture my imagination with wonder and awe. And since I'll never be an astronaut, movies dealing with space and space travel have always piqued my interest. I'm a person of faith, I believe the universe and all that is in it bears the fingerprints of a designer and the vastness and grandeur of our universe leaves me speechless. Recently, someone in my Twitter feed posted a quote that I'll simply have to paraphrase here, but the sum total of that quote was that if we all took the time to look up at the stars and space more often, we would probably live differently. It's a humbling thing to consider the size and scope of the universe and then realize just how small we all are. How small the earth really is. And, few things capture one's imagination more than outer space and the immensity of the universe. Don't even get me started on the worlds that exist in our universe both near and far that have yet to be explored or even identified. Simply put: Space is awesome. 

When I heard Christopher Nolan's next film would involve space and space travel, I was already interested. It utilizes, for me, what is a sort of cliché plot device in climate change (I believe that's the catalyst here) to get the journey into the outer most reaches of the cosmos into play, but whatever gets us there then so be it. It's a work of fiction so you give a little to get a little in the end. But the Hollywood Reporter, a trade publication, sat down with Interstellar director, Christopher Nolan, and the leading cast members to talk about the movie in general. And, for whatever odd reason, I found the brief, nearly 30-minute interview fascinating. If you've got the time, sit down and give it a watch. I'm always interested in listening to how creative minds thing, and Christopher Nolan is no exception.