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Me for First Things: “Unplanned” isn’t the greatest movie–what’s great about it is that it has the mainstream-media film critics in a panic

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From my latest for First Things:

But [U.K. Guardian film critic Jordan] Hoffman’s real beef with Unplanned wasn’t the gore. It was the pro-life message—a message Hoffman found so alarming that he couldn’t stop talking about it, hauling in every extraneous argument he could think of: An African-American Planned Parenthood patient defies her weeping mother to stride into the clinic—so that means the movie must be racist. The Christian group Coalition for Life, whose members pray outside the clinic fence and beg patients to change their minds, “shames women.” The Bryan clinic finally goes out of business (as it did in real life), so Hoffman grumbles about “restricting women from their own constitutionally protected reproductive health.” In his last sentence he announces, “I’ll be making a donation to Planned Parenthood.” Is he a film critic or a pro-choice shill?

Hoffman is not alone in his personal investment. Forbes film critic Luke Y. Thompson announces in his review: “I have utilized Planned Parenthood for emergency birth control in the past.” Like Hoffman, Thompson works in a racism angle: Since Abby and most of the Coalition for Life people are white (as are 70 percent of Texans), “Unplanned ultimately posits the most bland whiteness as the ultimate signal of Christian goodness.” Thompson makes much of the fact that $1 million of the movie’s budget came from MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, who—horror of horrors—contributed to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Lindell plays a cameo role in the film as a construction worker who knocks down the Planned Parenthood sign after the clinic folds. Thompson concludes: “[I]f you like Trump rallies, especially the ones featuring Mike Pence, this is probably the movie for you.”

Chicago Tribune reviewer Owen Gleiberman focuses almost exclusively on abortion politics. “The movie comes on like it’s trying to make converts, but what it’s really doing is mobilizing those on the pro-life side to come out and vote for politicians who will step up the legal assault on abortion rights,” Gleiberman writes. “‘Unplanned’…does a skillful job of using religious piety to conceal its underlying political agenda…It may look like it’s preaching, but it’s really campaigning.” And in case the reader didn’t get the message: “Unplanned” isn’t a good movie, but it’s effective propaganda.”

Read the whole thing here.

Posted by Charlotte Allen


Notre-Dame burns–giving Pete Buttigieg a chance to show off his French and display what an international sophisto he is

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Photo: Darron Cummings/AP/REX/Shutterstock

The devastating fire at the 850-year-old Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral was heart-breaker for most of the world–and a video-op for South Bend, Indiana, mayor and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg.

Buttigieg, a man of seven languages, got a chance to show off his French, display his  international sophistication as a citoyen du monde, and contrast himself pointedly to his potential GOP rival, the bumptious, mostly monolingual, and definitely America-centric Donald Trump.

Here’s the Newsweek site where you can watch the vid of Buttigieg displaying his Gallic fluency to French news outlet BFM-TV:

“To the people of France I would like to say that Notre Dame Cathedral was like a gift to the human race,” said Buttigieg. “We share the pain but we also thank you for this gift to civilization.”

Except that he said it en français.

And of course, since 90 percent of the French already can’t stand Trump, Buttigieg’s Francophone condolences went over like steak-frites after a Girondons de Bordeaux match:

Retweeting the BFM TV news segment on social media, French Ambassador to the U.S. Gérard Araud wrote: “Thank you Mayor for this message and congratulations for your french!” A slew of comments under the outlet’s tweet heaped praise on the South Bend, Indiana, mayor, who reportedly speaks seven languages, including Spanish, Italian, Norwegian and Arabic.

“America needs you the world needs you—Ladies gentlemen this is what a president sounds like,” read one comment that gained hundreds of likes. Another added: “This intelligence is something I’m craving. How wonderful to reach out to the people of France this way.”

So maybe if Mayor Pete washes out in the primaries for U.S. president, he can move to France to succeed French president Emmanuel Macron.

By the way, if you want donate to restore the ruined cathedral, here is the web page of the Friends of Notre-Dame de Paris. It’s a 501(c)(3) charity under U.S. tax law, so your donation will be 100 percent tax-deductible.

Posted by Charlotte Allen

Bill McKibben promises he won’t speak at your college graduation to tell you you will die from global warming-induced bubonic plague–is that swearsies, Bill?

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Lifelong global-warming apocalypse-monger Bill McKibben teams up with U.N. climate-change honcho Christiana Figueres to swear, swear, swear that they won’t be speaking at your college graduation unless your alma mater divests itself of fossil-fuel investments:

To have any chance of mitigating climate change, we need all people doing what they can…

That’s why the two of us, in addition to our work on climate change, have begun doing something else: refusing to accept honorary degrees from colleges that won’t divest their endowments of fossil fuels.

We’re under no illusion that our refusal to participate is a big deal. Of all the people at a college commencement, the honorary-degree recipient is the least important, but it is one more way for us to warn everyone that time is running out. We hope that others will follow our lead, as a reminder to college presidents and boards of trustees that society is quickly becoming disgruntled with inertia on this issue. Business as usual is the one thing we can’t afford.

McKibben and Figueres seem especially bent out of shape that their own undergrad alma maters, Harvard and Swarthmore respectively, haven’t hopped onto the climate-change-divestment bandwagon yet:

…[T]heir refusal to divest from fossil fuels has been painful for us to watch. So one of us has found himself sleeping in the shrubbery outside the Harvard president’s office as part of a large student protest for divestment.

That would be Bill, presumably.

Too bad, Harvard, because your newly minted grads will miss a chance to hear Bill rehash his latest the-end-is-near book, Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? Read this excerpt in Rolling Stone for some real excitement:

In 2015, a study in the Journal of Mathematical Biology pointed out that if the world’s oceans kept warming, by 2100 they might become hot enough to “stop oxygen production by phyto-plankton by disrupting the process of photosynthesis.” Given that two-thirds of the Earth’s oxygen comes from phytoplankton, that would “likely result in the mass mortality of animals and humans.”

A year later, above the Arctic Circle, in Siberia, a heat wave thawed a reindeer carcass that had been trapped in the permafrost. The exposed body released anthrax into nearby water and soil, infecting two thousand reindeer grazing nearby, and they in turn infected some humans; a twelve-year-old boy died. As it turns out, permafrost is a “very good preserver of microbes and viruses, because it is cold, there is no oxygen, and it is dark” — scientists have managed to revive an eight-million-year-old bacterium they found beneath the surface of a glacier. Researchers believe there are fragments of the Spanish flu virus, smallpox, and bubonic plague buried in Siberia and Alaska.

Or consider this: as ice sheets melt, they take weight off land, and that can trigger earthquakes — seismic activity is already increasing in Greenland and Alaska. Meanwhile, the added weight of the new seawater starts to bend the Earth’s crust. “That will give you a massive increase in volcanic activity. It’ll activate faults to create earthquakes, submarine landslides, tsunamis, the whole lot,” explained the director of University College London’s Hazard Centre.

Yikes! Earthquakes, lava, and bubonic plague!

There’s more scary stuff:

A 2017 study in Australia, home to some of the world’s highest-tech farming, found that “wheat productivity has flatlined as a direct result of climate change.” After tripling between 1900 and 1990, wheat yields had stagnated since, as temperatures increased a degree and rainfall declined by nearly a third. “The chance of that just being variable climate without the underlying factor [of climate change] is less than one in a hundred billion,” the researchers said, and it meant that despite all the expensive new technology farmers kept introducing, “they have succeeded only in standing still, not in moving forward.” Assuming the same trends continued, yields would actually start to decline inside of two decades, they reported….

{A]team of British researchers released a study demonstrating that even if you can grow plenty of food, the transportation system that distributes it runs through just fourteen major choke-points, and those are vulnerable to — you guessed it — massive disruption from climate change. For instance, U.S. rivers and canals carry a third of the world’s corn and soy, and they’ve been frequently shut down or crimped by flooding and drought in recent years…

Then there’s the protein deficiency:

The paper, in the journal Environmental Research, said that rising carbon dioxide levels, by speeding plant growth, seem to have reduced the amount of protein in basic staple crops, a finding so startling that, for many years, agronomists had overlooked hints that it was happening. But it seems to be true: when researchers grow grain at the carbon dioxide levels we expect for later this century, they find that minerals such as calcium and iron drop by 8 percent, and protein by about the same amount. In the developing world, where people rely on plants for their protein, that means huge reductions in nutrition: India alone could lose 5 percent of the protein in its total diet, putting 53 million people at new risk for protein deficiency. The loss of zinc, essential for maternal and infant health, could endanger 138 million people around the world. In 2018, rice researchers found “significantly less protein” when they grew eighteen varieties of rice in high–carbon dioxide test plots. “The idea that food became less nutritious was a surprise,” said one researcher.

And finally, the giant bugs:

[I]n August 2018, a massive new study found something just as frightening: crop pests were thriving in the new heat. “It gets better and better for them,” said one University of Colorado researcher. Even if we hit the UN target of limiting temperature rise to two degrees Celsius, pests should cut wheat yields by 46 percent, corn by 31 percent, and rice by 19 percent. “Warmer temperatures accelerate the metabolism of insect pests like aphids and corn borers at a predictable rate,” the researchers found. “That makes them hungrier[,] and warmer temperatures also speed up their reproduction.” Even fossilized plants from fifty million years ago make the point: “Plant damage from insects correlated with rising and falling temperatures, reaching a maximum during the warmest periods.”

I don’t know about you, but I’d want to skip the commencement ceremonies if they consisted of Bill McKibben predicting I’d be dead of smallpox, malnutrition, and oxygen deprivation before I got my student loans paid off.

Please, Bill and Christiana, you promise you’ll stay away?

Posted by Charlotte Allen

“Leggings mom” of Notre Dame has to endure something worse than bad student leggings at a Catholic U: bad student writing at a Catholic U

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Photo: Evening Standard

The poor “leggings mom” of Notre Dame!

She writes a letter to the student newspaper pointing out the obvious: that young women wear skin-tight semi-translucent leggings in order to show off their gym-sculpted backsides–and then get bent out of shape when young men happen to ogle their gym-sculpted backsides encased in those skin-tight, semi-translucent leggings.

I thought of all the other men around and behind us who couldn’t help but see their behinds.

Yup. Men are that way.

It was bad enough that the letter triggered such feminist outrage that nearly every female student at Notre Dame promptly donned a pair of skin-tight, semi-translucent leggings showing off her backside, gym-sculpted or (more often) not, in order to protest “the idea that it’s a woman’s job to make sure that men don’t fall into sin,” as one theologically acute young woman put it.

But mother-of-four-sons Maryann White has had to endure something even worse than bad student leggings at an elite Catholic university: bad student writing at an elite Catholic university.

Read this April 12 letter to the student newspaper at Georgetown by Georgetown freshman Julianna Yablans (and keep in mind that U.S. News rates Georgetown No. 22 in the nation for all-around excellence):

Instead of criticizing women for their dress, those like White should support others in their self-expression however they feel comfortable.

“Their self-expression however they feel comfortable.” Hmmm.

There’s more:

White’s letter is an all-too-familiar sentiment for many girls, indicative of a larger culture in which women are taught to dress in a way that is not distracting to men….

Leggings are not inherently sexual, but women such as White are legitimizing the sexualization of the garment….

Although White targets the women of Notre Dame, the themes of her letter are heavily centered in what she perceives as Catholic values. However, Catholic values are rooted in acceptance, not criticizing others for their choices. White imposes her interpretation of Catholicism onto others, which is contrary to the core belief that people should be free to make their own decisions without judgement from others.

School deans and mothers should be figures who girls look up to and learn from. If the role models of women insist we cater our lifestyles to men, girls will be unable to create a sense of self and identity. We cannot control — and should not be responsible for — the way others think. The right of comfort and self-expression is inherent to our identity. As students and women, we can and will wear what we want without being criticized for it, and we should continue to support each other in the self-expression that is most preferred.

It’s perhaps churlish of me to mock the randomized diction and syntax of an 18-year-old. I’m a Catholic myself, so I’m probably sinning against “Catholic values…rooted in…not criticizing others for their choices.” Still, don’t you have to have a baseline command of the written English language in order to get into Georgetown?

At least Maryann White displayed a sense of humor in her Notre Dame letter:

Thanks for listening to the lecture. Catholic moms are good at those!

But no good deed goes unpunished, and the punishment for White seems to be even more irritating than all those Spandex-clad rear ends shoved into her face.

Posted by Charlotte Allen

Me for First Things: Cardinal Danneels’s Belgian waffle

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Photo: Topos

…Danneels’s thirty-one-year watch witnessed the catastrophic—and ongoing—decline of Catholicism in Belgium. Belgium had been a staunchly Catholic redoubt that, nearly alone in Northern Europe, resisted the Reformation. Although up to three-quarters of the eleven million Belgians are still nominally Catholic, by 2018 Sunday Mass attendance had dropped to less than 10 percent, and fewer than half of Belgium’s Catholic parents bothered to have their babies baptized. Many of the country’s gorgeous Gothic and Baroque churches stand empty. The shortage of Catholic priests is so severe, owing to a cratering of religious vocations, that in 2011 thousands of lay Belgians signed a petition begging that they be allowed to lead church services rather than have their parishes closed down or merged. In 2007, for example, there were only two priestly ordinations in the entire country.

That situation improved a bit in 2010 when Pope Benedict XVI appointed André-Joseph Léonard, Belgium’s only conservative bishop (of Namur), to succeed Danneels as Belgian primate. Besides reviving Catholic devotional practices such as Corpus Christi processions, Léonard opened a tradition-minded seminary that quickly grew to twenty-one seminarians and generated six priests. But when Léonard tendered his resignation in 2015, Pope Francis replaced him with a Danneels protégé, Jozef de Kesel, who promptly shut down the seminary. Belgium is now better known for its relaxed abortion restrictions, its pioneering legalization of same-sex marriage, and the most expansive euthanasia laws in the world. A potent symbol of the state of Catholicism in contemporary Belgium is the Église du Sacré-Coeur et Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes in Liège—now deserted, crumbling, and defaced by street art. The most vibrant religions in Belgium today are evangelical Christianity and Islam.

Read the whole thing here.
Posted by Charlotte Allen

Annals of microaggression: Gal named Keya says it’s racist when people pronounce her name as “Keya”

Keya Roy is used to people mispronouncing her name. She usually brushes it off, but should she?

Photo: KUOW (Courtesy of Sutapa Ray)

Seattle’s public radio station KUOW spends your public-radio tax dollars on The Racist Practice of Mispronouncing Names:

In this episode of RadioActive Youth Media, Keya Roy and her co-host Zuheera Ali talk with author Ijeoma Oluo and each other about living in the United States with uncommon names. They also talk to Rita Kohli, a professor at University of California, Riverside, who has researched the effects of mispronouncing names on students of color….

Says co-host Keya Roy: “I always felt like by giving into that pressure to conform and allowing my name to be butchered, I was somehow making life easier for others…

“My name is a way to push me aside, and most of the time, the people who are doing this don’t realize the damage they could be doing to my self-worth and sense of confidence.”

Here’s mispronunciation-microaggression maven Kohli weighing in:

“The changing of peoples names has a racialized history,” said Kohli. “It’s grounded in slavery — the renaming during slavery — renaming Americanization schools for Latinx communities and indigenous communities, and so there is a lot of history that’s tied to this practice that is directly tied to racism.”

Back to Keya Roy:

“Interrupting someone to say, ‘It’s Keya, not Keeya,’ isn’t me being irritating, it’s me putting my foot down against a vehicle of racism, and then in turn, creating an environment in which owning your name is the norm, not the exception,” Keya Roy says.

Mmm, how do you pronounce  “Keya”? Curious, I checked out the name on the Pronounce Names website.

There, speakers from Mumbai and Valsad (so they ought to know) actually suggest a variety of regional pronunciations of the name (which means “monsoon flower” in Sanskrit), ranging from “Keh-yaa” to “Key-yaa.”

So maybe what gets the monsoon of “vehicle of racism” accusations raining down on public radio from Ms. Roy is when someone pronounces “Keya” as “Keya.”

Posted by Charlotte Allen

How would you like to have to read “Healthy Holly” to your kids? Disgraced Baltimore mayor’s real crime is writing the world’s dullest children’s books

That’s not just plodding; it’s poor punctuation: missing quotation marks, and what’s with the capital “A” in “Asked”? (Also, shouldn’t the “d” in “dad” be capitalized?)

I’ve got to say that the illustrations are kind of cute; I like the smiley tennis ball wearing sunglasses, although I can’t see what it adds to the story, such as it is–or why Holly is batting that ball off a sidewalk curb instead of in a court. (The illustrator, Andre Forde of Orlando, Florida, says he’s never met Pugh personally and worked solely on phoned-in instructions from an assistant of hers.)

So it may be all for the best that most of the “Healthy Holly” books have never seen the light of day. It’s wicked to self-deal, but it’s downright evil to force children to sit still while you torment them with pedantry so you can get them to eat their vegetables.

Posted by Charlotte Allen