Saturday, July 4, 2015

The Declaration of Independence: 239 years ago

Below is the entire text of the Declaration of Independence.  I believe it to be one of the most
 audacious and revolutionary documents in history (pun in intended).

I have always loved my country.  But as a philosopher one of the things that I marvel at is that
 the United States is a country built on an idea.

 Ideas matter.

Freedom is in out nature.  No tyrant, no government can take that away.

I encourage you to read the entire text below on this birthday of our nation.  Particularly, I am
struck by the last line:

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, 
we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Those who wrote their names on that document held up as collateral for the investment in our freedom:

1.  Their Lives.  I am humbled when I remember that so many gave much more than I will
ever give so that people like me could live free.  The only way we can hold onto our freedom is if men and women are willing to pay the ultimate price.  Too often tyrants, both fearsome and soft-spoken, try to snatch away our freedom.  They depend on us to lay down our resistance and give in.  We must never do so.  The Founding Fathers gave us that pledge.

2.  Their Fortunes.  I will likely never see combat.  But how do I spend my money to
ensure freedom?  Do I take care of our wounded warriors?  Do I support laws and
representatives I believe in with my capital?  And do I take payments from those who
would make me dependent.  This pervasive bribery must lead inexorably to subtle slavery.

3.  Their Sacred Honor.  Do we even believe in honor anymore today?  Does our name mean anything?  In A Man for All Seasons, when asked why he would not take an oath of
loyalty to Henry VIII, Thomas More said, "When a man takes an oath, 
he’s holding his own self in his hands. Like water.  And if he 
opens his fingers then — he needn’t hope to find himself again." 
 We are free and we must stand by our commitments. 
 Otherwise who we are, our name, means nothing.  

These great men signed their names to this document. 
 For each of them it may have been a death sentence.
  But they signed it nevertheless.  They their day they
 took a stand against tyranny and stood for freedom.

In their day they stood as men.

Today they stand as giants.

And the challenge of today is this: could we stand with them?

Do we have what it takes to be the patriots at Valley Forge or the resistance at Boston Harbor?  Does that same noble spirit of freedom stir in us?

Perhaps reading this document again will renew and refresh the spirit of liberty.

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

The 56 signatures on the Declaration appear in the positions indicated:

Column 1
   Button Gwinnett
   Lyman Hall
   George Walton
Column 2
North Carolina:
   William Hooper
   Joseph Hewes
   John Penn
South Carolina:
   Edward Rutledge
   Thomas Heyward, Jr.
   Thomas Lynch, Jr.
   Arthur Middleton
Column 3
John Hancock
Samuel Chase
William Paca
Thomas Stone
Charles Carroll of Carrollton
George Wythe
Richard Henry Lee
Thomas Jefferson
Benjamin Harrison
Thomas Nelson, Jr.
Francis Lightfoot Lee
Carter Braxton
Column 4
   Robert Morris
   Benjamin Rush
   Benjamin Franklin
   John Morton
   George Clymer
   James Smith
   George Taylor
   James Wilson
   George Ross
   Caesar Rodney
   George Read
   Thomas McKean
Column 5
New York:
   William Floyd
   Philip Livingston
   Francis Lewis
   Lewis Morris
New Jersey:
   Richard Stockton
   John Witherspoon
   Francis Hopkinson
   John Hart
   Abraham Clark
Column 6
New Hampshire:
   Josiah Bartlett
   William Whipple
   Samuel Adams
   John Adams
   Robert Treat Paine
   Elbridge Gerry
Rhode Island:
   Stephen Hopkins
   William Ellery
   Roger Sherman
   Samuel Huntington
   William Williams
   Oliver Wolcott
New Hampshire:
   Matthew Thornton

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Film Review: Ted 2

It is very difficult for me to adequately review this movie without getting into spoilers about this movie and the previous Ted movie.

If you don't want any spoilers, let me say that Ted 2 is probably the funniest movie of the year with jokes about which I am still laughing days later.  Is it as funny as the first?  No.  Is it as good as the first?  Not even close.  Both involve drugs, crude humor, and a talking bear.  So how are they so different?  The answer is in the review below.


One of the things that made the first Ted movie so good was that it had a strong and simple thematic element: growing up.  John (Mark Wahlberg) was a man-child whose arrested development was primarily the fault of his childhood friend Ted (writer-director-star Seth MacFarlane), a magical walking and talking teddy bear and a perfect metaphor for childhood friendship.  The drug use and immature behavior were rampant, but one of the reasons the movie worked was because you could see those things not just as moments of humor but as obstacles to John's growth.  The more he lived this life with Ted, the less chance he had to become a real man and keep his love Lori (Mila Kunis).  By the end of the movie, John seems to find a balance.  He grows up and marries Lori but he keeps his loyalty to his old friend.

Ted 2 throws away all of that.

Ted 2 begins with Ted marrying his girlfriend from the last movie Tammi-Lynn (Jessica Barth).  At the wedding we find out that John and Lori are divorced.  A year after the wedding, Tammi-Lynn and Ted are having marital fights that make the Honeymooners looks refined.  They decide to have a baby to save their marriage.  After a number of false biological starts and hijinks, they try to adopt but are told that Ted is property, not a person.  With the help of pot-smoking lawyer Samantha (Amanda Seyfried), the quest to secure Ted's rights begins.  All this is done while the villain from the last movie Donnie (Giovanni Ribisi) lurks on the edges of the plot to kidnap Ted again.

There are a lot of problems with MacFarlane's set up:

1.  John is ruined.
As stated before, John's entire journey from the first movie is nullified.  The plot requires this in order for John to backslide into a grown-up pot-head.  But I couldn't help but look on him with disappointment.  He has a blooming romance with Samantha, but that is partially because she is a druggie too.  In fact, at one point in the story John complains that Lori refused to get high with him.  So instead of John maturing as a person, all we have is a pouty perpetual frat boy.  The entire plot of the first Ted may as well have never happened.

2.  Ted shouldn't be the main character.
The first movie works well because John could go through character development and the foul-mouthed teddy bear could be the funny comic relief.  Ted didn't have much of an arc in the first film and that was okay.  Ted 2 tries to put him front and center, but it doesn't work because he doesn't grow and change.  He's the same horrible person at the beginning he is at the end.  The movie tries to have it both ways by acknowledging Ted's lack of development but still trying to get you to root for him.  It rings false.

3.  It is too preachy.
Comedies live and die by the jokes.  But because of the plot, the movie has to take stops and give speeches about "important things."  There is an underlying metaphor for "gay marriage" throughout.  There is even an unintended (I believe) pro-life message in one of the speeches.  Regardless, these moments take all of the humorous wind out of the movie's sails.  As a result, the movie is way too long and it feels it.

The foul language and raunchy humor are not that problematic for me as a Catholic.  I've heard much worse and in some context much of it isn't problematic.  For example, I didn't mind the drug jokes in the first movie because it ultimately showed the negative effects of that behavior.  The more John got high, the greater the risk of losing his love.  Not so with Ted 2.

No one grows.  No one learns.  In fact, in an un ironic condemnation of our modern society, Ted's value is not based on his individual rights given by reason but on how he makes people feel.  What a horrible lesson to be learned: if people love you then you have value but if they hate you then you don't.  In this world, we value feeling above thinking.  But the horrible result is that if we abandon reason, all that matters is the manipulation of emotions.  But as Catholics, we believe our value does not come from how make others feel.  We have value because we are made in God's image.  In this regard, Ted 2 misses the point completely.

And the central problem of the movie, Ted's horrible marriage, is never fully addressed.  Having a child to save the marriage?  This is never sufficiently critiqued.  Yes, Ted 2 is a silly comedy, but the best comedy works because it touches on some fundamental truth.

The only thing that keeps this movie from failing is the fact that some of the jokes are genius.  The horribly wonderful seen with Improv comics is still playing around my mind.  There is still a lot of potential with these characters to be found.  But like his show, Family Guy, MacFarlane risks having a franchise filled with empty laughs and no heart.

3 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Film Review: Aloha

I am not a fan of Cameron Crowe.  I find his movies tend to be overly indulgent and self-satisfied.  With that in mind, I was skeptical of his latest movie which he wrote and directed: Aloha.

But I am happy to say that the movie is a pleasant, if not forgettable, experience.

The movie centers around Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper) who is comes to Hawaii to help billionaire Carson Welch (Bill Murray) get Dennis Bumpy Kanahele, the head of the Nation of Hawai'i to bless a building project.  Hawaii also happens to be the home of his long lost sweetheart Tracy (Rachel McAdams) who is married to stoic and silent Air Force pilot John (John Krasinski).  While Brian is on assignment he is saddled with a spunky Air Force captain Allison Ng (Emma Stone), who moons over him like a school girl's first crush.

The movie is typical Crowe faire:  it is mostly about cynical Brian trying to decide to either cling to the past or look ahead to the future.  The film is beautifully shot against the exotic Hawaiian backdrop, but this is a story with few surprises.

It is also a story with very little tension.  Brian doesn't need to do anything in the first act to win over Allison.  Every look she gives him is a "come hither" look.  Brian resists at first but it doesn't come off as in any way believable.  Yes, he pines for Tracy, but you can feel the distance of time between them.

This is the type of movie that isn't plot driven.  It succeeds or fails on whether you find the characters enjoyable.  And for the most part the answer is yes.  As the film goes on, even if there isn't a lot of depth, the characters grow on you.  You develop an affection for them.  It could be the magical romance of Hawaii, but a lot of it has to go with the incredibly affable cast.  Cooper tones down the violent side he showed in Silver Linings Playbook.  Stone doesn't have a lot to work with from the script, but she makes Allison's enthusiasm contagious and her disappointment heartbreaking.  McAdams always gives off the vibe that she has the goods on you and has a built-in BS meter.  Krasinski is also very funny in his silent role.  In fact, the funniest sequence involves a "conversation" of handshakes and shoulder squeezes.  Murray is wonderfully understated and the rest of the supporting cast, including Alec Baldwin and Danny McBride are fine.

Crowe likes to take you into worlds that are usually unexplored.  In Jerry Maguire he took you into the sports agents business.  In Elizabethtown he showed us the inner workings of the sports shoe industry.  Here, he explores the new world of privatized space exploration.  And this world is actually quite fascinating and the intricate web of politics, military, and business are touched upon but never fully explored.  They are only the backdrop to the love triangle.

As the movie progresses, it becomes more enjoyable.  It is a nice experience to watch a movie whose best parts are not in the first 15 minutes.

Thematically, it does stress the importance of family and children.  Allison consistently refers to the Hawaiian myths and customs about the land and sky, as her character is one quarter Hawaiian.  (Some people have made disparaging comments about casting Stone as a Hawaiian, but as someone of a mixed-racial background I am always uncomfortable when someone is accused of not looking properly ethnic enough).  And while I obviously don't believe the myths, as a Catholic I appreciate the sense of wonder that she brings to nature.  Having just read Pope Francis' Laudato Si, I could feel that appreciation of the created world and its connectedness to something bigger, something that can move and inspire.  (although I could have done without the drinking and fornicating)

Aloha is not a great film by any stretch of the imagination.  But it is a pleasant film experience that will leave you with a nice smile.  And that is no bad thing.

3 out of 5 stars.

New Evangelizers Post: The Philosophy of Laudato Si

I have a new article up at  

Much has already been written about Pope Francis new encyclical.  A great deal of that writing has analyzed the letter through a political lens.  This is not illegitimate, as Pope Francis raises many issues that are explicitly political.  And the mixing of politics and religion is rarely without controversy.

But for this article I would like to focus on the middle section of his letter.  The first part Laudato Si (LS), addresses the perceived ecological problem.  The large sections at the end are about how to deal with the problem.  But the middle establishes the philosophy on which Francis builds his ecological ethic.

What Francis presents is a fundamental rejection of a universe at which man is at the center.  There are many environmentalists who would agree with Francis but they have a different reason.  This is why I think some may misunderstand LS as a letter that devalues man at the expense of the other creatures in the natural world.  Some environmentalists would place the planet at the center with man as simply another species on it.  But Francis does not propose a planet-centric ecology.  This is what makes the philosophy of this letter so important to understand.  Francis asks “To whom does the natural world belong?”  Does it belong to man?  No.  Does it belong to itself?  No.

Nature belongs to God.

You can read the entire article here.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sunday Best: Top 10 James Horner Scores

RIP James Horner: 1953-2015

Sadly, the great composer James Horner died a week ago.

He was one of the best film composers I had ever heard.  I only became aware of his name during the big Titanic craze.  But when I looked back at his body of work I realized that I had been an admirer of his for a long time, I just did not know it.

So in honor of him, here are his 10 best scores

10.  Apollo 13.

Horner captured the grandeur of spirit found in the Apollo astronauts while keeping things taught and tense.

9.  Swing Kids.

There is a haunting sadness to the light main melody that juxtaposes so powerfully against the intensity of the swing music.

8.  Aliens

That use of the metallic clanging in the chase scenes give it a unique and scary doom.  And even the final credits music stays with you as the credits roll.

7.  Star Trek II and III

There space battles in these great films are not very dynamic.  Horner's music gives it a thrilling and moving undercurrent.

6.  Glory

Even though the charge of the fort is not his original score, the rest of the movie captures the power found in its title.

5.  A Beautiful Mind

The movie is mostly about the interior of the mind, something very difficult to make tangible on film.  But Horner's score touches the intellectual and emotional reality of Nash's fractured genius.

4.  Krull

To this day, when I hear the march of the Firemares, I am transported to 1983 and I am a little kid again watching with wonder.

3.  Titanic

His most iconic score and rightfully esteemed.  His music was the emotional anchor that drove home to sad romance of this story.  He captured both the exhilaration and despair in such beautiful musical notes.

2.  Braveheart

The music for this movie is perfect.  The stirring use of bagpipes and strings touches something primal and noble in the human spirit.  Whenever I listen to the last 7 and a half minutes of score, I can't help but say the words of dialogue out loud: "You have bled with Wallace.  Now bleed with me."  Perfect down to the last chord.

1.  Willow

For years I had simply assumed that John Williams had written this score.  I know that sounds like an odd way to praise this music, but it might be the highest compliment I can give.  It is magical through and through.

Thank you, Mr. Horner, for all of the beauty you have us.  May you rest in peace.


Saturday, June 27, 2015

Film Flash: Ted 2

15 words or less film review (full review to follow soon)

Lots of laughs, but loses character development and good will from the first.

3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars

Batman v. Superman: A Priest's Perspective

(hat tip to Rick O.)

I really love this analysis.

It reminds me of the second essay I ever wrote on this blog.  (you can read that one here).