Sunday, December 10, 2017

Roy Moore, dogwhistling on the campaign trail

George Soros, a Holocaust survivor and philanthropist to human rights causes, has long been a target of the right-wing. He is attacked for his political liberalism, his Jewish ethnicity, and his atheist beliefs. At age 14 in Hungary, he had to pose as a Christian to survive the Nazis. As an adult, he declared that he did not believe in God.

On Dec. 4, U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore (R-AL) made these comments on air on a radio show hosted by Bryan Fischer, implying that the 87-year-old Soros will go to Hell.

"He [Soros] is pushing an agenda and his agenda is sexual in nature, his agenda is liberal, and not what Americans need. It’s not our American culture. Soros comes from another world that I don’t identify with...No matter how much money he’s got, he’s still going to the same place that people who don’t recognize God and morality and accept his salvation are going. And that’s not a good place."

Soros' support of secular, feminist causes has long riled many on the right. Soros founded the Open Society Foundations, whose Human Rights Initiative funds efforts in defense of LGBT rights worldwide, especially in the most repressive countries. Following the November 2016 U.S. election, the UK's Independent published this opinion article: "Already we see calls for the Trump presidency to adopt the foreign agents legislation of Vladimir Putin which makes it hard for gay rights groups and other human rights groups to operate in Russia. The target of this legislation is predictable: George Soros." Conservative groups have also disapproved of his support of abortion rights.

Moore, meanwhile has a history of anti-LGBT positions. “On February 19, 2003 Justice Moore met with a Soulforce delegation [a pro-LGBT organization] on the anniversary of a case denying custody of children to their lesbian mother," Bob Minor wrote. "Moore had argued that 'the lifestyle should never be tolerated.'"

Moore's spokesperson, according to the Daily Mail, "said that the comments were 'anti-George Soros' and therefore no apology was needed" to the wider Jewish community. The comment clearly states, however, that "people" who don't accept the salvation of Moore's god are all "going to the same place" which is "not a good place." So on the far of it, this is not a comment against George Soros as an individual but against Jews, atheists, liberals, and feminists in general. If it were ever acceptable to say this kind of thing (which it is not), it is especially bewildering that Christians think they have the high ground in this instance given that Soros had to pretend to be Christian while he was a child so he would not be slaughtered by agents of the occupying state. That biographical detail in itself should make Christians stop in their tracks before asserting that Soros (or any Jew, whether theist or atheist) needs to accept Jesus or else be rejected by God and burn for all eternity.

Some may be confused or bothered by the concept of a "Jewish atheist." Others may be upset about liberals in general. Still others are paranoid about wealthy Jews. It does not matter. In a mature, decent, civil society, it should be unacceptable to campaign on the basis that your political opponents and their supporters are rejected by God. It is always a dogwhistle when any politician says that any group of people is going to Hell. In this case, Roy Moore is making an antisemitic, antisecular, antifeminist, homophobic dogwhistle. He is doing all those things at the same time. He knows that different voters will hear different things. With the election in two days, we need to hope that enough voters can hear the meanness of what he is doing and will call him on it.


Running against Roy Moore for Alabama's U.S. Senate seat is Doug Jones. The election in Alabama is Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Nation, religion, language: Amin Maalouf on identity

Originally posted 17 July 2007 to JVoices.com, a blog that is going offline.

“What makes me myself rather than anyone else is the very fact that I am poised between two countries, two or three languages and several cultural traditions. It is precisely this that defines my identity. Would I exist more authentically if I cut off a part of myself?”
— Amin Maalouf, In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong, 1996

Maalouf observes the ironic fact that, the more connected one is to other people, the more specific is one’s place in the world, and this unique identity becomes a sort of isolation. “Every one of my allegiances links me to a large number of people. But the more ties I have,” he writes, as an Arabic-speaking Christian in Paris, “the rarer and more particular my own identity becomes.” He explains how we often arrange the separate elements of our identities in a hierarchy of importance but that hierarchy can change over time.

In considering the most popular identities worldwide today, Maalouf suggests that globalization is making nationalism obsolete, because, in a globalized age, we desire identities that are not tied down to a particular geographic area. So, where we humans once were nationalists, we are instead phasing in religious community. This partly accounts for the rise in religious fundamentalism today.

But Maalouf speculates that, religion, too, may one day be replaced by something that becomes more relevant, such as language. Language is a top competitor for the cornerstone of identity because one can specialize in multiple languages and because one must have the language of the dominant culture if one does not wish to be cut off. Religion, by contrast, is more exclusivist (one can generally only specialize in one religion) and arguably less fundamental to the larger culture than is language.

Maalouf regards the rise of English as a lingua franca as a positive influence if it can bring people together who otherwise could not have spoken at all, and a negative influence only in cases where it replaces a common language with a richer history. Today, he concedes, everyone needs three languages: English, for global business; then, a language he identifies with; and finally, a language he loves. He believes that freedom of speech should include the right to speak the language of one’s choice.

Book

Amin Maalouf. In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong. (1996) Translated by Barbara Bray. New York: Penguin Books, 2003. See pages 1, 13, 18, 94, 131-140.

Is the American soul sick? Differing perspectives in 'The Left Hand of God' and 'Tempting Faith'

Originally blogged on 10 December 2006 for JVoices.com, a site that is going offline. I compared two books on politics and culture published that year, Michael Lerner's The Left Hand of God and David Kuo's Tempting Faith.

The Left Hand of God

God's "left hand" and "right hand," as Lerner defines them in his book The Left Hand of God, describe worldviews based on generosity and compassion (on the Left) and on competition and vengeance (on the Right). These two worldviews help explain the differences in politics and in religion associated with the Left and Right.

Lerner, a rabbi with Ph.Ds in philosophy and psychology who edits Tikkun Magazine, writes:

“...although the right may talk about love or invoke God, what they have in mind is the Right Hand of God. The Right Hand of God is the hand of power and domination, the vision of God in which love is presented as consistent with celebrating the pain inflicted on those who are perceived as evil. ... It’s this vision of a muscular religion, backed by a God of power, that ensures that no one will ever call them na├»ve, because in their actual politics they are not siding with the powerless but cheerleading for the powerful." (pp. 20-21)

The voices of fear and hope, the Right Hand and the Left Hand of God, “tend to operate below the surface of consciousness, [and] people often are not fully aware of which voice they are responding to at any given moment. Often they act in ways that seem on the surface contradictory... (p. 51) He explains that right-wing religious institutions manage to preach love while encouraging their followers to “align with a harsh, militaristic, and self-interested politics that is based on the (unstated) assumption that all that “love, kindness, and generosity" talk has no real world application outside of that church or religious institution." (p. 110)

I would quibble with Lerner on some points. First, the metaphor of God having two hands seems to imply that these two worldviews are different sides of the same coin and that they balance each other out, yet Lerner favors the Left and doesn’t advocate anyone running to the ship’s other deck, thereby creating a visual image of a one-handed god. Second, while solidly in favor of a woman’s right to have an abortion, he implies that the only truly spiritual emotional response to abortion is grief. Telling people how to feel generally does not work, and giving people permission to broach a taboo while encouraging them to feel guilty about it is, ironically, a classic Right Hand of God technique to gain power over them. Third, Lerner suggests that the question of same-sex marriage be solved by having the government refer only to “unions" while leaving the word “marriage" for religious institutions. He needs to consider how the ordinary inquiry “Are you married?" would translate into the invasive question “Are you religious?" Only the most determined atheists would delight in providing a negative answer, while millions of others in interfaith, spiritual-but-not-religious partnerships might feel “married" even though no clergyperson pronounced them so. But these opinions, which are slight missteps in my view, do not greatly mar the book, as Lerner does not claim to have all the right answers to these questions. He prefers to focus on the larger picture of a philosophy motivated by compassion, and this he achieves well. While acknowledging that people have shown meanness since time immemorial, he critiques the influence of a godless capitalism that has helped promote the anti-ethic of a “rip-off consciousness" — the idea that it is normal and acceptable to cheat one’s employees, customers, and government — leading to an all-encompassing “cynical realist" approach to life that replaces idealist, hopeful, generous intentions. Lerner believes that mixing spiritual values with left-leaning politics has the potential to bring about an ethical revival in the United States.

Tempting Faith

David Kuo’s Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction makes an interesting companion read because Kuo, like Lerner, diagnoses the political Right as being more interested in its own power than in healing the world. However, he speaks as a conservative political insider rather than as a progressive critic. Kuo was President Bush’s former Special Assistant and former director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Disenchanted after the faith-based charity initiative he helped to launch was stripped of most of its funding (he was promised he would be able to offer $8 billion in grants to faith-based charities, but ultimately only $30 million became available and it was controlled by another department [p. 211]) and applied in a discriminatory fashion (non-Christian groups were dropped from the application piles in at least one instance [p.215]), Republican speechwriter and politician David Kuo decided to reveal these inside power struggles.

As Kuo puts it, “Christian leaders are supposed to be putting Jesus above and before all things, enabling them to recognize and resist this seductive [political] power. Instead, it looks like they believe a political agenda is the most important thing." (p. xiii) If that is so, what drew him to the Republicans? “It is easy to say that I became a Republican because I went through a religious conversion, felt guilty about an abortion, or just needed a job. Those things are all true," he admits. “But if the Democratic Party had displayed a similar interest in addressing these cultural problems, I would have run to them. Instead, they embodied a hostility toward these issues and toward Christian involvement in the political world that was increasingly known as the last acceptable form of bigotry." (p. 52)

He gives some practical advice to those spiritually-inclined Leftists who would like to begin dialogue with spiritually-inclined Rightists: be curious about right-wing, right-hand-of-God celebrities and cultural influences. Demonstrating awareness of their existence is a form of respect. Ignorance harms well-intentioned diplomacy, as demonstrated by this blunder:

“They [Democratic aides for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid] asked me who to talk to. I started giving them names–like Tony Perkins at the Family Research Council. 'Who?' 'What’s that?' I mentioned the support for environmentalism at the National Association of Evangelicals and again they said, 'What’s that?' ... That Terry McAuliffe [leader of the Democratic National Committee’s faith-based outreach] didn’t even know the author of The Purpose Driven Life showed a staggering ignorance. Was it any wonder evangelicals preferred hanging out with Republicans?" (p. 256)

Lerner and Kuo arrive at different conclusions. Kuo recommends that Christians take a two-year “fast" from national political campaigns to reconnect with their faith and values on a more personal level. (Kuo, newly diagnosed with a brain tumor, retired from the White House and became a fisherman, so that helps explain why he perceived the contemporary moment as a convenient and necessary time to take a break.) Lerner, by contrast, begins by asserting that “there is a real spiritual crisis in American society" that needs to be addressed (p. 14) and recommends that readers join his Network of Spiritual Progressives to begin infusing spiritual values into politics immediately; he does not suggest there is any greater insight to be gained by waiting. By contrast, Kuo says he once thought America had a spiritual crisis and that it was his job in the White House faith-based charity office to help fix it, but, after seeing the spontaneous outpouring of spiritual activity immediately following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he concluded that “[t]he American soul wasn’t sick." (p. 188)

Books

Michael Lerner. The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right. HarperSanFrancisco, 2006.

David Kuo. Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction. New York: Free Press, 2006.

Fallout from Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel

On Dec. 6, 2017, President Trump announced that he would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, something he had threatened to do at least since February. Palestinians chanted "Death to America" and "Death to Israel" at immediate street protests in Gaza City and Rafah.

Seventy years ago, UN Resolution 181 recognized Jerusalem as an international city to be administered by the United Nations. The resolution never took effect due to the Arab-Israeli war that immediately followed, as a result of which Israel took the western part of Jerusalem and Jordan took the eastern part. Israel annexed more of Jerusalem in 1967 after the Six-Day War.

According to J Street, "no action or decision of the international community has superseded the 1947 resolution. The consensus view of the international community" has been that Jerusalem's status "can only be determined by the parties as a part of a resolution to the conflict." This changed with Trump's announcement on Dec. 6 which makes the US the only nation to affirm Israel's sovereignty over Jerusalem.

Reactions

In Gaza on Dec. 7, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said the the U.S. policy "could only be confronted by a renewed intifada [violent uprising] against the occupation." Reaction was also felt throughout the region, as Iraq's foremost Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani said that U.S. announcement "hurt the feelings of hundreds of millions of Arabs and Muslims.”

Generally, a mediator in any negotiation should not be perceived to have prejudged the outcome. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said that this decision "discredited a bit the United States as an honest broker" and "makes it more difficult to play a role to relaunch a peace process."

Chief Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that "President Trump has delivered a message to the Palestinian people: the two-state solution is over," implying that he does not expect future negotiations to produce an independent state of Arab-majority Palestine that is separate from Jewish-majority Israel. "Now is the time to transform the struggle for one-state with equal rights for everyone living in historic Palestine, from the river to the sea." A single state of Israel-Palestine in which Palestinians had full voting rights has long seemed unattractive to Israel since it would shift the nation's demographics to be majority Arab.

Trump once said that a peace deal was "frankly maybe not as difficult as people have thought over the years," as he explained to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas over lunch on May 3. "We believe Israel is willing, we believe you're willing, and if you both are willing, we're going to make a deal." He added that he would "do whatever is necessary" to mediate. The White House released a comment that "any agreement cannot be imposed by the United States or by any other nation. The Palestinians and Israelis must work together to reach an agreement that allows both peoples to live, worship, and thrive and prosper in peace." This outlook now seems to have dimmed.

Analysis of past actions in the Trump administration

Without taking any real action — such as moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, an act Trump said he will defer for six months — "he gets to declare victory on an issue important to some American Jews and evangelical voters," Howard Kurtz wrote for Fox News. Kurtz noted that Trump has made similar sweeping policy announcements while deliberately delaying their effects, such as his rejections of the existing Dreamers immigration program and the Iran nuclear deal.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Movie review: 'Village of the Damned'

What happens in 'Village of the Damned' with the spoogly-eyed children

Originally published to Helium Network on March 15, 2011.

A chattering evil thing blows into the quiet but vibrant town.  You know you need to know what comes next. 

As the humble, happy residents prepare their harvest festival, every living being within the town limits suddenly faints, causing a fatal car crash and a self-barbecue on an outdoor grill.  Precisely six hours later, everyone, except for the aforementioned unfortunates, awakes.  Ten females are now pregnant.

The government sends in scientists who aren't telling all they know.  The scientific team, represented by Dr. Susan Verner, offers a stipend of $3,000 per month to each family that promises to submit its special alien offspring to the scientific team's regular examinations.  For this rural community in mid-twentieth-century America, it is a princely sum.  All of the women - apparently also influenced by coercive alien dreams - decide to carry their pregnancies to term.

Having conceived on the same day, the women all go into labor on the same night in a spartan makeshift blue tent with fabric partitions.  A teenager's delivery causes Dr. Verner to shortly declare "I'm sorry, it's stillborn" and to wrap up the remains and spirit them away before anyone else can see them.  She rebuffs the local doctor and the priest when they inquire after the dead baby.  The other nine women, however, give birth to apparently normal babies with pale, angelic, round, smiling faces that command the affection of their fathers and mothers, despite the fathers' lurking suspicion that they are not the biological parents.

Things go wrong when the children are a few months old.  They are not merely silver-haired and preternaturally intelligent, but far more hideously, they have metallic irises that can turn their evil spoogly gaze on anyone who affronts them and thereby control the person's mind to compel them to inflict self-injury.  Mara, sitting in her high chair, is offended that her mother served her soup that was too hot.  She stares at her mother until her mother sticks her own arm elbow-deep into the boiling soup pot and soon afterward by a similar psychic transmission she compels her mother to jump off a cliff.  Her father, Alan Chaffee, who is the town's physician, mourns the loss of his wife and he tells Dr. Verner that he will no longer participate in the medical research program.  Dr. Verner is undeterred from her overall program, reporting with melodramatic gravity that "it is now of interest to national security that we continue to carefully monitor their developing powers."

By the time the silver-haired children have reached the apparent age of about eight, they have put a stranglehold on the town, which has fallen into disrepair, marred by rusting vehicles and weeds.  The children walk in formation, four boy-girl pairs, led by Mara and followed by the unpaired ninth, a shy runt, David.  His powers are curtailed by the absence of the tenth child who supposedly died at birth and would have been his mate.  David is able to learn about empathy.  Although he causes the bereaved teenage mother of his stillborn mate to commit suicide with a pistol (simply by communicating the thought to her psychically), David has an empathic breakthrough when he understands that Dr. Chaffee mourns the loss of his wife just as he mourns the loss of his mate.

The townspeople become increasingly panicked by the mounting carnage and furious at the .  At the sparsely attended funeral of the teenager who killed herself, the priest accuses the silver-haired children of being mere facsimiles of human beings who have only a collective mind rather than individual souls.  Soon there is all-out warfare between the adults and the children.  The alcoholic school janitor hits a boy in the head with his broomstick; the children spoogly-eye him until he backs up a ladder onto the roof, falls forward onto a truck and impales himself.  The children request that their parents allow them to live in a barn outside town; when one worried father arrives to rescue his child, the children's eyes glow brightly like headlights and compel him to drive into a fuel tank.

Dr. Verner reveals to Dr. Chaffee the horrible dead alien baby that she apparently keeps in a jar, illuminated by blue light.  By further research she finds out that this sort of alien pregnancy has happened before and that all of those towns were eventually destroyed since "they couldn't get out without the children knowing."  This information is too little, too late.  Mara is able to read her father's mind and she is upset that he knows about the other failed towns.  "So the question becomes, should you be allowed to live?" she asks matter-of-factly.

Fulfilling a prophecy made by the janitor, the priest sets himself up as a sniper to kill the children, but they force him to turn his gun against himself, ironically committing the sin of suicide against which he preached.  The townspeople congregate in a mob with torches to destroy the children, but they cause the leader to self-immolate.  The police arrive and only massacre each other.  The children even down a helicopter just by looking at it.  Dr. Verner, at last, is punished by being compelled to vivisect herself under the full-strength glowing eyes of her research subjects.  Only David is too uncomfortable to participate.

With no time to lose, Dr. Chaffee cooks up a plan to beat the children at their own game.  The final scene has a special resonance for viewers who know that Christopher Reeve, the actor who played Dr. Chaffee, suffered a severe, life-changing accident one month after the release of this film.

The 1995 film is based on John Wyndham's 1957 novel The Midwich Cuckoos. The plot is rather predictable but it is still creepy. This was a box-office dud that nevertheless earned its place in B-movie history for its unabashed portrayal of spoogly-eyed children.

Friday, December 1, 2017

TV show review: 'Clarissa Explains It All'

'Clarissa Explains It All' had a good role model for teenage girls

These three episodes from 'Clarissa Explains It All' are a blast from the past. 'Clarissa' was a show featuring an articulate, funny teenager.

This article was originally published to Helium Network on May 3, 2014.

Image: Actress Melissa Joan Hart, 2010, at Alice Tully Center - NYC. Image by: Joella Marano from Manhattan, NY. Wikimedia Commons. © Creative Commons 2.0


"Clarissa Explains It All" was a young adult sitcom on Nickelodeon with episodes created 1991-1994. It starred a young Melissa Joan Hart (b. 1976) who played an articulate, independent, sassy teenager. She had one close friend, a male classmate named Sam, who typically ascended to her bedroom unannounced via a ladder. The two of them often talked about their minor teenage mistakes, which naturally loomed large to them. Clarissa came off as cool without necessarily caring about whether she was popular.

Viewers may remember that Clarissa noticeably dressed in her own brand of mix-and-match '90s fashion with big dangle earrings. (See this 30-second promo spot.) Her parents were called Janet and Marshall Darling, and her younger brother, a pompous nerd in pressed shirts whose attitude and image countered Clarissa's, was Ferguson.

"Darling Wars"

Speaking to the camera, Clarissa says that the etymology of "sibling" traces back to "the Old English 'sib', meaning 'dork'." Her brother Ferguson enters, and she tells him, "Ferguson, you'll have to leave. I'm busy demonstrating the rules of sibling dynamics." This is just the beginning of the "I'm older"/"I'm smarter" bickering that explodes when their parents leave them home alone together.

Clarissa spooks Ferguson by telling him spooky stories in the basement during a thunderstorm. They pillow-fight and booby-trap the house with water balloons filled with paint. Ferguson photocopies Clarissa's diary. They learn that this behavior is not very worthwhile, but probably inevitable.

"A Little Romance"

Clarissa's longtime friend, Sam, has trouble dating. He describes his fiasco of the day: "All I said was: 'Let's go climb the water tower and watch for UFOs...Next thing I know, she's gotta wash her hair." Sam suggests to Clarissa that they go on a date, on the basis that they already know they are compatible as friends. Clarissa doesn't feel right about it, but she says yes. The next day, they go to the movies and then to a diner, but the atmosphere is awkward. Fortunately, they agree on this postmortem, and they decide to continue being friends. As a closing monologue, Clarissa says to the camera: "It's that age-old question that stumped Sartre, 'Dear Abby' and Julia Roberts: Can friends date? And once they do, can they still be friends?"

As a subplot, Clarissa's father and younger brother work themselves up into the ridiculously mistaken belief that a neighbor has murdered his wife.

"The Understudy"

For someone who says that "embarrassment is my least favorite emotion," the annual school play is not something to be looked forward to.

"The chance to humiliate myself by singing off-key in dorky tights in front of everyone's parents....Last year's highlight was when I fell through the backdrop of the Swiss Mountains during 'Edelweiss' in 'The Sound of Music'. Then there was 'Bye Bye Birdie'. My costume split up the middle when I hit High C. Bye-bye, any shred of human dignity!"

Sam passes on the good news to Clarissa: She's been assigned to be the understudy for the lead role in "The Pirates of Penzance." As the backup, Clarissa hastily assumes that "the potential for public humiliation has been completely eliminated," and she doesn't bother to learn her lines. Thus she makes the bed in which she will have to lie.

Still a good show?

Even though the clothing, sets, videography and limited special effects clearly date the show to the early 1990s, this adds a pleasing campiness to it today. Clarissa's quick wit may still be inspiring to young adults. However, the limited scope of her escapades, often set within her own home, do not hold much interest for adults.

The most embarrassing 'Dr. Phil' episodes

Dog costumes, videotaped brawls: Embarrassing behavior aired on 'Dr. Phil'

The "Dr. Phil" talk show addresses dynamics of dysfunctional relationships. Many of the problems people bring to the show can seem to embarrass them in the eyes of the viewers.

This article was originally published to Helium Network on April 13, 2014.

Dr. Phil McGraw, cover of Newsweek Magazine, 2001. Photo by Jerry Avenaim, WikiMedia Commons © Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license


Dr. Phil is an American talk show host who brings together people in dysfunctional family relationships and makes them confront each other so that they can attempt to move their relationships through the impasse. The issues discussed on the show include rebellious teens, cheating spouses, drug use and violence, and when "talking it out" is not enough, Dr. Phil's team may offer a gift of inpatient rehabilitation or another appropriate psychological service.

Dr. Phil - who is better known by his first name alone than by his last name, McGraw - has aired over 1,500 shows with over 12,000 guests.

The shows can be educational and emotionally moving. In some cases, at the same time, the dominant impression of the viewer is that the guests are embarrassing themselves. Here are some examples of embarrassing Dr. Phil episodes, with links to the episodes on YouTube.

"Teenage Confessions" (Jan. 26, 2011)

A teenage girl admits using prescription pills daily for two years, stealing money from her mother to feed the habit. By the time the girl and her mother appear on Dr. Phil's show, the girl claims she's been clean for four months, but her mother doesn't believe her. The girl clarifies that, by "clean," she means that she only uses pills, cocaine and marijuana.

On the same episode, another teenage girl reveals to her parents that she's had sex with five boys and sent naked photos of herself to 30 boys. She chooses to reveal this to her parents on the show because she knows she is in a downward spiral and wants help. The faces of the teen and her parents don't appear on the show.

"Little Miss Attitude" (July 5, 2013)

This episode features two teenage girls: one who fights with her mother who is presented as having made dubious parenting choices, and another who has an apparently sane mother yet every word that comes out of her mouth reveals her to be a hopeless brat. The girl even tells Dr. Phil during the televised interview that she's not paying attention. He makes plans to send her to a "structured environment".

"Two Amandas" (Oct. 22, 2012)

Two addicts, one of whom is a 17-year-old prostitute, were so loaded with toxic substances that even their drug dealers were telling them they were close to death. Rehab saved their lives. Their case - complete with "'before' photos" - reveals how much mental and physical punishment someone can endure in the throes of drug addiction. In the second segment on the same episode, Dr. Phil interviews a 17-year-old escort who doesn't see anything wrong or concerning with what she's doing.

"Brutal Beauties" (Sept. 26, 2012)

Dr. Phil had intended to focus on two girls during the hour-long episode, but because the first girl's interview took so much time, they were split into separate episodes.

The first girl's problem is picking fights. She's broken bones in people's faces on several occasions, and she puts videos of the fights on YouTube. When speaking to Dr. Phil, she acknowledges that her behavior is "embarrassing" and "immature," and she says that distributing those videos is "not something I'm proud of."

In one case, she picked a fight when she was visiting another city. In another case, she and three friends entered the home of another girl and jumped her in her own shower. She was arrested for the first time at age 13. Now that she's 16, the police have come to her house 80 times, according to her mother. Recently, the police warned her mother that they might take the girl to jail because she threatened a drive-by shooting.

Her mother believes that the girl is bipolar, and she says her daughter drinks every day and deals marijuana. When the two of them fight, the mother calls her names. Dr. Phil sends the girl for a psychiatric workup.

The second girl featured on the follow-up episode screams and hollers at her parents with minimal provocation, and their response is to participate in the dysfunctional argument. Dr. Phil's candid opinion is: "I think the two of you couldn't screw this child up any more if you had gone into a lab and created her like weird science."

"Chelsea Refuses to Grow Up" (Nov. 5, 2010)

A 24-year-old woman has stolen over $50,000 from her family, including through taking a credit card and forging checks, and she has "borrowed" a family member's BMW. As the daughter of a surgeon, she was raised with economic privilege, but she has not gotten her GED and generally does not hold jobs. She does not seem to have friends, either. In responding to these accusations, she gives the "affluenza" defense: her parents gave her everything she ever wanted, so she never learned to accomplish anything herself. Dr. Phil's team gives her $500 before the show as a test to see if she will offer it to her family to begin to pay them back for what she stole; she does not.

"Animal Obsessed" (March 25, 2014)

This three-part episode begins with a woman who "mothers" her ten pet rabbits, even to the extent of attempting to breastfeed them. Her rabbits all wear diapers and dresses, and they sleep in small bunk beds that are decorated as if for human children. Her adult daughter says that her mother has referred to the rabbits as her "sisters." In bringing her to the Dr. Phil show, her daughter says her behavior has gone "too far."

In the second part of the episode, a 48-year-old man wants to become a dog. Every day, he styles his hair to look like he has "dog ears" and he wears a dog collar. He occasionally eats canned dog food and sleeps in a dog house that he built. He has been asking a judge since 2010 to legally change his name to "Boomer the Dog." When he leaves the house in a full sheepdog costume made of paper strips, he doesn't speak, and instead barks at other people and dogs. He believes that other people enjoy this form of interaction with him. "It beats working, right?" asked Dr. Phil rhetorically.

He doesn't have a job; his parents established a trust fund for him, and he owns his own home. "I've never been on a date, ever," he says. He believes that he's a dog trapped in a human body, but he will accept the social label of "Furry" as a close substitute.

In the third part of the episode, a 20-year-old woman commissioned an artist to make her a furry red wolf head costume with rainbow accents. It's sturdy and has a helmet on the inside. She acknowledges that dressing up as the wolf is a hobby; she doesn't believe she really is a wolf. She explains:

"It's mainly about not talking to people when you're in suit that aren't in suit because it's all about keeping the act going. It's like being at Disneyland except you're in the suit."

Her mother thinks it's "creepy" and won't allow her to wear the suit around her friends.

Dr. Phil is concerned that this woman dropped out of high school and her mother is still paying her bills. Dr. Phil tells her:

"Your job right now is to prepare yourself to self-sustain in life...I don't care whether you're being a Furry, or playing video games, or you go Goth, or whatever. You've got to learn math, get an education. I don't care if you do it with a tail on or not. I could care less about that. But you've got to prepare yourself for life. You're not doing that."

The young woman acknowledges that this is an accurate assessment. "Why should we drag you, [just] because you want to wear a helmet?" Dr. Phil says, in reference to his opinion that her mother should stop enabling her.

three-minute video synopsis captures the episode well.

It's no wonder that Dr. Phil is popular, many of the episodes described above have "shock value." It's visible in the faces of the live audience when they are surprised with the story that Dr. Phil trots out. But Dr. Phil also has solid interview skills and a no-nonsense attitude that cuts right to the point he wants to make. Viewers can learn about family dynamics and relationships from watching the show and examine their own behavior. While most viewers probably congratulate themselves that their own problems aren't as extreme or as embarrassing as the problems featured on the show, the show can nevertheless be a warning sign and a learning experience.