Archive for September, 2015

A movie filtering service with promise

Shock and shame. That’s the mixture I felt in my local drugstore earlier this year. I had just picked up a prescription for a sick child and inadvertently walked down the magazine aisle on my way out. Sadly, we’re all fairly desensitized to what we might see there.

But on that day, the cover of an annual “swimsuit issue” made me sick to my stomach. Literally.

“These are the same people who put a kids’ sports magazine in my nine-year-old’s hands every month,” I thought. (It was a gift subscription from a grandparent.) And this is the same outfit that delivers news to millions of people every day: CNN / Sports Illustrated.

As a parent, you learn quickly that the entertainment and media industries are not on your side. Middle men and women can hardly be trusted either. If they could, my four-year-old daughter wouldn’t have to see spread bikini legs advertising the movie “Sex Tape” on her way in to see “Frozen” at our local theater. How confusing it must be to grow up in this age.

And how exhausting it is to try to protect our little ones from the onslaught. The filtered television versions of movies were a helpful alternative for a while until the commercials became excessive and unpresentable. Often, my family will forego media altogether rather than try to fast forward or mute at just the right time. The MPAA rating system is hardly helpful nowadays.

While solid alternatives like “War Room” (in theaters now) have come onto the scene in recent years, I have long wanted to enjoy the redeeming qualities of modern media without enduring the baggage. Enter Vid Angel, a streaming video service that allows you to pick and choose what you see and hear.

I found this company by simply searching for “TV versions of movies.” The Idaho-based group has a network of “angels” that watch and tag movies for profanity, substance use, sexuality/nudity/modesty and violence/blood/gore.

The angels record a brief description of each item tagged and then present you, the viewer, with the ability to turn on or off categories as a whole, or specific instances in part. The process really makes you feel like you’re back in the driver seat as a viewer and as a parent.

Presently, Vid Angel has more than 400 movies available, as well as a handful of popular TV shows including the record-setting Game of Thrones. The service streams through devices like Roku, Chromecast and Apple TV. There are also apps for viewing on Apple and Android mobile devices.

Vid Angel’s payment system is a little clunky but necessarily so. Under existing copyright laws, no one can alter or filter a movie they don’t legally own.

So, Vid Angel requires you to purchase a movie for $10 – $25, but then you can sell it back within twenty-four hours for $1 – $2 less than the purchase price. The net effect is you have viewed a high definition movie for $2 (standard definition for $1.50). These prices are comparable to other video streaming services in the marketplace.

The company is young and the technology is complicated, but I was thrilled that their product worked more or less as advertised. They “swore” that I’d love it and so far I do.

Follow Kevin Thompson at

What’s for dinner?

My customer – he happens to be my wealthiest – and I were talking about raising kids.

“Frequency of family dinners is the number one predictor of SAT scores,” he said. “I used to make each of my kids talk for five minutes every night around the table.”

As school starts and activities begin, I am reminded how nearly extinct the regular family gathering is. I am also reminded how critical it is to the family system.

Disconnection runs rampant in our time. “Lonely together” typifies our technologically-networked yet emotionally-fragmented culture. Young people seek meaning from social networks. The biological network is for chauffeuring and financing, they think.

But a creative designer put us in biological groups to meet biological needs. Frequent family meals satisfy both physical and emotional needs.

Bellingham, Washington, minister Matthew McCoy has studied the role of eating habits in personal formation:

“Daily rhythms, when looked at on any individual day, seem almost insignificant. But when taken over the course of a lifetime they are a massive part of how our identities, and thus our ethics, are formed.

“What we eat demonstrates who we think we are and how we relate to each other, to all living things, to science and to God. I can say whatever I like about what I believe, but when it is dinner time all can see if I am telling the truth.”

Over the years, I’ve fed my kids their fair share of chicken tenders on a sports bleacher. We’ve consumed hot dogs on the way to practices and plays. I’ve even accidentally left a fast food pizza in the trunk of my car for two weeks (with little decomposition, I might add – what does that tell you about the potency of modern food preservatives???).

But our hearts are really hungering for relationship and community. Past the initial revulsion to work, parents and kids alike want to contribute to the planning, preparing and putting away of the family meal. Food always tastes better when we work for it.

I’ve noticed a cumulative effect to family meals. The more you have, the better they get. All members – even the littlest – learn their chores and build proficiency. Conversation habits improve. Interruptions decline. Respect increases.

Controlling the pace of life is a great challenge for modern families. Committing to family meals at home is like swimming upstream.

“Many other demands must be met in a day,” McCoy says. “The schedule is so full, the food budget is so small, and exhaustion is an ever present companion. Besides, our hunger is just so relentless that trying to maintain attentiveness is to start something that has no end.”

But, as they say, where there’s a will, there’s a way. One father of four active teens made breakfast the family meal, rising early to make it hot. Another mother gathers her ducklings for dessert after an active evening.

“I make us all sit down and look at each other for ten or fifteen minutes. It’s small but it makes a big difference,” she said.

Physicians will tell you: Many of our physical ailments have emotional roots, and many of our mental ailments affect us physically. We desperately need answers to our questions.

Like an old Bible, if we’d just dust it off, the dining table likely has answers. For the SAT and for life.

Follow Kevin Thompson at

An emotional Supreme Court decision

You’ve heard these admonitions before: Don’t make a career decision after a bad day at the office. Don’t make estate decisions a week after a death. Don’t get married after just a handful of dates.

While feelings can spark thoughts about a big change, logic should be the bedrock of big decisions.

This summer, the United States Supreme Court committed the judiciary equivalent of getting hitched in Vegas. Its 5-4 decision on same-sex marriage is as emotion-packed as any court opinion I’ve read.

The majority begins its written opinion by recounting the dramatic stories of the people who filed the lawsuits being adjudicated. While I am empathetic to all people’s journeys, rational argumentation, not emotion, should begin and end a decision that drastically changes an age-old institution.

Extreme and sensational language permeates the opinion. According to the majority justices, existing marriage laws “demean”, “disparage”, “stigmatize”, “injure”, “lock out”, “disrespect”, “subordinate”, “deprive”, are “hurtful for the rest of time” and cause “pain and humiliation” and “the most perplexing and distressing complications.”

Their language is just as emotional in the affirmative. Flowery paragraphs espouse the loveliness and value of marriage and intimacy. These sections read like a brochure from Focus on the Family.

When the justices finally get to some logic, it is weak at best. They reference a variety of “right to marry” cases, noting that laws preventing interracial couples, prisoners and deadbeat dads from marrying have been overturned over time.

But, as Chief Justice John Roberts observes in his dissent, these cases never attempted to change the definition of marriage.

“Removing racial barriers to marriage did not change what a marriage was any more than integrating schools changed what a school was,” he states.

In another attempt at logic, the majority opinion references various “right to privacy” cases. For example, laws forbidding the use of contraceptives and acts of sodomy were struck in the name of bedroom autonomy.

Again, Roberts questions the validity of this line of reasoning since the petitioners seek not privacy but public recognition:

“Our cases have consistently refused to allow litigants to convert the shield provided by constitutional liberties into a sword to demand positive entitlements from the State.”

Finally, some thoughts on the judiciary principle of precedence. No precedent reaches back longer or stronger than marriage defined as the union of a man and a woman. Every recorded human civilization has held this view.

During oral arguments, even the petitioners acknowledged that no culture prior to 2001 defined marriage as between members of the same gender. Historically speaking, polygamy would be a shorter leap.

The audacity of both the petitioners and his robed colleagues compels Chief Justice Roberts to ask rhetorically and gravely, “Just who do we think we are?”

Who we are, Chief Justice, is a people doing whatever we want. The motto of our time is: What you believe is right because you believe it, and what you do is right because you do it.

This court decision came from five lawyers doing what they want with minimal rational thought to back it up. They went beyond their constitutional purview and legislated from the bench the worst kind of policy: emotionally-charged but logic-starved.

Kevin Thompson is a weekly columnist for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Follow him at

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