Allowances for Evil

Going through my first year of teaching public high school, I am constantly amazed at myself and others that end up allowing evil to occur.

Teachers aren’t infallible. Teachers aren’t all seeing, hearing, etc. We let a lot of stuff go, either by choice or policy.

And letting too much go is where our problem starts.

I haven’t written up too many students this year in terms of getting them in serious trouble. The most egregious offenses this year were the threats made against my life and my wife’s body. The response was to send the students responsible home for 3 days’ suspension because the threats were not direct enough. That’s the administration’s decision, and I understand it and appreciate them handling the situation.

However, if you are 16 years old, I don’t care what situation you come from — you know better than to threaten murder and rape towards another human being, no matter how veiled the threats are. Those are serious statements, those who make them should be punished for them.

So why the kid gloves?

The more allowances we make as a society — the more we desire to be liked rather than desiring justice; self-gratification more than righteousness — the further we slide along towards Gomorrah. Certainly, we’ll shake our heads and bemoan the state of things, but by doing nothing we allow evil to flourish. For what reason? So that we have something to complain about? So that we won’t have to put up with the lawyers or the latest “poor pitiful me, everything is society’s fault” group? Since when has politeness become the supreme virtue over good? When did we decide to cash in our chips of truth and righteousness for a form of civility that undermines the basis for it?

This is not only true in terms of discipline, but also in Pro-Life organizations. (Here’s where I’m likely to lose most of you.) Don’t get me wrong, I am opposed to abortion in any case. However, Pro-Life efforts are predominantly about regulating abortion, not getting rid of it. Even within the pro-life society, many believe in allowing exceptions for when sacrificing an unborn child’s life is “acceptable.” Besides, without legalized abortion, there’s one less issue to raise money over and vote for. Make no mistake, even if (God willing, when) abortion is illegal in the United States, abortions will still occur. The problem is we keep believing that the answers to our problems are political in nature.

The malady we suffer from — every human and every nation, not just the United States — always has been sin. Without a change of heart, the evils of child-sacrificing abortion will continue. Without a change of heart, people will continue to choose actions that require punishment rather than reap just rewards. (John 3: 19 — 21)

And yet God chooses to save people, as unlovely as they are. (Romans 9) We are called to have a mind that follows after God’s — to love what He loves and hate what He hates. (Romans 12:2) God is not willing to make peace with evil. He sent His only Son Jesus to die on the cross to pay the penalty for sin for those He chose. The question for us remains then: what sort of allowances are we prepared to make for evil?

Dear readers, thank you for indulging me with your time and views. Unfortunately, I am at a place in my life where continuing to write on a consistent basis is not possible any longer. I bid you a fond farewell, and leave with just enough of a caveat to say I may be providing “guest posts” in the future, should the editor allow such.

Thank you, and adieu.

Brew Reviews Round 2

I’ve had a few since last I wrote on good brews. Here’s what I tried, in varying lengths:

Old Tom’s Original Ale

I was excited about this one because it was lauded as one of the world’s finest malted ales. It has won numerous awards in Britain, so I understand that they are quite fond of it. Plus, it’s named after the brewery’s original cat. What’s not to love there?

All in all, this drink had a decent strength to it, but little complexity. There was a hint of what tasted like an English toffee to it. At 8.5% ABV, it was worth a drink. Nice and dark, but simple. All around, I’d give it a B. Certainly enjoyable, but it doesn’t capture one’s interest the way some others have.

Adnam’s Tally-Ho

This was also an English Ale, and weighing in at 9.0% ABV I was expecting it to pack a punch up front. It surprised me, with a smooth drink from start to finish. The mouth feel was enjoyable and more noticeable than Old Tom’s, and the taste was more complex with some hints of fruit and nuts. Of the two English Ales, this would be more of a go-to for me. Easily an A.

Shiner Ruby Redbird

Despite my bias against wheat beers, I decided to give this brew a shot because I enjoy most of Shiner’s repertoire. I had this one paired with a warm pizza. Even though I pulled this drink straight from the fridge, it felt warm on the palate. It has a fruity, grapefruit taste that comes on strong, with some gentle hoppyness in the after-taste. There were some notes of what I think may have been all-spice or ginger. This beer had no head to speak of. At 4.01%, it was far from a strong drink, but paired decently with the pizza. I didn’t especially like it, but it was drinkable, and easily so. It makes for a perfect pizza beer, and was more complex than Goose Island’s offering on the last go-round. All in all, I’d give Shiner’s Ruby Redbird a C. Not great, but not bad either.

Until next time, enjoy!

An Advocate for the Arcane: H. P. Lovecraft

While gurgling and coughing things not quite syllables, colored sputum being feverishly worked towards the throat, one rarely wonders about anything outside of the present misery of their condition. I can’t help but if that’s how Howard Phillips Lovecraft felt as a young man wrestling with his own physical frailties, until his grandfather came in to tell him stories in bed.

H. P. Lovecraft was an author who died in the 1930s, at the time not widely recognized or appreciated and quite penniless. He has since found some modest popularity for his Weird Tales magazine publications. A sickly child, he would listen intently to his grandfather’s stories of the strange and paranormal in the late 1800s. He grew close with his grandfather, as his own father had been institutionalized in 1893. Such an isolated upbringing was only shaken in Lovecraft’s teenage years, and by then he was deeply enthralled with ideas of unexplained and hidden knowledge.

That ship is about to have a bad day...
Cthulhu rising from the deep.

This is not so much a review of the man’s writings as a reflection. His works vary in their composition — some are tedious to read, while others are quite enjoyable. You can find those here. I suppose what I find so interesting is how a mind consumed by the arcane creates more strange and hidden things — stories such as The Call of Cthulhu (Arguments exist over its pronunciation. Imagine that.) or The Shadow over Innsmouth transport the reader to a world vaguely familiar, but just different enough to disturb. Tentacled giants sleeping in the deep, formless energies of chaos clawing to enter the physical world — all these crazy ideas that some forms of fiction take for granted were popularized by this fairly obscure author from the early 20th century. Indeed, Lovecraft’s characters have found themselves in heavy metal songs, cartoon episodes, video games, and even independent movies. There are even plush dolls of some of his monsters.

Not quite so scary now, is he?
Cthulhu plushie!

All that to say, an exploration of Lovecraft’s work is worthwhile — if for nothing more than an experience in early American horror stories. It offers an interesting glimpse into what can work its way into someone’s psyche after spending time isolated, and of what can come crawling out of our own minds if we indulge a darker creative impulse. Just please, don’t try to read them aloud. You’ll just frustrate yourself. And if you’re wondering about who to vote for in the current election cycle, Lovecraft fans already have an answer.politics cthulhu

Brew Reviews Round One

First, a disclaimer: I am not a beer expert. I am not enlightened enough to be able to explain what the brewing differences are between such beers as an India Pale Ale, Pilsner, Bock or Stout.

However, this lack of knowledge does not immediately mean that I do not have a refined palate. Indeed, I never drink beer with an intent to get drunk; rather, to enjoy a little Christian liberty found within the frothy contents of a mug or bottle with a good book or conversation.

Like any reviewer, I believe that it’s important to acknowledge one’s biases. I am not fond of light beers, and by that I mean just about any beer I can easily see through. In my opinion, the darker the beer is, the more I’m apt to enjoy it because there is a greater complexity of flavor and full body to it. This is not to disparage those who enjoy lighter beers, simply to state that I am not a fan. As such, don’t expect to see reviews from me regarding Budweiser, Coors, Old Milwaukee’s Best, etc. which are essentially tinted water designed to be drunk in bulk.

With that, let’s examine four beers that I had the privilege of trying recently.

Ghost Rider

This was the first offering I have had from Wasatch Brewery. As such, I made sure to look them up. The brewery itself is located in Salt Lake City, Utah. That’s right, the very heart of Mormon country. In a way, one could think of its existence there as a cold sore on the lip of Moroni, given Mormon attitudes towards alcohol. Despite its seemingly bold location, the more important factor to consider is whether or not the brew stands up to a taste test!

For the taste test, I drank straight from the bottle (as I often do) because for this particular tasting I was having lunch out and about with family and a friend. It paired well with the roast chicken and mashed potatoes, all things considered.

I first noted that this particular White IPA was somewhat fizzy, but did not have a strong head. The nose hinted of what I thought was citrus, but turned out to be coriander according to the label. After these considerations, I dove in to the taste test.

Though it was served straight from the fridge, it did have a warmth about it on the way down. The initial taste was rather disappointing – it reminded me of a slightly stronger Coors Banquet beer with deeper notes of hops. However, the flavor was very neat. What I mean by that is after the first blush, the flavor disappeared completely from the palate. Now here is where I believe “Ghost Rider” got its name – the after-taste came back (ex nihilo, if you will) about 15 to 20 seconds later tasting of coriander and citrus. This really surprised me! It may be a gimmick in a way, but it’s an impressive one.

Verdict: All in all, there was not much of the initial flavor that made this beer stand out. It was the subtle reappearance of other flavors later that actually made the experience enjoyable. I would recommend this little 6% ABV brew, but it wouldn’t be my first recommendation by a long shot. Still, try it at least once. C+

Goose Island Urban Wheat Ale (312)

Goose Island is a brewery from Chicago. Knowing of the German, Czech, and Scandanavian roots that settled in that area, I was excited to try this particular wheat ale. The wheat ale, for those unfamiliar, is what I would consider a “light” beer, but I try to let myself be taken by surprise. There’s no harm in trying. At least, that’s what I thought when I slipped a bottle into my “make a 6 pack” at the store.

Where to begin with this one? There was medium head, and the nose was akin to KRAFT American cheese slices. The initial taste was crisp and refreshing, but descended immediately after to Budweiser taste levels. The meager 4.2% ABV was disappointing. While I was drinking this beer, I had the distinct impression I was drinking dirty water. The actual after taste was slightly tart, which was a nice apology after tricking me into drinking a Bud equivalent. Overall, this beer was very disappointing, and I’m not sure I’m willing to try any more offerings from Goose Island.

Verdict: D-

Celebrator Doppelbock

This Doublebock comes from Ayinger Brewry in Bavaria. For those unfamiliar, Bavaria is a region in Germany that is considered to be the “gold standard” in both breweries and beers. It is the mecca of many beer aficionados, and if I ever visit the region and sample its wares I will die a happy man. The label itself impressed me – twin goats flanking a full beer glass like a medieval coat of arms.

This beer is quite dark, and gives one that impression even from the nose. There was little foam to speak of, so that noting may get between your palate and the nutty flavor. This beer is clean and smooth with but a bare hint of after taste. The flavor is quite rich, with notes of coffee and what I assume are almonds. The taste was pure with ingredients – in accordance with German brewing laws set out in the 1500s that are still in effect. Good water, grain, and other flavors were quite evidently poured into this brew. With its 6.7% ABV, this fine gem sneaks up on you if you’re not careful.

Verdict: A

Devastator Doublebock

This brew also comes from the Wasatch Brewery. While I was not overly impressed with the Ghost Rider, I thought it would only be fair to give a darker beer a shot.

The Devastator holds a quite respectable 8% ABV, and boasts a quite hoppy nose. It also had very little head. The end result of this, again, being nothing getting between the drinker and the flavor contained therein. Its flavor is quite strong on the front, but mellows smoothly. There was a noticeably stronger “buzz effect” from the first sip compared to the Celebrator. I like the boldness to the flavor – it makes you sit up and take notice of it!

Devastator has a thickness to it, and has complimentary tastes of oats or brown bread in addition to the hops. This oaty flavor is good, and allows this beer to distinguish itself from the Celebrator rather well. This beer manages to be strong without being overwhelming, unless you try to drink it quickly!

Verdict: A

You may be wondering which of these two double bocks I’d give the nod to. That depends on the situation. I loved the nutty flavors of the Celebrator, but appreciated the stronger touch of the Devastator. I would say that the Celebrator is a much better introduction to double bocks than the Devastator, as it would be an easier introduction into the world of dark beers. That being said, I personally prefer the Devastator over the Celebrator due to its thicker feel and stronger punch. So take a bow, Wasatch, you out-did Bavaria on this one!

Weighing in: Heroes of the Storm

HotS

This past week, Blizzard Entertainment released its new offering into the digital entertainment world in the form of an online, multiplayer battle arena game called Heroes of the Storm. While this is not the first game of this type to be released, it is the first to be released officially by Blizzard Entertainment. This is significant because the multiplayer online battle arena (hereafter called MOBA) genre was created using one of Blizzard’s own games, WarCraft 3. That title included an extensive level editor, and a scenario called “Defense of the Ancients” (DotA) was created by dedicated fans.

The scenario had a punishingly steep learning curve and a large variety of playable characters. It featured a symmetrical map in which up to 10 heroes – 5 for each team – battled along certain pathways to their enemy’s forts in an effort to destroy them. They were supported by randomly spawning computerized ally troops who would attack opposing heroes and structures. Along these paths were guard towers for both teams. One of the key components of this game was teamwork. If you had bad communication and situational awareness, not only would you be hurting your chances of winning, you would also likely be making your enemies stronger – something which happened every time you or an ally bit the dust. This formula – this fan-made map and modification – created an entirely new genre of computer game that is still used as a standard by many today.

Since the development of DotA (circa 2003/2004), many other MOBAs have been made and have folded. Games such as League of Legends (LoL) and DotA2 are currently quite popular, and have a rabid following. Sadly, some similar games which had innovative ideas have fallen by the wayside, such as Gas Powered Games’ Demigod. Heroes of the Storm is Blizzard Entertainment’s foray into this genre, and although the game is not yet a week old, it has a great amount of potential. I’d like to list out my reasons why HotS is at the same time a great release and a worrying release.

The Good

1) The Characters

I won’t bore anyone who is not familiar with Blizzard Entertainment’s works by going into the backstory of the myriads of characters they have created. They have created cartoonish fantasy worlds in which orcs, elves and men battle together; futuristic sci-fi worlds in which humans battle the insect-like Zerg and inscrutable Protoss; and gothic fantasy worlds in which men and angels fight against the incursions of demonic forces. They have brought their heroes, villains, and in-between together for a battle royale. While this means little for someone who doesn’t know who, say, Jim Raynor is, this gives a great amount of variety to those who like characters with swords, guns, lasers, spikes – you name it, there’s a character in the game that will likely appeal to you based on their style of play or by the fact the character models look so polished.

2) Map Variety

This is a big one. The map in DotA and DotA2 is exactly the same. You will fight in the same arena every time you play the game. LoL and Demigod have a greater variety of maps, as does HotS. What HotS has over those games, however, is more interactivity with their maps. In one map, if you collect enough doubloons from chests or the corpses of your enemies, you can bribe a ghost pirate to fire his cannons on your foes’ defenses. In another, you can inhabit an Egyptian type temple and use its sun-powered laser crystals to devastate enemy towers. This sort of interactivity means that where you fight is not simply a backdrop with certain choke-points. The map is a vital part of how you fight, and you ignore that at your peril.

Another major point in HotS’ favor is that instead of having singular guard towers along routes, there are actual towns that need to be defended or conquered. Each town has walls, three guard towers, a gate, a healing fountain, and a keep. These features are useful, and makes defending them seem more important than defending a lone guard tower. It also makes destroying your enemy’s towns more gratifying.

3) Ease of Entry

As stated before, the learning curve for many MOBAs can be very high. This is due to having an overwhelming number of hero options, and not understanding combinations and “meta-game” strategies walking in to the experience. In fact, it’s a common occurrence for new players to be cussed out, ignored, or generally abused by veteran players of most MOBAs. And this is a shame, as it drives people away from the hobby. It lessens the pool of allies and opponents, and destroys the very thing that keeps so many coming back to this genre: fun. HotS does not have this issue. The abilities are easy to understand, and the tutorial does a good job at teaching basic situational awareness. Also, as the game is not even a week old, it has a very clever tactic for keeping totally new players from being muscled out by those who have played MOBAs before:

4) Team Leveling

This is one of the single most important features I can think of for a MOBA. In LoL and DotA2, individual heroes “level up” (i.e. become more powerful) based on the number of kills they accrue, towers they help destroy, etc. In other words, if you are a new player, you are going to be overpowered quite easily because you do not know the ins and outs of the heroes or the map yet, and will be the easiest target for people looking to blame someone for a loss. However, in HotS, what you do and what your teammates do all pools together so that teams “level up” together. Everyone benefits, and nobody is left behind. This means that heroes will unlock skills at the same rate on the same team. The importance of this is that it means if there is a weak link on a team, it’s because they are not playing their hero very well, not because they’re too weak to contribute.

5) Blizzard and Activision Support

The fact that Blizzard and its parent company Activision have released this game means that they believe in the quality of their product and expect it to stay for the long haul. While Activision does have a reputation now of producing what gamers call “shovel-ware” with yearly releases of the Call of Duty franchise, they have allowed Blizzard enough lee-way to make their own decisions about when a product is done. If you ask any fan what the worst part of Blizzard games are, they’ll tell you it’s the wait. There was an 8 year gap between WarCraft 2 and WarCraft 3, and a 14 year gap between StarCraft 1 and 2. The most common response by Blizzard representatives when asked when the next game would be released was “When it’s done.” The length of development time, however, historically has been good for Blizzard, because this allows them to run a lot of quality control. In this business, reputation is everything these days. If you are wondering if Blizzard believes in the long-term survivability of this product, I would suggest you look at how long World of Warcraft has been running – and running successfully – for your answer.

6) The game is truly free-to-play, and is not pay-to-win like many free-to-play games. I don’t think that much more needs to be said on this point.

7) Battles rarely take more than 20 minutes.

I’ve come to appreciate as I get more and more settled in my career, marriage, and graduate work, that when I do have the opportunity to play a game I need to make the most of it. With more responsibilities on their way, it’s for the best that I play a game that is easily interruptable, or can easily be played in short spurts and still feel satisfying. This is definitely that game for me. Battles rarely take more than 20 minutes, and the gratification of victory or sting of defeat is actually quite satisfying.

The Bad

There’s only one thing I have to say in this regard. The game is truly free-to-play, and is not pay-to-win. However, there is one downright dastardly thing I see with HotS. You have to pay for the characters. There two ways to do this: with acquired in-game gold coins, or with real-world money.

The game starts you off with playing a tutorial as heroic commander Jim Raynor, and by the end of the whole thing, you will have 2,000 coins to your name. You have the option of buying 1 of 4 characters for this price, including Raynor. Currently, Blizzard is running a “Free Heroes of the Week” rotation to allow you to test out some of their heroes and see which ones you might like to save coins/pay money for. However, should they cease this practice, if you bought a character because you liked them in previous games and found out they do not fit your play style, you’re up a creek. All those hard-fought gold coins, straight down the tube. This, to me, is grating. I wouldn’t mind this practice if the heroes were not – on average – $9.99 a piece if you choose to buy them with real money. The other option is fight a lot of battles and save as much as you can for a long time to buy another hero for 4, 7, 10, or 15,000 gold coins. The most coins I’ve ever seen from an individual battle was 10. While there are some daily goals you can complete for a few extra coins (on average, 200 to 300) or 2,000 coin boost for reaching certain player levels, I’m afraid it may take an incredibly fun game and turn it into a grind. I would appreciate some kind of starter kit in which you get 2 or 3 heroes for free, rather than rolling the dice later on if they stop the hero rotation.

While I’m on the topic of their marketplace, some things are not purchasable with gold coins, but are only available using real currency. For example, if you want your decked out space warrior to ride a cyber-wolf instead of a horse, that would cost you $9.99, and there is no pay with gold option. BOOOOO!

The Future

I certainly hope – and anticipate – that Heroes of the Storm is going to be a hit in the MOBA community, and have had nothing but good experiences playing with other people. The game is truly free to play, and genuinely fun. It also explains its mechanics well, and has enough variety to keep you coming back. Despite my grumblings about their market mechanics, much of the marketplace can be ignored. I know I’ll be hopping on from time to time for a quick battle, and I hope to see some of you there!

Arbitrary and Inconsistent: Jedi Philosophy

In my previous article, I talked about how it was possible to defend Star Wars’ Galactic Empire and about all the benefits they brought the galaxy. I won’t be quite so foolish as to try and convince you that the Sith as a whole are sunshine and sparkles. However, I will endeavor to demonstrate how they are more philosophically consistent in their approach to life, the universe, and everything than the Jedi.

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For your viewing pleasure, here are the twin codes of the major Force using religions. Let’s dissect these briefly.

Jedi

1) The Jedi deny the existence of emotion. This is an impossible goal. All six of the current movies, we see Jedi displaying full ranges of emotion – happiness, sadness, irritation, worry – the full gamut. They talk about denying emotions, but in practice they do not deny themselves emotions with the possible exception of anger. (Even Obi-Wan was guilty of that one, however.) They speak of peace as though it is the utter lack of emotion. Again, this is demonstrably impossible within their order.

2) The ideal for knowledge is indeed a laudable one. However, they are implying that it is possible to get to an all-knowing state. Obviously not the case, considering they couldn’t see the Clone Wars coming. There will always be ignorance, and to believe otherwise is to court foolishness.

3) I take the idea of “serenity” to be at a state of “oneness,” as is the case with many Eastern religions. Other evidence shows that the Jedi are interested in being conduits open to the will of the Force. However, they seem to freak out if they are reminded that the Dark Side is also a part of the Force. How serene can you possibly be if an aspect of the very thing you tap in to and worship may have a will contrary to yours? If they were truly so serene, wouldn’t they accept that the will of the Force may be for the Sith to become dominant? To accept that maybe there was just the Force, and that it could be capricious or simply respond to user motivation?

4) No chaos. No chaos? Really? What galaxy are these people actually living in? They are surrounded by chaos. Admittedly, the Jedi are trying to beat it back. But based on the movies, most of them seem only interested in being in harmony with themselves. Many of them don’t seem to be too concerned with being in harmony with their fellow Jedi. Especially in Episode 1 – Qui Gonn and Yoda seem to be vying for Obi-Wan’s mind. They even enforce their harmony on non-Force users with the Jedi mind trick. All in all this harmony seems to be very…masturbatory and self serving.

5) “There is no death, there is the Force.” Well, maybe for some. It seems if you’re very lucky (or cursed, depending on your perspective) you might get to hang around as some sort of Force ghost after you die. There are three instances of these on film. However, LOTS of Jedi died in the prequel trilogy, and never showed back up. And what about those who have no connection to the Force? Are you going to tell them that there’s no death too?

Okay. Let’s say for the sake of argument that Jedi abandoned that code after the Old Republic era. (These two codes are from the video game Knights of the Old Republic, after all.) What about the Jedi Code in Luke Skywalker’s day? Here’s the code put forth by Luke once he started training Jedi in the novels:

Jedi are the guardians of peace in the galaxy.
Jedi use their powers to defend and to protect.
Jedi respect all life, in any form.
Jedi serve others rather than ruling over them, for the good of the galaxy.
Jedi seek to improve themselves through knowledge and training.
So, once again, let’s examine these:
1) Guardians of peace in the galaxy. That’s odd. They were generals in a war to prevent systems from leaving the Galactic Republic willingly. How were they the guardians of peace if they refused to allow systems that were brought into the Republic by their own will leave by their own will? How were they safeguarding peace by plotting to murder Chancellor Palpatine in cold blood if he did things the Jedi Council didn’t like? How is it safeguarding peace to join a terrorist group intent on destroying a legitimately established government that the bulk of the galaxy seemed to welcome?
2) Defend and protect. Who or what, exactly? Their own interests, certainly, but with this blanket statement no Jedi could ever do anything to defend or protect anyone. By protecting one, the Jedi would necessarily be opposing and attacking another. How does a Jedi deal with the struggle of natural law and rule by power? There is nothing in this statement that establishes priorities, so by its own lack of definition renders itself useless.
3) “Respect all life, in any form.” Unless you happen to be one of the billions of clones who were sent into battle by the Jedi against the droid armies. Speaking of which, why are the Jedi using human soldiers to begin with and not droids? Could it be that the Separatists in the prequel trilogy actually valued sentient life more than the Jedi and the Republic? Also, how is it respectful to use the Jedi mind trick to make sentient beings do something completely contrary to their own will, self-interest, or beliefs? (And why does it only not work on major crime bosses and robber-baron tradesmen on Tatooine?)
4) “Serve others rather than ruling over them.” So, why was there a Jedi council, then? Why were Jedi sought as arbitrators if they were to have no authority to make or enforce decisions? Both of these questions are highlighted by the completely arbitrary nature of the Jedi Council in the prequel films. Jedi are told to submit themselves to the council, but there seem to be no repercussions for not doing so. In fact, there never seem to be any sort of necessary reports made to said council. Cut off someone’s hand in a bar? Nah, we don’t need to know about any of that. Just listen to us prattle on before ignoring us again. Still though, in all practicality Jedi did rule over people. Nobody seemed to question their authority as long as they had a lightsaber, the maniacs. In actual fact, they enforced rule through the threat of violence. The major difference is they had a better PR campaign than the Sith, and tried to make it seem as though Jedi should use their light sabers as a last resort. Again, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith showed that perception to be false.
5) “Jedi seek to improve themselves through knowledge and training.” Unless, of course that knowledge or training could be considered dangerous. Unless, of course that knowledge led to the Dark Side of the Force, which doesn’t make any pretentions about being emotionless gurus of “good.”
                                                The Sith
The Sith are always made out to be the bad guys in the movies, games and novels – and based on some of their actions, so they should be. However, an examination of their code reveals that it is not intrinsically evil. More than that their code is shown to be far more realistic and consistent than those of the Jedi. Let us examine them.
1) “Peace is a lie, there is only passion.” This code, we may assume, was made in response to that of the Jedi – as the Sith did not exist until after the Dark Jedi were exiled to the planet Korriban. Based on that common understanding of peace to be lack of emotion, the Sith rightly disdain the idea. An absence of political war may be present, but the Sith recognize that emotions are constantly changing. They acknowledge that there is a constant inner struggle that not only is worthy of being waged, but must be waged if one is to improve by any conceivable metric. The Sith also acknowledge that conflict is not just the way of the hearts of men, but the way of the whole universe. To quote one Sith academic, “Without strife, there is stagnation.” While this can easily lead to snap decisions and brutality if it is interpreted as “do as thou wilt,” it is not a blanket statement justifying impulsiveness. It merely acknowledges that we are all emotional beings, and our emotions will never be gone from us completely.
2) “Through passion, I gain strength.” Because of sentient beings’ passions, they act. They do not sit back and idle away time if they are passionate about something, they act based upon what they believe in – what motivates them. They seek to fulfill or validate their passions, which leads to some sort of strength. This strength may be physical, mental, or hypothetically even moral. Sith see themselves as seekers of new knowledge and experiences, not shepherds to prevent others from seeking their own answers. They do not condemn those who find new paths to strength.
3) “Through strength, I gain power.” Power is a natural outgrowth of strength. It is power to affect change – again through body, mind, spirit, etc. People respect power, but will follow longer if their passions align with their leaders’. This leads us back to the natural progression of passion to strength to power.
4) “Through power, I gain victory.” This victory may be a visible military conquest or an inner conquest of the self. It may be the power to deny yourself an indulgence in order to achieve something greater. These victories may be personal, not just the ones that are visibly shared.
5) “Through victory, my chains are broken. The Force shall free me.” This last step is one of self-actualization based upon previous victories. While power and victory are inherently a personal pursuit (as they so often are) there are many benefits that may befall others due to personal victories. The idea here is that boundaries are broken so that the Sith may act as they see fit – even, perhaps, as they should based upon the struggle and its rewards. This is why so many Sith either hate mercy or simply do not show it: they believe that mercy would set one back on the path to victory and self-realization. To not allow something its fight to improve would be as good as killing the being itself to their minds.
All in all, these tenets are self-contained and not contradictory. As opposed, once again, to the tennets of the Jedi. The intriguing thing is, such as these Sith teachings are, they are not in and of themselves evil. While the Sith did do evil things, you cannot argue that their teachings are schizophrenic or that Sith themselves are not capable of following this code. One can fairly level that charge of the teachings of the Jedi.
Only-a-Sith-Deals-in-Absolutes
Okay, so I couldn’t resist that shot again. But when ideological opponents metaphorically put their heads in the noose, it’s hard to not kick the chair.

Defending a Galactic Empire

As many could attest, I grew up a Star Wars nerd. In many ways I still own that title. Over the years I cheered on Luke Skywalker and the rag-tag band of Rebels as they fought against impossible odds. I made elaborate scenarios with my action figures or model ships as a kid, and in battle after battle the good guys always won. The Rebellion was victorious, and the faceless soldiers of the Empire were defeated. However, as I started to enter my teenage years I couldn’t help but notice my perspective on Star Wars changing – most notably in respect to the Galactic Empire and the Rebellion.

Warning: If you’re already wondering if you should stop now, the answer is probably yes. This is me indulging in something I haven’t discussed in a long time.

This change in perspective came in no small part due to the >shudder< prequel trilogy. I’ll try to say as little about this as possible, but sufficit to say this is what I gleaned. The Republic was a bloated, ineffective government that couldn’t even settle a simple trade dispute. (Episode I) This ineffective government came with a strong-arm group of self-righteous Zen cultists who would slice various parts of your body off if you dared disagree with their Zen ways – or the will of the Republic, whichever excuse was more convenient. In other words, they wouldn’t tolerate anyone not as tolerant as they are. Sound familiar? Their self-contradicting code taught that emotions – good or bad — were to be totally denied, except for every time it was convenient for them to feel one. Compassion is an emotion they were certainly tied to, but for the most part Jedi were navel gazers and self-congratulatory philosophers rather than doers of any concrete good. One might almost say they were useless academics. Not only that, but they openly contradicted their own ideals constantly. I physically face-palmed in the theater (which was mostly empty, mercifully) when I heard Ewan MacGreggor spew the line “Only a Sith believes in absolutes Anakin!” Really. Congratulations, you have just given an absolute statement, proving once and for all that the Jedi code is a load of bunk.

Only-a-Sith-Deals-in-Absolutes

So, how does this lead to a justification of the unjustifiable? How does one justify a Galactic Empire?

Consider in the first place Chancellor (and later Emperor) Palpatine. He used the system of government – blighted and corrupt as it was – to rally star systems to a common goal. That goal was ultimately peace, but like any peace it had to come at the cost of some blood. By skillful maneuvering, Palpatine was able to orchestrate a system that would stop listening to the inane prattle of self-serving bureaucrats and allow a single individual to act swiftly and effectively. The stroke of genius is that he did this with the support of the Galactic Senate. This change did not seem to bother the citizens of the Republic at all. In fact, at the end of Revenge of the Sith, the only people who seem to be disturbed with this turn of events are the people trying to prop up the failed system – and thereby their own cushy representative positions.

Just imagine all the things that would never get done if our congress looked like this!
Just imagine all the things that would never get done if our congress looked like this!

The next aspect of what makes the Galactic Empire defensible is its military prowess. While might does not make right, the Empire was able to establish and maintain a cohesive defense force to protect its citizens. This is not something that the Republic was able to do. Under the Republic, most systems were left to fend for themselves in terms of defense. Coruscant itself (seat of the Republic) like Rome had not seen a standing army within its borders for ages. What this ultimately meant was that the most the Republic could do if one planet were to invade another was to pout about it, say “stop it” in the senate, and if you were really naughty they would send some Jedi to negotiate/rearrange your face. Never mind that Jedi were actually not a political arm of the Republic, but I digress. At the end of the day, the Empire shows a lot more regard for its citizens and their well-being than the Senate did. If you wanted the Senate’s attention, you’d better have had something really good to bribe them with.

The Galactic Empire under Palpatine, Vader, Tarkin and others corrected this oversight. Using their military prowess they were able to defend previously defenseless worlds, drive out pirates, and bring the Hutt crime syndicates more to heel than the Republic ever could. Palpatine, Vader and Tarkin all had this in mind: peace. Vader admitted as much to Luke at Cloud City: “Join me and we shall end this destructive conflict!”

Basically this message, but delivered in not quite a politically correct way. In other words INFINITELY MORE AWESOME.
Basically this message, but not delivered using  politically correct terminology. In other words INFINITELY MORE AWESOME.

It’s commonly heard that the Empire is tyrannical. We’re told as much in the opening scrawl for A New Hope, but there’s little evidence on screen for this being the case. We do not see slavery onscreen, we do not see random acts of violence on the part of the Stormtroopers upon citizens. (Nomadic scavengers operating illegally, yes, but not on citizens.) On the contrary, the trouble makers seem to only be the Rebels. All in all, the Empire seems more interested in capturing its key oponents rather than killing them. Vader’s focus in all three of the original films is on capturing Luke. He allows Han to be captured. On Cloud City, it was his design that Leia and Chewbacca remain as prisoners. While he was merciless on incompetent officers, there are plenty of historical examples of such discipline. Another example of how the Empire is not interested in constantly subjugating local populations is Endor. There were Imperial stations there, but there was no evidence of aggression between the Ewoks and Imperials until Luke and the gang showed up and convinced them that the Empire must be evil.

Speaking of the Rebellion, it doesn’t seem to be very popular. The Rebels always seem to have pathetic numbers. This implies that the Rebellion as a whole is fighting a battle that most citizens of the Empire do not believe needs to be fought. New projects were open for billions of engineers and laborers in Imperial shipyards and the Death Star, and the economy was likely surging due to better protected shipping lanes. Jobs were up, the galaxy was more secure, and yet there was a tiny group of people fighting to reinstate a failed system. Technology also advanced under the Empire, as new ship designs and communication systems were being developed to support better galactic infrastructure. All in all, it doesn’t make much sense to join a group fighting against an Empire that has brought about positive change galaxy wide.

Finally, consider the lowly Stormtrooper. Many were initially clones, but later ranks were bolstered by naturally born humans who considered it an honor to answer the Empire’s call and take up their roles as soldiers, peace-keepers, or police. Behind every gleaming white helmet was a man (or woman, to be fair) who had a life story and a family somewhere. (This is certainly driven home in Shadows of the Empire, but I digress.) Each one of those white clad troopers is a human being, but the armor is what makes them effective at deterring bad behavior and ensuring order. The Rebellion seems to have very little compunction about killing these people. Is it right to do so simply because you can’t see the face behind the helmet?

headgear

These considerations do open up a fundamental quandry for those who believe that the Rebellion is morally right: do the benefits of better economics, better defense capabilities, and equality across planets make the Empire and the Sith a force for good in the galaxy? If so, why is it acceptable for the rebellion to fight against their duly elected government which has brought so many benefits to the galactic citizenry? Finally, and possibly most importantly, did Lucas even consider some of these questions before showing the Empire as the bad guys? Did he not think through these political and philosophical factors to their logical end, or did he simply not care?

Stay tuned for Part 2, in which I detail why the Sith are actually more philosophically consistent than the Jedi.

Many thanks to Wookiepedia for background articles on various parts of the Star Wars universe.

Theme for a Thief

With masked face and padded gloves

He slowly creeps the closer.

A wanted man! A famous thief!

Although he has no poster.

The night envelops the devious one

As he makes his way

And rapaciously destroys some goods!

The ruins are seen next day.

The food is claimed, the cans picked clean

For his stomach did demand it.

I will catch you one of these days,

You furry little bandit!

An Ode to the Unread Books

O friends trapped within volumes, I promise I’ll dust you soon,

And get to those left unread — I’m sure in some blue moon!

The bindings make me happy, and the titles make me smug;

But knowledge left un-accessed is like wells left un-dug.

For the vessels may be filled all the way up to the brim,

But the storehouse will remain empty until I do begin.

May this year be the richer for every tome I read

And may my reading habits match the bibliophile’s greed!

Adventures in Paranoia: A Self-built Computer Story.

As I’m sure I’ve already well established, I’m a bit of a nerd. Admittedly, though, I haven’t been as thorough a one as I’ve wanted to be for a while. Since I was about 16, I wanted to build my own computer. Recently, I had a week with a little extra time and a little extra money.

So I decided I was going to do it, with a little help from DIY Tryin‘, a fun little YouTube channel that has inspired me to try more hands-on projects.

The list of components is there. I won’t bore you with the technical specifications. I’d rather entertain you with a view into the mind of a paranoid first-time computer builder.

I was paranoid because while I heard that putting a computer together was much like playing with LEGOs (and who doesn’t love that?) you can’t fry a LEGO with static electricity.

So I went out and bought a little PC tool kit, and plucked up the courage to start taking things apart and *gasp* touching the components.
It all started off by taking the panels off of my case. Left and right weren’t bad, but the front panel was a PAIN to remove. Anyway, after that was done (9:42 am) I proceeded to install the powersupply (9:50). So far so good.
Step one: realize how far you actually have to go once you take the sides off the case…
And then I got to the mother board. Installing the back shield was a breeze, but actually making the board line up with it was frustrating. I finally decided to bend a few of the little tabs on the back of the shield, and it slid in perfectly. Great. That only took me 20 minutes of thinking I had probably fried the card or scratched something. (10:10 am)
So now that I’m wondering if the first real piece of circuitry will even work, I take out the processor. My fingers are shaking slightly — this thing is fragile. I manage to place it correctly, but the holder doesn’t close easily. I had read that if you have to force it, you’ll probably ruin it. Great. So I tried placing it again — 3 times — and it was still as hard as the first time to secure. Drat. Oh well, here goes nothing…
*Click* Great. It slid down like it was supposed to, but I still have no idea whether or not I’ve ruined it yet. Determined, I installed the heat sink. (10:20)
Please don’t let this be a brick…
The RAM, Hard drive, and DVD drives were a breeze. (10:36) Graphics card, not quite so much, but that’s because I didn’t see the little rubber stopper at first. (10:45) Keep in mind, that I’ve been standing this whole time over my kitchen table, and am getting a little light headed.
THEN THE CORDS. GOOD GRIEF THE CORDS. SO MANY OF THEM. After 40 minutes, I had finally gotten them all in where they went. I learned a valuable lesson though — when dealing with a small motherboard, plug in all of your cords as you go, and leave the GPU for last. There were so many little ports that were directly next to the graphics card, and the angle was tough. (11:25)
But it sure looks pretty in there. And I still have plenty of wiggle room. Hmmm…

Hungry, tired of standing, and a tad light headed, I zip tied the cords out of the way of the air flow at 11:35 and put the case back together. Now it’s time to test it.

Remember how I said earlier I wasn’t sure if everything would work? Now I’m dreading that it won’t. I calmly put the tower down next to my TV and plug in the HDMI cable. Saying a quick prayer, I hit the power switch, and…

Please insert boot disk or choose different destination.

IT WORKED! HAHAHAHA!

So, now you know the story of the computer I just typed this article on. I hope you found it amusing. I feel incredibly smug, and my wife can attest that I still can’t shut up about it. 🙂 Pictures to come in a future update.

Edit: The pictures are here. Just in case you skipped down to this part of the post. Now go back up and read!