Friday, October 30, 2015

Soul Cakes

Last year, I wrote a story called "Soul Cakes" which appears with "What Time Is the Tea Kettle?"
and is set in the same universe.

A soul cake is a real thing. A few hundred years ago, they were a common Halloween "treat" that, as my wife says, the 1% would hand out to the poor to make themselves feel better. Seriously, the poor and orphans would go door to door (or whatever passed for that at the time) and collect soul cakes. Eating one was supposed to  deliver a soul from perdition. It's a tradition that has passed out of style.

[The subtle reader may gain a valuable insight into the main character of the Tea Kettle world by paying attention to the whole soul cake thing in the story.]

However, in style or not, we decided to make some! Which means, I wanted to make some, so my wife did! Hey, I shopped and roasted the walnuts! But, um, she really did all the rest. Here's a photo story of the process:
Yum! Souls taste good!

To celebrate "Soul Cake" day, I'm running a special deal on "What Time Is the Tea Kettle?"! From now through Halloween, It's less than a buck! That's right, for just $0.99, you can pick up two great stories! And eat some souls. Don't let this deal pass you by.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Clone Wars -- Season One

I've watched more than my share of sci-fi on television, not all of it very good. Some of it downright bad. Some of it, like the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, so horrible that there's no legitimate reason it should ever have been allowed to continue. Star Wars: The Clone Wars is not one of those shows. The Clone Wars, in fact, is good sci-fi, even in its first season. It "suffers" from only two things, at least in the minds of most people:
1. Its connection to the prequels.
2. It's animated.

Seriously, in this day and age, why do people still belittle "cartoons." It's not a cartoon, okay. Quit calling it that. And, really, when you say, "I don't watch cartoons," in reference to, say, a Pixar movie or a Studio Ghibli film, you just sound dumb and/or weirdly prejudice. The Clone Wars is in the same realm. Sure, it's "targeted" at kids, except that it's not. Really, it's just produced to be "kid accessible," but kids are not necessarily the target audience. The target audience is anyone who wants a more fleshed out view of the Star Wars universe.

As for its connection to the prequels, you just need to get over it. My gosh, they happened. Get your collective heads out of your asses and grow up.

So The Clone Wars does flesh out the Star Wars universe, and it did it on an ongoing basis for six years. For me, the best part of the series is seeing the relationship between Obi-Wan and Anakin develop. From just the movies, you don't get to see the bond between the two and just how strong it was, so, unless you can fill in the gaps yourself, you fail to grasp the trauma for Obi-Wan when Anakin turns to the Dark Side and he's forced to confront him. I think most people failed to grasp that simple concept. The Clone Wars allows you to see and experience the brotherhood of the two men.

The other thing The Clone Wars does really well is explore just what it means to be a clone. A product. Within that, what does it mean to be an individual? What is the importance, the value, of one clone? Or, more appropriately, one person?

What I'm saying is that The Clone Wars explores real questions and looks at real issues and puts those things in a context that pretty much anyone can understand. It's no mere cartoon. The first season is strong. It didn't need time to "find its legs," as so many other, especially sci-fi, shows do. This series should be a must watch for any Star Wars fan. Any real Star Wars fan, at any rate.

However, as good as it is, there are still some episodes I like, I'll say, less well. Only two, though, really. You can see the reviews for those two:
"Blue Shadow Virus"
"Mystery of a Thousand Moons"

Picking a favorite episode from the season is much more difficult. For instance, I love half of the episode, "The Gungan General." The parts where Anakin and Obi-Wan have to work with Dooku to escape the pirates are some of my favorite moments of the season, but, then, they are countered in this episode by it being the absolute worst usage of Jar Jar in the entire series (or, at least, season one, but I think it's true of the series as a whole).

But, fine, I'll pick one! I'm going to go with
"Storm Over Ryloth"
as my single favorite episode. As I said in the review, I highly recommend it.

Next week, we start season two! I hope to see you there, and, remember, you can decide to participate in this blog event at any time. Just go here to sign up!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Clone Wars -- "Hostage Crisis" (Ep. 1.22)

-- A secret shared is a trust formed.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]

You can blame it on Boba Fett. Or, more specifically, whoever it was who decided that Boba Fett should be released as a secret character action figure ahead of the release of The Empire Strikes Back. Between that and the actual bounty hunters in the movie, bounty hunters became a mythos of the Star Wars universe without doing much more than standing in place and being told, "No disintegrations."

With that in mind, it's somewhat surprising that they waited until the last episode of season one to introduce bounty hunters to The Clone Wars. However, they did it by introducing a whole team of bounty hunters, including Aurra Sing (of The Phantom Menace fame). But it's Cad Bane who runs the show, and a very interesting character he is.
And I'm not really going to talk about that other than to say that he's an ongoing character and, possibly, one acting outside of Palpatine's machinations.

This episode has a hint of Ocean's Eleven flavoring. It's not a heist, per se, but each of the bounty hunters definitely has a specific role in the plan that Bane is hatching.

Still, with all of the bounty hunter action that's happening, the true story revolves around Anakin and Padme and the stupid things that people can do for love. Specifically, you guessed it, Anakin. It's another step on the path of Anakin's downfall for him, though it might not appear that way, but it's an obvious thing that Anakin does not hold his Jedi code in the place that he should.

All in all, this is a pretty good episode. I think it would have been more enjoyable as a two-parter, especially if they had done an end-of-season cliff hanger but, maybe, that's not a thing in shows primarily targeted to younger people do. I don't know. It's a fun episode as it is, but it could have been a bit more. Of course, season one Clone Wars doesn't have any actual multi-part episodes, so that's probably part of why it's contained as a single episode.

Monday, October 26, 2015

A Startling Chain of Events

I bought my wife an espresso machine for her birthday. That seems like such a simple thing, but that's how it all started. Doesn't that sound ominous? It all started with the espresso machine...

So, anyway, I bought my wife an espresso machine. I thought it was just a simple thing. Not that an espresso machine is a simple thing, but it's a thing she's always wanted. Sort of. Actually, the thing she's always wanted is more complicated than that and has more to do with the actual coffee than the machine, but that will be for another post. For simplicity, we'll just say that she's wanted an espresso machine for a long time, and we finally got to the appropriate time for that to happen. So I bought her one.

She didn't know where we were going to put it... Oh, yes, I told her about it ahead of time, because I wanted to make sure I got something she would like and that would do the things she wanted it to do, so we looked for it together. Lots of research. She likes research, though. Anyway, she didn't know where we were going to put it, so I spent the day it arrived rearranging and clearing counter space so that it would have a place to be.
This is the place that I made for it to go. Sort of. There was actually a bread machine in the corner there that the espresso machine initially sat next to. As you can see, neither thing is there now. Now, it's just a big naked spot. Of course, we haven't really had much counter space in our tiny kitchen, so the big naked spot has been good. But how did the naked spot happen?

This is where it gets... interesting. Yeah, let's say "interesting." See, once we had the espresso machine and it was set up and everything was working fine, my wife informed me of two things:
1. We were going to be painting one of our walls.
2. We had to buy a thing to put the espresso machine on.
To the left is the color of the rest of the room and the color the "blue" wall used to be (the color of the "blue" wall is actually Mexecali Turquoise); to the right is the new color of the accent wall. The red thing is the thing that goes under the espresso machine. Here, you can see it better:
And here's the whole thing:
The wire mesh is part of, well, I'll call it an art project, because that's what it is, an art project for art, which is mostly non-existent at this point. We're not all the way finished.

So the espresso machine led to
1. Painting a wall, which involved testing colors and all of that jazz.
2. Buying a thing from IKEA, where I had never been before. Neither had my wife. There will be a post on that trip.
3. Building the thing that came from IKEA which, again, was more complicated than you would think, because we modified it.
4. Several trips to Home Depot, both for the modifications to the thing and for the materials for the art project.
5. There will also be a lamp project in order to replace the ugly reading lamp you see there on the end of the thing.
6. And who knows what else...

All because I gave my wife an espresso machine.

But, well, you know, if you give a mouse a cookie...

Oh, and hey! The coffee is great! It's totally a thing now. Every morning. Yeah, I'll explain some other time.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Bridge of Spies (a movie review post)

In some ways, there's nothing much to say about Bridge of Spies. I mean, it's Spielberg, and we've all come to accept a particular quality about a Spielberg movie, and I don't just mean its "goodness" quality. Spielberg movies have a certain finish to them that no one else can replicate and, so, this movie is a Spielberg movie and is everything you've come to expect from one.

Also, it's Tom Hanks, and Hanks isn't stretching himself beyond being Hanks in this one. Of course, as with Spielberg, that comes with a particular level of quality, which means he's excellent as James Donovan. Or he's excellent at being Hanks as Donovan. Let's just say he didn't push himself into some other mold as he did in Saving Mr. Banks and Cast Away.

Mark Rylance, though, is great. Maybe it's that I'm not really familiar with him as an actor, but he is great in his role as Rudolf Abel.

Of course, the main issue with judging the acting is that there is nothing to compare these roles to. I mean, there is no model of behavior to compare Hanks' portrayal of Donovan against, not like there was with his portrayal of Walt Disney or Day-Lewis' portrayal of Lincoln. In that, we have to take the characters as they appear on screen, which, maybe, is why Hanks is ultimately just Hanks. He's not trying to be a particular James Donovan, just a Hanks James Donovan.

All of which is to say that this is a finely acted movie with high production values, exactly what you'd expect. And the history seems to be pretty spot on, which is something I find important.

And I really enjoyed it. It's a good spy movie, much in the vein of the two George Smiley BBC series with Alec Guiness, especially the section where the CIA sends Donovan into East Germany, a man with no "spy training" -- he's just a lawyer -- and tells him to just feel the situation out and figure out what to do.

I don't know that it's actually an Oscar-level movie, neither the movie itself nor Hanks, but it's good. Really good. If you don't know anything about the time period, it's definitely worth seeing.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Clone Wars -- "Liberty on Ryloth" (Ep. 1.21)

-- Compromise is a virtue to be cultivated, not a weakness to be despised.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]

This episode wraps up the Ryloth story line and has some pretty impressive action in it by Mace Windu. I think Windu gets overlooked a lot because, mostly, in the movies all he does is sit in a chair and talk. Sure, he went toe to toe with the Emperor, but I think people also underestimate how powerful Palpatine was supposed to be. Actually, he beat the Emperor -- something Yoda failed to do decisively -- and, if not for Anakin getting involved, could have put an end to the Sith right there in Palpatine's chambers. Mace Windu did, though, develop Vaapad, the seventh form of lightsaber combat, a dangerous form only he mastered.

All of that to say that we, the audience, forget just what a badass Windu was supposed to be because we don't get to see him being all badass in the movies. However, the animated series shows off his power to great effect, and it's great to see in this episode.

But the episode isn't about Windu. It's about whether you accept help from a force which might occupy your country as soon as they help you get rid of the force occupying your country. Have you ever read the book The King, the Mice, and the Cheese?
I loved that book when I was a kid. The king loves his cheese, but he has a mouse problem. To get rid of the mice, he brings in cats, which he then can't get rid of, so he brings in dogs... Eventually, he brings in elephants -- to get ride of the lions, maybe? I don't quite remember -- and can't get rid of them, either, so he brings the mice back. This is kind of the question in this episode. Do you stay with the enemy you know, or do you bring in another that could be potentially worse?

The Separatists are starving the twi'leks and destroying and stealing their cultural heritage. But is it worth it to bring in the Republic forces (an issue caused by rival political factions on Ryloth) to drive out the Separatists if they are just going to stick around?

Sounds like an issue we've seen a lot of in recent years.

It's an interesting episode. Not as compelling on a character level as the last couple, but it's a good question to look at and fit in well with this trilogy of episodes.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Martian (a movie review post)

The Martian is not the movie I expected it to be. Not that I can tell you what I expected it to be because I tend to avoid too much about movies that I want to see, these days. I suppose I expected it to be more of a story that focused on Mark Watney, himself, and the struggle of being stranded alone on a planet, like Cast Away but on Mars. Rather, it's more like Apollo 13. It's not a bad thing, just not the thing I expected.

The next thing I would say is that the movie is better than it is. What I mean by that is that it a very enjoyable movie despite the rather numerous issues it has. I'm going to chalk the issues up to Ridley Scott who has a name that means more than it should. Seriously, if you actually look at his track record, he hasn't made a whole lot of actually good movies. I say that as someone who loves Blade Runner. Basically, Scott went for flash over substance in a number of places in The Martian. It's not stuff you'll probably notice when you're watching the movie, but you probably don't want to think too hard about it after the fact.

What you do want to see the movie for -- or, I should say, who you want to see the movie for -- is Matt Damon. Damon carries the movie with an ease that appears effortless. Despite the lack of focus in the movie (remember, blaming Ridley) on the actual stranded nature of Watney, Damon allows the desperation to seep through in key scenes. But the thing that will catch you about the movie and Damon's performance is the humor and, really, good-natured-ness of the character. It's a nice contrast to his character in Interstellar, last year's space drama with both him and Jessica Chastain. Best line: "I'm going to have to science the shit out of this."

Sean Bean is also really good. It's almost worth the whole movie for the scene with him and the "Council of Elrond" and each of them arguing over whom they're going to be. So funny.

The rest of the cast was mostly as you'd expect. All good but no one pushed beyond the kind of thing they normally do. I enjoyed seeing Michael Pena again so soon after Ant-Man, but, honestly, he was under used. Not that he should have had more screen time, but his potential was wasted. As was Kristen Wiig's. Seriously, why was she even in that role? All she did was stand around and look concerned. Anyone could have done that role so why put someone with Wiig's talent in it and not use that talent?

The other standout performance was by Donald Glover. He was great as the absent-minded science guy... astrophysicist? I forget, actually, what kind of science he did, but he was great. Dumping the coffee into the wire mesh trashcan was classic, but it was the look on his face that made it work.

Basically, The Martian is a good and enjoyable movie. You should see it. I'd even watch it again, mostly for Damon's performance; however, it didn't make me at all interested in the book and, bottom line, that's actually how I judge the success of any kind of adaptation: Does it make me want to take a look at the source material? If, after having seen it, I am completely uninterested in the source material, the adaptation has failed on some level to engage me. In the end, The Martian is a "happy" movie. It's feel-good, and there's nothing wrong with that. I don't know if the book is the same, but the movie leaves me with the feeling that there's nothing deeper to explore. Again, I blame it on Ridley.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Roller Derby!: Wreckless Wrenegade (a local color post)

What has been more than a few weeks ago, now, my wife and I went to our first roller derby match. As I mentioned in that post, we fairly quickly picked up on some favorite players, our most favorite of whom was Wreckless Wrenegade. It was clear that she was a notch above the other players in terms of skating, something displayed prominently when she did this rather spectacular leap (yes, a leap on roller skates!) to get around a block by the opposing team. It was called an Apex Jump, I found out, because I was able to set up an interview with her.
That's Wrenegade passing on the outside left from the match we saw.
And this is Wren in her everyday identity.

The first thing I found out is that she looks quite young for her age, which I just decided I'm not going to tell you. She fooled my wife, though, and my wife is usually pretty good at pegging that sort of thing. [I am not good at that. At all.] She likes Star Wars, so she scored points in my book for that; in fact her fiver-year-old son is totally into it. In her "real" life, she works in health care.

Of course, I was interested in her skating background because she was so impressive on wheels and, as it turns out, she used to do competitive ice figure skating. That's an impressive background. Here's her talking about that:

I didn't ever want to be a figure skater. I wanted to do gymnastics or dance. I actually really wanted to do tap dancing, but my older sister really wanted to do figure skating, so [because the closest ice skating rink was so far away] my parents basically said, "You have to do what your sister wants to do." So we started going -- I started when I was five -- and I found that I really loved it and enjoyed it. The thing that was always funny, though, about figure skating is that I was always bigger than the other girls so, growing up, I felt like I wasn't the ballerina/figure skater type. I was a lot more powerful in my figure skating. [When I was a teenager] the boys always suggested that I should be a hockey player, that I should be playing hockey with them. I was more of a tomboy, a tough girl that didn't really fit the mold of a figure skater, but I always wanted to be the pretty figure skater.

Later, after not having skated at all for four or five years, her son's dad started telling her that he thought she'd be really good at roller derby, but she was really intimidated to go. Eventually, she made him and her son go with her to one of Resurrection Girls newbie nights.

When you think roller derby, you think aggressive, powerful, intimidating women, and, then, you think, "Oh, my God, I'm not going to fit in here." So I went, and it was awful the first night. I was in rental skates -- you know, growing up in ice skating, I always had custom boots, and it was easier than walking for me sometimes -- and it was shaky at best. I mean, it was really bad. But I kept with it, and I liked the feeling of being on skates again. But it was really uncomfortable at first to get used to the quads. Going from a single blade to the quads was really hard for me, but I stuck with it.
Eventually, she got her own pair of skates and tried out and earned a spot on the Cinderollas.

Me: Have you been back on ice skates since then?

Wren: I have, and now that's awkward. It's really strange. It's funny because in ice skating, we stay away from our toe-picks unless we're jumping or using them for something like that, so I wasn't sure if we were allowed to use our toe-stops, and I was scared to use my toe-stop, so I was doing everything I could to avoid my toe-stop and, now, I live on my toe-stop. I'm always on my toe-stop. Now, [with ice skating] I'm like, "Okay, don't get on your toe-picks. Stay away from that. Don't tighten your boots so much." So, yeah, it's different. I'm still comfortable on it, but it's a different feeling.

Of course, because it's me, I also had to ask her about reading:

Wren: I love to read, although I haven't had the time to really pick up a book in a while, so my reading tends to be magazine articles. The one book that I still think about to this day, since I read it so long ago, is Z for Zachariah. It was probably the first book that I read that I didn't want to put down and actually piqued my interest in reading. I hadn't been a "reader" prior to picking up that book up. Another would be Catcher in the Rye. I don't have a genre or preference, but [a book] definitely has to capture my attention by the first 10 pages.

She's only been doing derby for two years but, already, she's coaching and is a vital member of the Cinderollas. As a jammer, it's her job to score the points. Of course, that doesn't come without teamwork, but I've watched her coach, and I think she's well on her way to helping to create a great team. I'm looking forward to the next time we can go see her and the Cinderollas play!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Clone Wars -- "Innocents of Ryloth" (Ep. 1.20)

-- The costs of war can never be truly accounted for.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]

Continuing the Ryloth story, we pick up with Obi-Wan making his ground assault now that Anakin and Ahsoka have broken the blockade. This episode is back to dealing with a moral dilemma, and it's an interesting one, at that.

The Republic is there at Ryloth to liberate the twi'leks. As such, Obi-Wan lets the clones know during their landing that that means not destroying the twi'leks homes and such. That means they can't just bomb the living heck out of the droids. The droids that have built their bases in the twi'lek villages. Oh, and the droids are also using the twi'leks as living shields, the commander droid having calculated that the Jedi would be much less likely to wage an all-out attack against them if they were behind a hostage shield.

Some of the clones are not happy about the situation and think there is too much concern for the "tail-heads," as they call them. They just want to destroy the droids, and they don't really care if the natives get in the way.

To make things more interesting, two of the clones, one of whom really doesn't like the tail-heads, run into a young twi-lek probably orphan while they are on a scouting mission. Or should I say "pick up a young twi'lek"? Either way, it gives the clones (and through them, the audience) a different perspective on what it's like to have your village ravaged by invaders.

The struggle to save the twi'leks without destroying their villages -- and without bringing harm to them -- is an interesting one. It makes me think of all of those epic super hero battles to save the city... in which they destroy the city. Is what you did worthwhile in those cases?

Also, as an aside, the other day my wife and I were talking about education in the South and why it is so poor compared to education in the rest of the US (there are no Southern states in the top 10 ranked states for education and only four in the top 25). One reason is that the South's education system is still suffering the effects of the Civil War. And I don't mean just inaccurate teaching (like the debacle going on in Texas, right now, with the new text book that was released that refers to slaves as "migrant workers") but the fact that the school system has suffered a lag in performance directly tied to the effects of the war. So, if you glance up at the opening quote from this episode, you can see that it's completely true. The lack of adequate education has been a high cost (that can never be measured) for the South.

"I guess we're the best."

Monday, October 12, 2015

Fallacies of the Church (part four) -- The Corollary

The real problem with the idea that God rewards the good (as I talked about last week) is the corollary to that thought: God un-rewards the not good. I don't want to say that God punishes the wicked, but that's certainly what people tend to think. It's rather similar to that whole "angels are beautiful; demons are grotesque" thing. The idea this instills is that it's okay to not help those less fortunate than us; after all, they've done something to deserve it.

It's an attitude more than it is anything else. I mean, it's not something people come right out and say, at least not most of the time, though there have been plenty of people who have. If God "liked" that person, that person would have more money, right? Because God blesses people who go to church and tithe and all of that. People who do those things and are poor must have some (secret) sin in  their lives or God would be blessing them, too. You know, actually, I've heard people say that one out loud. I've heard pastors say that one out loud.

It goes right along with hurricane Katrina being a judgement against the depravity of New Orleans and other such things that have been said about horrible natural disasters.

My favorite, though, is that miscarriages are punishments from God. And, yes, I've heard pastors say that. In fact, one of the pastors I worked for believed that (and expressed that belief freely) which made it very awkward for him when my wife had a miscarriage a year or so before our younger son was born. I could feel the tension of the unasked question from him, "What secret sin are you hiding that God would punish you so?" It was palpable.

Of course, this is the same pastor that told me I needed to check in on one of our church members, a friend of mine, because he was a big tither, and we didn't want to lose his money. Yes, those are the words that he said to me. It's always about the money.

I was long gone from that church when his oldest (perfect (because his family was perfect, as he often pronounced from the pulpit)) daughter had a miscarriage during her first pregnancy, but I often wondered how he took that and whether he accosted his daughter over some secret sin her life.

There are a couple of places you can look in the Bible to see that misfortune or a bad lot in life is not something visited upon people because God is punishing them or just doesn't like them.

The first is Job. God loved Job, and Job loved God. Along came Satan and told God that Job only loved Him because of all the stuff God had given him, so God let Satan take everything away. Job's wife and all of his friends came along and asked Job what horrible thing he'd done to piss off God. Of course, Job had done nothing wrong and had, in fact, done everything right, but, still, they all came in with the assumption that all the bad stuff was Job's fault.

The other is the story of the blind man that Jesus and his disciples passed on the road one day. The disciples asked Jesus whose sin, the man's or one of his parent's, was responsible for the man's blindness. Jesus' response was that no sin was responsible.

No sin was responsible. No one did anything bad. The blind man wasn't a bad person just like Job wasn't a bad person, just like there aren't "bad" people and "good" people. There are just people. Bad things and hard times are not judgements from God. They are just things that are.

If you go to a church that fosters the belief that God punishes people by sending any kind of ruin upon them, you need to get out of that church.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Parcivillian -- In Concert!

A few weeks ago, I got to see Parcivillian in concert. An actual concert, not just an open mic night where they performed a few songs. It was pretty great.
If I'm remembering correctly, they opened with "Lonely Road," a pretty rocking song, then moved on to "Left Behind," which might still be my favorite song by them.
Before I go on, though, remember that I said a while back that I got to go to one of their rehearsals? Well, I did, and, now, finally, I want to talk about that for a moment.

I would say that their method for producing music is on a "how does it feel?" basis. That was a question Delek and Stav asked each other more than once, "How does that feel?" It was interesting for me, because I've only been involved in music rehearsals before for already written music, so there was no, "How does it feel?" It was only learning the music as it was written.

This was music creation, and it was pretty cool to watch and listen to. There was a lot of "go back and try..." Okay, honestly, when they started doing that stuff, it was like listening to people speaking some other language. Because it was. Mostly, I didn't follow it, but they all understood each other even without the completion of sentences.
Anyway... They were working on two new songs at the rehearsal I was at, both of which they played at the concert in their completed forms, one of which I had insisted that they finish: "Say Goodbye." "Say Goodbye" is a great song with a catchy chorus bit. I think it has all the things a song needs to be a hit, especially the part where you want to hear it again as soon as it's over. Alas, I have only heard the finished song the one time at the concert, because they don't have it recorded yet. (Psst! Go over and tell them to record it!)
All of that to say that it was great to hear them perform the new songs, especially "Say Goodbye." It was great to get to hear all of the songs they don't have recorded, yet. They did, of course, end with "One Kiss," my wife's favorite song by them (and it is a good one) and, really, the thing that started all of this off. The only bummer was that Elliot (the one who plays the violin) wasn't able to be there so "One Kiss" was done without the violin, but it sounded (nearly) just as good!

This is the last Parcivillian post... for the moment. I am sincerely hoping I will be able to revisit the group in not too long to tell you how they're doing and what kinds of strides they're making.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Clone Wars -- "Storm Over Ryloth" (Ep. 1.19)

-- It is a rough road that leads to the heights of greatness.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]

This is the kind of episode that makes me love this series.

Anakin is tasked with breaking a blockade around the planet Ryloth so that Obi-Wan can get through with ground troops so that they can liberate the Twi'lek population from the Separatists who are, actually, treating the Twi'leks pretty poorly (but that's next episode). Part of his plan includes giving Ahsoka her first command. Which would be great...

Except that it's a trap!

Yes, the Separatists set up a trap for the Republic forces, and Ahsoka's fighter squadron gets... well... pretty shot up.

The issue here is that it's her fault. When called back because it's a trap, she disobeys orders because she believes she can still complete her mission. Because she doesn't return and the fleet has to wait for her, they lose an entire cruiser and get pretty beat up themselves.

There are a lot of things in this episode that make it worth watching and that I could talk about, but I'm just going to pick one, the one I find most compelling. Ahsoka disobeys Anakin's orders because, basically, that's what he's taught her to do through his own actions. At the point when Anakin tells her to turn back, she persists because that's what Anakin would do. But she fails where Anakin so often succeeds, and there are devastating results.

Ahsoka doesn't understand why she failed and is crushed that she cost so many clones their lives. The admiral is also wounded during the attack (there's a touching scene where she visits him while he's unconscious and apologizes to him). During the moment when Anakin confronts Ahsoka about her disobedience, she actually tells him that he does the same kind of thing all the time.

Now, what you'd expect is that Anakin would make some kind of excuse as to why it's okay for him to behave in that manner, because that's what you'd get from most shows. But that's not what happens. Anakin just owns it and tells her that she's right. He doesn't apologize for it, either. It's actually a very mature handling of the situation in which he tells her that she needs to learn when to follow orders, because she won't always be able to see the bigger picture. In essence, this is mature parenting, which is rather what having a Padawan is like.

This is a great episode and I would highly recommend it.

"Did you train her not to follow orders?"

Monday, October 5, 2015

Fallacies of the Church (part three) -- God Rewards the Good (or The Prosperity Doctrine)

As I said last time, "God is all you need" is one of the most harmful lies of "the church." That one can be joined by the idea that God rewards people who are good, go to church, and tithe, i.e., the righteous. This is called the Prosperity Doctrine (or, actually, any number of other things). Not to get into the history of it, but, in the history of Christianity, this a brand new idea going against centuries of Christian doctrine. You know, all that stuff that says you should give the coat off your back, care for widows and orphans, and things like that.

And, hey, I get it! It's great to believe that all you need to do is go to church and toss a little bit of money in the plate and you'll get all kinds of rewards and prosperity. Pastors count on it, in fact.

As could be expected, the Prosperity Doctrine saw its big rise to prominence in the 1980s and was the foundational message of many of the big televangelists. It has also been the foundation of virtually every mega-church out there, around the world, not just in the United States. And though it has mostly grown out of non-denominational churches, Prosperity Doctrine has permeated nearly every protestant denomination there is. Oh, and Christian music is full of it.

I'm going to share with you an example from a very popular Christian band, a band I like, that is just horrible. I hate this song, and I hate it so much that I lost major respect for this band that I have liked for years. So, yes, it's a horrible song, but you should listen to it anyway -- the words, not the music -- so you'll know what I'm talking about.
That's the whole problem: It seems to make sense. You know, if God loves us, why wouldn't he want us to thrive? Why wouldn't he want us to have lives full of... well, everything that we want to have in them? Which is the context of the song, God made you to have full, rich lives, full of everything you should have to make you happy. All you need to do is praise God (and give your 10%!), and he's gonna give you ALL the STUFF!


If you read the Bible, especially the New Testament, it's very easy to see that the call to Christianity is not the call to a life of ease and riches. The call to Christianity is a call to hardship. The road less traveled because it's a road that requires sacrifice. That's a hard message for people to take and was driving people away during the great rise of consumerism of the 80s. So how about a message that's all about how God wants to reward you instead?

As with most lies of "the church," all of this prosperity bullshit is based on one verse that is taken completely out of context: Malachi 3:10. It says blah blah blah bring the whole tithe to the storehouse, and I will pour so much blessing on you that you can't hold it all blah blah blah. Oh, yeah, and it says "test me on this." So, yeah, it's a challenge from God: Bring me your tithe and see if I don't just bless you beyond your ability to keep it all.

Again, it sounds great, which is why so many people buy into it, but there are so many things wrong with taking this as a personal message from God:
1. It's not a personal message from God! Not to individuals. It's a message from the prophet Malachi to the entire nation of Israel. It's a message delivered because, as was so often the case, Israel was screwing up. This is not a message intended to be used by people to get rich.
2. Tithing itself is something that has been taken out of context and shouldn't exist in the Christian church. Tithing was for the support of the professional priest system of the Israelites. The Christian church was not supposed to have professional priests, and, if you look at the first century Christian church, it did not. Professional priests got re-invented for Christianity during the formation of the Catholic church and tithing, then, was re-introduced. It was never supposed to be that way.
3. Look, I could go on, but those two are really enough; however, I'll add this:

Honestly, God just doesn't care about your personal "happiness." He's not sitting around up in Heaven somewhere thinking, "Hmm... I wonder what I can do to make Andrew happy today. Oh! I know! I'll send him a check for $10,000!" Your material life not just isn't at the top of God's to-do list, it's not on the list at all. He doesn't care.

He doesn't care if you have a big house. He doesn't care if you have a nice car. He doesn't car what kind iphone you carry. He doesn't care what kind of clothes you wear. Seriously, if God was concerned about you having these things, everyone would have these things. Why? Because no one is "good" in the eyes of God, so everyone would be rewarded the same way.

So, yes, the Prosperity Doctrine draws people in, but, ultimately, it drives almost all of those same people away. Just as soon as they realize that it doesn't work. God is not a slot machine. There is no payout. Not in cash. Not in things. Not in "happiness." There's a system in place for all of that stuff so that God doesn't have to bother with it, if that's a way to put it (which it's really not, but I don't have a better way). Just get over the idea right now that if you're good then God is going to "bless" you or make you rich or whatever.

And, if you're in a church that teaches this idea, even a watered down version of it, you should get out now. That church is concerned with the right things.