Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Ooh! One More Babylon 5 Observation

I was thinking about the mysterious gravity rings that the Imani ambassador uses to squeeze (literally) a committment out of G'Kar in the pilot, and it occurred to me that all five of the major races essentially play by the same rules. With the exception of the Vorlons, they're all humanoids, and they can all tolerate one Earth gravity (and Earth atmosphere, again with the exception of the Vorlons, maybe). This is of course a concession to reality; CGI wasn't in existence back then, as I noted before, and you can't very well squeeze a human actor into an octopus suit and expect him to have emotional range.

But it brings up an interesting point. There's plenty of war between these five species, right? And all of them have expansionist policies, large empires and terraforming (or whatever-forming) capability. I was wondering why there was so much conflict, and one of the possible explanations could be that they're all after the same real estate. We don't know much about their instantaneous warp technologies yet, or the borders of the various empires, but it's entirely possible that one or more of the empires is running out of living space/resources and needs these prime terraforming candidates. And since everyone's looking for the same type of planet, well...

Another explanation could be that terraformed planets can be used by anybody, since their requirements are about the same. As soon as your rival has invested a ton of money and time in Varn-forming a planet, you swoop in and seize it from them. Their investment is gone, you've hurt their expansion efforts and gained a new world for yourself at little cost--until and unless they strike back, that is.

This is all speculation at this point, but it's interesting speculation. This show is making me think, and that's a quality I treasure on television.

Picture is unrelated.

Andy's Symbol Association 2011 Mock Draft: Guaranteed to coax a "WTF" out of you!

Well, this is refreshing. After a week or so of feeling like I had nothing to say, now it feels like I can't for the life of me shut up. Continuing to prove that point, I have for you the most eclectic mock draft on the Internet to date. Here's the names of the prospects and what their names remind me of.

1. Cam Newton, QB, Carolina. Like an oak tree. Big, spreading arms and lots of leaves hanging down.

2. Marcel Dareus, DT, Broncos. Squatty. Compact. Iron. Like a crumpled bowling ball made of cast iron. 

3. Von Miller, OLB, Bills. Fighter jet. New metals, light but strong, like they're using in the next generation of warplanes. 

4. Cincinnati Bengals: Blaine Gabbert, QB. Like the guy at the end of Akira when he's become gigantic and his flesh is all gloopy and melting off in chunks.

5. Patrick Peterson, CB, Arizona Cardinals. Tall and branchy, like a giant letter K. 

6. Cleveland Browns: A.J. Green, WR. Long and smooth and fluid, like Silly Putty if it was made of stainless steel. 

7. San Francisco 49ers: Prince Amukarama, CB. Joseph and his coat of many colors. 

8. Nick Fairley, DT, Tennessee Titans: Big, fat and creaky. Lots of dust falling out of the creases on his uniform shirt when he stands up. The drone of buzzing flies follows him everywhere. 

9. Dallas: Tyron Smith, OT. A big chunk of raw gold, like they just took him out of a mineshaft. 

10. Julio Jones, WR, Washington Redskins: A man made of bowling balls and pipe cleaners, like that fighting game Sid plays. 

11. Houston Texans, Aldon Smith, DE-OLB. A packing frame, like the kind you use to move tables, on caster wheels and made of dense metal. 

12. Minnesota Vikings, Jake Locker, QB: A wet cardboard box that falls apart outwards, in all directions. 

13. Detroit Lions, Anthony Costanzo, OT: A red-and-gold monster behemoth with long arms and a slight hunch.

14. St. Louis Rams: Da'Quan Bowers, DE. Like half a gear, but all the little stubs are spikes, and it swings on a hinge and bar system that's rooted next to the defensive tackle. 

15. Mike Pouncey, G-C, Miami Dolphins: An amorphous black-and-gold mass, like a color-shifting rock, that just sits there and glares at people. 

16. Jacksonville Jaguars: Robert Quinn, DE. A shoulder-launched missile, or SAM, that is hoisted onto the shoulder and fired but that's made of pure talent, which is like an unbearable white light. 

17. New England: Mark Ingram, RB. A sword, except not a sword. The hilt is somewhere buried in the earth, and the blade sticks out and moves like a shark's fin over the surface of the ocean. 

18. San Diego: Cameron Jordan, DE. Black and gold in front, red behind.

19. New York Giants: Derek Sherrod, OT. A massive, crumbling old-man-of-the-mountain type of guy, with a little bit of Ent thrown in. Like a big, grey, rocky Ent with dirt falling off him.

20. Tampa Bay Bucs: J.J. Watt, DE. A pair of giant hooks attached to a bear.

21. Nate Solder, OT, Kansas City Chiefs. Like the other tackles, but this one's a big, burnished mass of metal. Won't fall apart easily. 

22. Corey Liuget, DT, Indianapolis Colts. The Blob, but congealed. 

23. Philadelphia Eagles: Jimmy Smith, CB. A football player who jabbers a lot. 

24. New Orleans Saints: Ryan Kerrigan, DE. Green and purple and really knobby. Lots of knobs, like reptile skin, but on a bigger scale. 

25. Seattle Seahawks: Adrian Clayborn, DE. Man made of pottery... this one's obvious.

26. Muhammad Wilkerson, DE, Baltimore Ravens: Extremely large, wrinkly, dark black mass that has a cross around what might be construed as its neck. 

27. Atlanta: Gabe Carimi, OT. A bear on its hind legs, except the bear is constructed out of limestone. And it doesn't really look like a bear; like, it isn't a bear-shaped statue or anything, but if you saw this thing your mind would fill in "bear" as a shape.

28. Trade: Tennessee Titans, Andy Dalton, QB. Clean-cut evil statue.

29. Chicago Bears: Phil Taylor, DT. Mean. 

30. New York Jets, Akeem Ayers, OLB. Like a tree, but hasn't filled in yet. All the branches are there, but they're kind of droopy and unformed. 

31. Aaron Williams, CB: A small rocket. 

32. Green Bay Packers: Danny Watkins, G. A giant pink ball that's squeezed itself into a leather coat. Steely.

Dear Professor _______ de Coverly, I Want My Money Back.

as long as I'm writing "Are you fucking serious?!"-type love letters to the world today...

By the calculations of my esteemed friend Alex, you owe me anywhere between $143 and $163 for Tuesday's 80-minute class, which is the chunk of my parents', grandparents' and long-dead relatives' money I spent to attend it. I did so, to be rather specific and pedantic, because of 1) the knowledge I hoped to gain from it and 2) the privilege of learning from a Professor with a doctorate, who is presumably more qualified to teach me about Islam than I, or any other random student, am. 

Why, in a confounding perturbation of normal student-college relations, do you owe me money? Well, I'm so glad you asked. Yesterday, for our fourth-to-last class of the entire semester, I walked in and you told me we would watch a 52-minute on the hajj, or the once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca that all good Muslims are encouraged/required to make. You then told me, along with the rest of the class, that afterwards we were going to watch an episode of "Little Mosque on the Prairie" after that, which is an Islam-centered Canadian sitcom starring Zaib Shaikh and Carlo Rota. Neither of these cinematic adventures has any information with a chance in hell of being on the final exam. You didn't even ask us to take notes. 

I mean, they were decent movies; the sitcom was genuinely funny, for the first time in the four or five we've watched one of these, and the hajj documentary was breathtaking when it did the high shots and showed what must've been a hundred thousand white-clad worshippers bowing to their knees all at once, or the horizon-to-horizon expanse of tents that the Saudi Arabian government put up for the benefit of the worshippers. That was awesome. But as far as learning goes...

I want my money back. 

Here, I'll even be charitable. I'll deduct the amount that it would have taken for me to go to the video store and rent these fucking things so I wouldn't have to take up valuable class time watching them. Oh, what's that you say? They're available from the Woo Media Library, and the documentary is even available online? Let's see, that comes to... $0. We're still $163 short. 

Look, this is a religion class. This religion is coming up on having been around for fourteen hundred years. There is an incredible amount of theology and history and associated cultural histories that we could talk about, and indeed haven't gotten to yet. We've only given a cursory glance to the rise of Islam in Indonesia and India, for example, and we've spent little time on the issues that take up modern-day sufis, like the Islamic opinions on gay rights or genetically modified food (to name only two things). We've also spent little time on the military conquests of Islam and its relationship with the Western world. There is a massive number of topics we could've spent this class learning about... 

...and we spent it with Little Mosque on the Prairie. 


Dear Birthers,

Congratulations. You got exactly what you didn't want.

Donald Trump may be preening over this, but in private, my guess is that he's cursing the Obama administration for actually releasing President Barack Hussein Obama's long-form birth certificate.

Why? Simple. As long as there was any possible doubt about what the certificate actually said, conspiracy theorists could make hay out of it. Donald Trump could continue to give interviews and speeches about it. They (the theorists) could continue to hang onto their belief system regarding Obama's birth, and Trump could continue to gather what I consider to be a ridiculous amount of America's attention by continuing to windbag on the "issue". But since the release of Obama's birth certificate, that has all evaporated. Only the worst die-hard conspiracy theorists could continue to hold to an incorrect belief when evidence to the contrary is publicly available and easy to find... oh, wait, right.

But of course, Trump needs a new target to stay in the limelight. Surely it couldn't be anything else about Obama's personal life, could it? After all, it'd be utterly inconsequential to his status as President... oh, no, wait, he's taking on Obama's school records next, and politics be damned to ye.


"We do not have time for this kind of silliness," Obama remarked upon the release. "I've got better stuff to do."

Ain't that the truth.

"Are you fucking serious?"

Babylon 5: First Impressions

For a long time, I've kinda thought that besides the giant Star Trek franchise, the three great sci-fi TV shows are Doctor Who, Battlestar Galactica and Babylon 5. (I'll throw Stargate in there for kicks, but I just can't get past the ancient Egyptian aliens thing.) I'm in love with the second one and rather enamored of the first one, but up until now I'd never gotten around to Babylon. I recently got through the premiere movie and just now finished the first episode, and I'd like to give some early impressions. 

First Note in Four Days is about what now?

-First of all, the computer graphics are god-awful. They look like what you see nowadays in the behind-the-scenes of a Pixar film, before they've filled in the texture and details of faces and backgrounds, or possibly a N64 video game. The series started out in the early 1990s, so it's understandable, but the graphics are still really bad. You won't find anything like the beautiful wide-angle shots of Galactica and the rest of the fleet, or playing around with textures and lighting, here. 

However, I'm grading Babylon 5 on a massive curve because of what they're attempting to do. Even in just the pilot and the first episode, we see a space battle, fleets emerging out of hyperspace and immense shots of the Babylon 5 space station itself from quite a ways away. It may look awful by modern standards, but what they're trying to do is so far beyond the graphics they had at the time, it's hard not to admire it. 

-The writing has started out as pretty clunky, too. The first episode serves you three stories that are so different--a war between two rival species on Ragash III, space raiders around Babylon 5, friction between a telepath and a senior officer--that you know they're probably going to coalesce, and when they do it isn't much of a surprise. It's also fairly easy to predict what the characters are going to say. That said, it's still early on and it will undoubtedly get better as the writers get more comfortable.

-On the other hand, the high muckety-mucks are going out of their way to universe-build early. In the pilot, we were introduced to four alien empires that humanity maintains diplomatic relations with; in episode 1, we meet (briefly) a huge rogue's gallery of other species, and get personal tidbits about all of the show's main characters. Again, it's clunky; personal anecdotes are sort of dropped into the episode at random, but however forced it felt, by the end of the episode I felt like I knew the officers of Babylon 5 and a few of the alien diplomats a bit better. I also had a decent feel for the central government on Earth, which they drop in as well. It's a lot of information all at once, but it also signifies that the show won't have much dead time. Babylon 5's selling point is its complex plots, after all, and I'm rather excited to see what they come up with. 

-The political-legal-diplomatic climate looks like where the meat of the show will be, something that Battlestar and Star Trek dabble in and Doctor Who ignores entirely. There's apparently an interracial legal framework, within which Babylon 5 is neutral ground that is administered by representatives from all five major empires. The first episode reminds us, however, that just because every race has a diplomatic representative on board doesn't mean there's peace everywhere. We get an unprovoked attack on a Centauri farming colony by a Narn fleet in the first episode. It's definitely an unstable political climate, which I think will make it more fun to watch than simply trying to keep the peace. (The opening sequence's line "Babylon 5 is the galaxy's last, best hope for peace" keeps making me think of Gundam Wing, by the way. Even the announcers sound similar.)

So far, there has been a notable lack of giant space robots.

Overall, I think there's a lot of potential in Babylon 5. As it stands now, after watching the first two chunks of show, I don't like it terrrrrribly much on its own merits. They were decent episodes, but not on the level of a Battlestar or a Doctor Who or even a good Firefly episode. I like it for what I think the series has the capability to do. Let's see where this goes.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

2011 First Round Mock Draft

I'm not saying I think this scenario will go down this way, or that all these picks will happen, but I like to put some "what-ifs" in my mock drafts. 

Carolina Panthers, #1: Patrick Peterson, CB. I've heard the arguments for Cam Newton or Blaine Gabbert in this space, but if the Panthers think that Jimmy Clausen can be their guy, I see them taking the best pure talent on the board and giving their secondary a huge boost. With a rookie wage scale incoming, the Panthers can afford to take a CB at No. 1 overall.

Denver Broncos, #2: Marcel Dareus, DT. With new coach John Fox moving back to a 4-3, and with a pair of defensive ends already on the books in Elvis Dumervil and Robert Ayers, an interior tackle like Dareus (and a safer pick than Nick Fairley) could give them a Detroit-like defensive line. (Wow, I can't believe Detroit is setting the standard at something...)

Buffalo Bills, #3: Cam Newton, QB. The Bills will never be able to compete in the AFC East until they have a legitimate quarterback of their own, defense or no defense.

Cincinnati Bengals, #4: Julio Jones, WR. The Bengals' offensive skill positions are right where nobody wants to be. Their quarterback, starting wide receivers and running back are all aging and could potentially all be gone by opening day, 2011. With that in mind and a choice of the top receiver prospects on the board, Cincinnati snaps up the bruising, physical Jones, whose style of play makes him a good fit in the AFC North.

Arizona Cardinals, #5: Blaine Gabbert, QB. An obvious pick at this stage, but I don't think any team in the league has a worse collection of QBs than the Cards.

Cleveland Browns, #6: Robert Quinn, DE. Like the Broncos, the Browns are moving back to a 4-3 defense, and consequently have a big hole at 4-3 defensive end. Even in a deep D-line class, Mike Holmgren takes perhaps the most talented man on the board.

San Francisco 49ers, #7: Von Miller, OLB. The top 3-4 OLB in the draft serves as a perfect complement to Patrick Willis inside, and gives a punchless pass-rush some weaponry.

Tennessee Titans, #8: Nick Fairley, DT. The Titans aren't afraid of D-linemen with character issues, and the big, strong lineman will be an asset to Mike Munchak's new defense.

Dallas Cowboys, #9: Tyron Smith, OT. The most talented tackle in the draft goes to a team that's been looking for tackle help since Flozell Adams got old.

Washington Redskins, #10: A. J. Green, WR. Dan Snyder snaps up the talented Green to be his new No. 1 on a team that doesn't have much depth at all at WR.

Houston Texans, #11: Jimmy Smith, CB. Despite concerns about his character, the Texans grab the best corner on the board after Peterson.

Minnesota Vikings, #12: Da'Quan Bowers, DE. Ray Edwards will leave in free agency, and the Vikings will need help on their famous defensive line after Pat Williams retires.

Detroit Lions, #13: Prince Amukamara, CB. The Lions don't have one solitary corner that's guaranteed to be on their roster in 2011. They desperately need CBs.

St. Louis Rams, #14: Aldon Smith, DE. With Bowers off the board, the Rams take one of the best DE prospects remaining.

TRADE: Philadelphia Eagles, #15: Anthony Castanzo, OT. With Castanzo falling farther than expected, the Eagles trade up to secure one of their bigger needs.

Jacksonville Jaguars, #16: Cameron Jordan, DE. The Jags continue to fortify their defensive line.

New England Patriots, #17: J.J. Watt, DE. Since Richard Seymour went to Oakland, the Pats haven't had a dominating defensive lineman. Watt could be that guy.

San Diego Chargers, #18: Mike Pouncey, C-G. The Chargers could use interior line help to assist Ryan Matthews.

New York Giants, #19: Derrick Sherrod, OT. With a need at tackle, the Giants grab a developmental type of player that should develop into Eli Manning's blind-side anchor.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers, #20: Ryan Kerrigan, DE. The Bucs got their inside pass-rusher with Gerald McCoy last year, and now could use a complementary outside man. Kerrigan could be that guy.

Kansas City Chiefs, #21: Gabe Carimi, OT. The Chiefs have a hole at tackle, and with so many defensive linemen already off the board, the Chiefs snap up the best tackle remaining.

Indianapolis Colts, #22: Danny Watkins, OG. Keeping Peyton Manning upright is their biggest priority.

Miami Dolphins (from Philadelphia), #23: Mark Ingram, RB. Ingram to the Dolphins has been called since February, but the Dolphins get him here and pick up extra draft choices from Philly in the process.

TRADE: Cincinnati Bengals, #24: Jake Locker, QB. With Seattle next on the clock, the Bengals trade up to get their QB of the future. New Orleans could take Phil Taylor or Corey Liuget in this space, but with the class as deep as it is, the Saints are content to trade into the second round and not suffer a loss in quality.

Seattle Seahawks, #25: Adrian Clayborn, DE. Thwarted, the Seahawks settle for Patrick Kearney 2.0.

Baltimore Ravens, #26: Nate Solder, OT. With the massive Jared Gaither set to leave in free agency and Michael Oher flopping on the left side, this pick allows Oher to go back to RT and gives the Ravens a quality duo to protect Joe Flacco.

Atlanta Falcons, #27: Jon Baldwin, WR. Imagine what Atlanta's offense would look like with Michael Turner running the ball and Matt Ryan throwing to Roddy White and Baldwin. They've been lacking a No. 2 receiver in Atlanta since eternity, and with Baldwin, that offense could be dangerous.

New England Patriots, #28: Stefan Wisniewski, G-C. This will probably be a trade down, but without any outstanding prospects remaining in my mock, the Patriots settle for one of the best players still on their board.

Chicago Bears, #29: Phil Taylor, DT. The Bears have two huge needs in this draft: offensive tackle and giant interior defensive lineman. Need, fulfilled.

New York Jets, #30: Muhammad Wilkerson, DE. The Jets always seem to be short on the defensive line, and Wilkerson has been getting a lot of hype recently.

Pittsburgh Steelers, #31: Brandon Harris, CB. We all saw what the Packers did to the Steelers' secondary in the Super Bowl.

Green Bay Packers, #32: Benjamin Ijalena, G/T. I may be overvaluing the Packers' potential picks here, but in my mock, Akers, Watkins, Ingram, Baldwin, Watt and Pouncey are long since off the board. The Packers take a talented tackle here, but one who will need motivation from James Campen. I don't see that as a problem, though; a small-school player, Ijalena will be playing at the same level as his competition for the first time in years, and will quickly learn to bring his best game at all times.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Random Observations about Hellboy

Having seen a good deal of Guillermo del Toro's handiwork, I have to say that I'm not a fan. I've seen Mimic, Pan's Labyrinth, Blade II, Hellboy and Hellboy II: The Golden Army, and with the exception of Blade II, I've found his films cartoonishly gory and just fair overall. I do have to say, though, that he has a fairly unique conception of magic. I was just watching the first Hellboy, and when it wasn't being incredibly tedious and full of really bad comic-book dialogue--like, not just bad dialogue, but really terrible stuff--it had a few interesting things about it.

The thing that sets Hellboy apart from a lot of other magic movies is the ease with which that magic is summoned. In the opening sequence (before the title), we're shown a massive Nazi operation on a deserted island, constructed for the purpose of summoning some hideously powerful, lifted-from-Lovecraft octopus gods from outer space. Some throwaway Nazi tells us that the operation has taken up "five years of research and construction", but Rasputin (yep, the villain is Rasputin) activates the portal-device with literally five words and a giant glove. Sure, we hear about how science and black magic have fused for this device, but it's an astonishingly simple setup for the end of the world.

This pattern continues throughout the film. To summon Rasputin back from the dead, one need only go to a certain location in Moldavia and fill a certain stone pattern with blood, and Rasputin will appear. Yeah, it took sixty years (for some reason) for the Nazis to find it, and yeah, they needed a special book to get there, but my point is that once you have the knowledge or know where to look, in del Toro's world, there's eldritch nightmares and occult shit literally all around you. To summon a monster from its imprisonment, Rasputin breathes into his hand and then says "Sammael, come forth!" To grant everlasting life and youth, he literally just says "I grant you everlasting life, youth and the power to serve me". Once you've got the power, being a wizard in this world is literally as easy as speaking.

It's not as if this pattern is confined to Rasputin, either, or even Hellboy itself. In Hellboy II, Hellboy and company take their act to a thriving magical community located directly under a humongous bridge, where all you need to see the magical creatures there is a pair of special spectacles. In Pan's Labyrinth, if we are to believe the little girl, she can create a doorway into another world merely by drawing on a wall with chalk, and affect her mother's pregnancy with a bowl of milk under her bed. In Mimic, one need only look into the sewers to find giant mutant cockroaches. And in Blade II, nightclubs, Czech fortresses and sewers are merely facades for the vampires lurking around the corner. The common denominator here is the ability of the characters to find magic, magical creatures and whatnot literally anywhere you choose to look, as long as you can see them.

The reason I find this remarkable is, it always seemed to me that in fiction, the magical world required a lot of time and planning to enter. You had to construct elaborate spells, build whole buildings on ley lines, prepare endlessly for even the simplest thing. And in del Toro's world, not only is magic all around us, but we can interact with it as well. It's a very Lovecraftian philosophy; his demons were beaten back with guns, dogs and university professors, not humanity's own spells. This time around, bullets, grenades or a good old-fashioned punch in the face will do the job just fine. Sure, Hellboy and Blade aren't strictly human, but they are essentially Human 2.0. They don't have superpowers or the ability throw fire; sure, they're stronger, can jump higher and take more abuse than the average human, but they're still fighting these things using essentially human tools. Instead of casting a spell to repel the demon at the end of Hellboy, the hero blows it up with a bunch of grenades. If you're in our world, the message seems to be, you play by our physical laws.

Monday, April 18, 2011


Sitting in my tree
I call out to passing friends
Nobody comes up

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Tumblr for a day: Get the hell off my desktop!

Photodump 2: from the Bahamas. Click to enlarge.

A fire pit that we dug on the beach.

Sperm whales! There's a calf in here somewhere.

Some sperm whale chomped off half of this squid. We found the other half floating on the surface. To wit: we fished it out, documented it, took it home, fried it up and tried to eat it. (I say 'tried' 'cause it didn't work. Apparently there's a right and a wrong kind of squid to eat, and this kind was unfathomably salty.)

That is the ship they used in the filming of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. That's the Flying Dutchman. Disney owns a few islands in the Bahamas, and they brought the Dutchman there as a tourist attraction. Worked for me.

This disturbing creature is the conch that lives inside the famous conch shells that come out of the Bahamas. They're pretty good when fried.

I've never been sure what this is, but I think it's a tiger shark.

Pretty sure this one's a nurse shark, based on the tail.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Hypothetical Situation: God, Wishes, And The Ability to Know Anything in the Universe

Suppose that when you die, you get sent to heaven or hell or wherever, but as a sort of parting gift from God, you get one request.

You can’t wish to be brought back to life, or have anyone else brought back to life. In fact, your wish can’t affect the physical world at all. Nor can you wish to have God’s powers or anything close. Your request can’t (and won't) change your designation to go to heaven or hell or wherever.

The only thing you can ask for is information. Specifically, thus:
You can go anywhere on Earth or anywhere in the universe and watch whatever you please. You can get any piece of knowledge you want. If you want to watch the Big Bang, you can do that. If you want to find out the mysteries of the universe, you can do that as well. God will make it possible.

Or, you can stay closer to home. You can go back and relive an experience from your past, sit in on something you didn’t witness, find out an answer to the question you’ve always wanted to have answered. You can literally know any one thing in the universe, or have any experience in the universe.   

However, you can't make something up that didn't happen in the real world. You can't relive dating someone you never dated in reality, or experience a fantasy world that doesn't actually exist. You're stuck with what happened in the universe you grew up in (no multiverse cheating!) 

And there are a few Really Important Rules here.

What you see is what you get. God will not sugarcoat anything for you. If you ask for a montage of the worst moments in your life, you will get the worst moments in your life.

You will get what you ask for. If you ask to watch the entire life of the universe in real time, starting at the Big Bang and ending whenever, you will watch the entire life of the universe, or however many billions or trillions of years that is. You will undoubtedly go insane. And if you lose your mind, you don't get pulled out of your wish early. You wished for it, you're stuck with it.

You won't just watch whatever you choose. You'll live it. Obviously you can choose how you want to experience your choice, but God will allow you to live it. You can be inside your own body as a spirit, or you can float in space and watch supernovae from close up, or do whatever it is you please. But you will get the full experience of whatever you choose. As with all of the Rules, this could be very, very good... or horrifically bad, depending on the choices you make. All of this is up to you to decide.


What would you choose?

Assume that you're the person you are now, or that you're the person you'll be when you get to heaven, or anything you like. It's up to you. This is a humanistic question; God won't help you decide or stand in your way. He will simply grant... whatever you want

I don't have an answer. I have a few dozen. The point of this question isn't to settle on one answer, it's to figure out what are the few things nearest to your heart and upmost in your desires. It's an opportunity to chase otherwise unattainable hopes and dreams, or to absolutely screw yourself over, depending on how you use it. So purely in the spirit of inquiry...

what would you choose?

Also, insert your own concept of "God" here. :-)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Dear Teachers: Stupid Questions

Dear Every Teacher and Professor Everywhere,

You lied to us.

There are stupid questions. And when you say "There are no stupid questions", you are lying.

Now, there is some truth to that statement. The act of asking a question, the impulse to seek more information or get a better explanation of the information you have, that is never stupid. But there are plenty of idiotic questions. You know it and we know it, so how about we all just acknowledge it.


Every Exasperated Student Ever

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Packers Who Won't Be Back Next Year (And How We'll Replace Them)

 The Super Bowl champions nearly always lose a lot of people in the year or two after the game takes place. Free agents get huge deals elsewhere, veterans retire or move on and fat gets trimmed from the roster. With a deep roster, fifteen players returning from injured reserve and lucrative deals waiting once free agency resumes, a lot of Packers will likely be playing elsewhere next year. Here are some of the most likely candidates to move on.

We'll Miss You!!

Brandon Jackson
The Packers' 2007 second-round pick saw his rookie contract expire after the 2010 season. Despite a mediocre season as the starter after Ryan Grant went down in Week 1, Jackson still wants to start somewhere, and will likely be given an opportunity in free agency. He's a top-notch pass-blocker and by far the Packers' best man on screen passes, but whatever team picks him up will have to deal with his limitations running the football and in overall speed. James Starks will likely take over as the third-down back, as well as splitting time as the starter with Ryan Grant, and I expect the Packers to spend a mid- to late-round pick on another back.

Korey Hall
 The Packers' nominal No. 1 fullback, another 2007 draftee, also has his contract expiring and probably won't be back. He's the best blocker among the three-man corps, but Quinn Johnson is still around and John Kuhn will certainly be resigned, and since Hall has been injured for large parts of the last three years, it's likely he won't be back. The Packers will have a job replacing Hall on special teams, however.

                                 James Jones
The second most talented receiver on the roster after Greg Jennings, Jones is also the most inconsistent. Packers fans will remember his spectacular touchdown catches against Atlanta in the playoffs (left) and the one-hander against Minnesota, but Jones can't be relied on on deep passes. The 2007 third-rounder dropped deep balls against the Giants, Eagles and Steelers late in the season that all could have been long touchdowns.
 Despite his drops, Jones has a ton of talent and the ability to be a starter and star, and teams will give him a chance come free agency. My prediction is the Jacksonville Jaguars, who are always looking for receivers.
With Donald Driver's career in Green Bay nearing its end, look for the Packers to spend a high pick on Jonathan Baldwin or another tall receiver to fill out the corps behind Jennings and presumptive 2011 starter Jordy Nelson.

Daryn Colledge
 One of the only true starters on this list, Colledge has been pretty darn consistent for the last five years. He's started 78 games at left guard and occasionally at left tackle, and was thought to be the Packers' long-term plan at LT until several disastrous stints there in relief of Chad Clifton in '09. Journal Sentinel beat writer Bob McGinn said "there's no question he ranks fifth-best on a five-man unit" after the season. Colledge spent part of the offseason speaking out about a long-term contract, and between that and his subpar play, it's not hard to imagine the Packers letting him go. Third-year lineman T.J. Lang or sophomore Nick Macdonald will probably replace him in '11.

 Jason Spitz
Once a key starter along the interior of the line, Spitz has been merely a reserve for the last two seasons, since the emergence of Josh Sitton at RG put him out of a job there. The Packers were getting trade offers from him at the end of the 2010 training camp, and he might be attractive to teams looking for a low-priced center or guard. I could easily see him resigning with the Packers, though. Spitz had back issues in '09 and before, and his regress to backup status might be a turn-off for suitors.

Mark Tauscher
The savior of the right tackle position in 2009 after Allen Barbre imploded, Tauscher had a mediocre four-game stint in '10 before going on injured reserve with a shoulder injury. There's no reason to bring him back, with Bryan Bulaga seemingly locked-in at RT for another year, and he'd earn $4.1 million in base salary next year for a team that'll be looking to cut spending. Don't expect to see him on the opening-day roster.

Brett Swain
Swain's been on the roster for two years, plays hard and has been a special-teams constant. He just doesn't have the speed to ever be dangerous on the field, and if Thompson keeps to his mantra of drafting plenty of receivers, Swain will likely lose out in training camp to a speedy kick-returner type.

Cullen Jenkins
I couldn't resist using this photo.
I've already covered in this space how the Packers' best defensive end has likely seen the end of his time in GB. If the lockout drags on into training camp, Jenkins might consider returning on a one-year deal, but by all reports there wasn't much contact between his agent and Ted Thompson even before the lockout began. Mike Neal will be tasked with filling Jenkins' formidable sack production in 2011, if he can stay healthy...

 Justin Harrell
Like the rest of the 2007 draft class, his contract is up. And... yeaaaaah.... the Packers would be crazy to give him a tender or any kind of second contract.

Brady Poppinga

 One of only three draftees remaining from the 2005 class (Pro Bowlers Aaron Rodgers and Nick Collins are the others), Poppinga's time might have come. He's coming off a blown knee, is 31 and plays a position where the Packers have a glut of players. Will be remembered for his stint as a Mormon missionary and his memorable quotes.

Nick Barnett
The Packers' starting MLB since 2003 and part-time nightclub owner has long been one of Green Bay's top defensive players. But with his base salary over $6 million in 2011, at a position where starters A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop are both sitting on long-term deals, Barnett will either take a pay cut or a trade to some other team. He's just 29 and hasn't played much due to season-ending injuries in '08 and '10, and could be a real find for a 4-3 team. Has two years remaining on his contract. Barnett will likely be one of the Packers' top priorities once the lockout ends.

Atari Bigby

The one-time mighty hitter in the secondary has been injured basically since 2007. With an expiring contract and Morgan Burnett slated to start next year, and Charlie Peprah around for depth's sake, Bigby might not even make it to training camp. Plus, apparently he's spending his time out of the country instead of working out, which will help exactly none.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

"Filled Full of Everything We Need": Empowering or Needlessly Self-Deprecating?

One problem I’ve always had with Christian philosophy is that, to me, it implies that humans just aren’t good enough on our own. People talk about feeling fulfilled, or whole, or complete as if some part of them was missing before they allowed Christ to maraud into their thoughts. It’s always seemed oddly self-deprecating to me, as if you need some outside fulfillment—from God, from Jesus, from your peers—just to be yourself.

Take this blog post, for example. It quotes and then explains a passage from the Bible that tells us not to rely on “philosophy… based on human tradition” or “based on the elemental forces of the world”, which is taken to be the struggle for self-improvement. The passage urges readers not to “attain goodness by performance, exercising self-effort… to achieve ‘a good life’”. Apparently, everything that we call the temporal world is useless without Christ in it. We shouldn’t waste our faith on people, or the credo of self-improvement; Christ is the only thing that matters and the only thing we need.

I have a problem with that. I feel that a philosophy like the one I’ve described above is flawed. While it pays tribute to an omnipotent and omnibenevolent God, it also seems to say that everything under the sun simply isn’t good enough when God is out there. “Don’t let the world cheat you by trying to make you think you lack,” the blogger says, but I posit that this philosophy is what’s telling me I'm lacking. It says that this world is simply not good enough, that Christ is the best and the only thing we should rely on.

I have more faith in people than that. I have more faith in the infinite diversity and goodness of the people around me than in a God I’ve never met in person. I’m not a Christian, and thus it’s a fair charge that I simply don’t grok the principles at work here, but I really don’t understand how someone can rely on an entity they’ve never met for support and guidance.

But then, I suppose that’s not really it either; the blog emphasizes that “all you need to do is to appropriate by faith this fullness that lives in you” (bolding mine). The author repeats the phrase several times, emphasizing that you should rely not on an abstract ideal of God, but of the power of Christ in yourself. “We are ships completely outfitted with everything we need”, says another Biblical passage, but apparently we can’t be relied on until Christ is captaining the ship.

So you yourself do have potential, but only through Christ can you realize it. It sounds like a continual self-affirmation to me, like you need Christ to tell you that you can perform any task you wish. It seems like faith in Christ almost replaces faith in yourself in this philosophy.

And speaking personally, I don’t need an external validation from Christ or anybody. I can accomplish whatever I damn well choose to accomplish. I don’t begrudge Christians their sources of solace, but it doesn’t seem to me that I need a spiritual therapist to help me at every turn, and I find the idea that you do—not just that I need one, but that everyone needs one, and that it’s absolutely essential that we all get the same one—more than merely disquieting.

(Disclaimer: My religious opinions are my own and are intended to apply to myself alone. This blog is not intended to proselytize, offend or be used as medical advice.)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Enjolras and Valjean are Kinda Jackasses

Whooo! Hello again, blogosphere, I survived the weekend. Among the many highlights of my Friday and Saturday was an epic production of Les Miserables in Cleveland's Playhouse Square theater. For a lot of the show, I was scribbling down random notes on paper I happened to have, and here's a couple things I came up with during the course of the show.

-I've always been fascinated by Enjolras. I've always been fascinated by characters that are one-dimensional just in general. I suppose that's because they're so patently unrealistic, but when you try to imagine meeting them in real life, it makes you wonder: what the hell happened in Enjolras's past that he so detests the regime? What exactly is it that drives him? We don't know, and that makes him kind of fascinating.

-Be that as it may, Enjolras is a jackass. So, to an extent, is Jean Valjean, and so is Javert. All of them seem to be engaged in a discussion of abstract moral ideals, and all of them seem forget about the people they're supposed to be fighting for or protecting. It's easy to see with Javert; he's committed to upholding the law, but not to protecting the people the law is meant to serve. But in the production I saw, Valjean is guilty of this as well. When a broken Fantine reveals her story after being beaten by Javert, instead of comforting her, Valjean's reaction is that he screwed up again. By ejecting Fantine from his factory, Valjean ruined her life, and he defaults to the thought "I have a duty to make up for this sin". He sort of forgets that Cosette is a person who needs rescuing, instead of just an animate way for him to redeem himself.

Meanwhile, Enjolras funnels everything that happens in the play into the revolution. When Lamarque's death is announced, there's no mourning or tears, for his death doesn't affect the upper-class revolutionaries. "Lamarque is dead/His death is the hour of fate", announces Enjolras, and the ABC Café boils. Eponine is even worse; shot by a police sniper, she was on a mission from Marius that had nothing to do with the revolution, but Enjolras turns her name into a battle cry. They never spoke while she was alive, but after her death, now she's important.

There's a rather obvious disconnect between the revolutionaries and the poor people that they claim to represent, and Enjolras is right in the middle of it. Marius speaks more truth than he knows when he says "Only one man, and that's Lamarque/Speaks for the people here below". The revolutionaries, privileged college students who have never known poverty, certainly don't speak for the poor. Instead of backing reforms, aid for the ill and sick, soup kitchens and the like, the denizens of the ABC Café turn to revolution and ultimately end up helping no one. There was a striking scene in this production during "Look Down", where several of the beggars gather around Enjolras. They're on their knees, looking up at him and waiting for some hope, and he's blathering on about "anger in the land" and "cut[ting] the fat ones down to size". You look at the beggars and it's perfectly obvious; they couldn't care less about his message, they want to eat!

It's telling that "Look Down" begins with the beggars' cry for someone to notice them--"Look down and see the beggars at your feet... Look down, look down, upon your fellow man", but ends the exact same way, even after the students have shown up and been duly appalled at the injustice. It just goes to show how little impact the students actually had on the 'squalid streets of Paris'. Taken in this context, it's hardly surprising that Enjolras's hoped-for revolution never came. The people never arose; the authorities were correct ("No one is coming to help you to fight/You're on your own"). Disconnected from the people they claimed to be fighting for, the students died alone on the barricade. Enjolras cries "Do you hear the people sing/Singing the song of angry men?", but the only people singing are the revolutionaries. "Finale" is where the true desire of the downtrodden-hope, and freedom, and spiritual salvation-finally comes through.