Thursday, December 21, 2017

8 Better Reasons Star Wars Ep VIII Was Badly Written

I'm going to go see Episode 8 again with my family over Christmas, and I'm looking forward to the experience of seeing it with tempered expectations and buoyed by my friends' enthusiasm. When I first came out of the film expecting something incredible, I wasn't bitter, I just looked over at my wife and said 'meh.' Honestly, I would enjoy anything that has Jedi swinging light sabers. But in an effort to express what I felt was lackluster, I wrote this blog post. Since then it has been discussed at length and I needed to reorganize my thoughts based on the feedback. Some of my points were completely proven wrong, some were explored, but some just could not be explained away. Also a LOT of people were upset I didn't name Oscar Isaac as an actor. Was not expecting that.

Based on those experiences, here's a new, more informed list: 8 Better Reasons Star Wars Ep VII Was Badly Written
  • The main crisis of the film is an 18 hour long spaceship chase at slow speed, during which time the empire never does anything effective to kill the rebels. They are flying with an armada and in this universe it takes ships a matter of instants to cross the galaxy. The entire remainder of their enemy sits in front of them. Presumably the Empire has an entire fleet that could warp speed to assist them. Why not warp some of the ships with you to the other side of the rebels and then turn them around? Scramble some mid size ships? Why can the rebels accelerate out of firing range from the empire's flagship but then only travel at a speed that maintains that exact distance? This isn't nitpicky, these are questions even a child would ask when you try to sell them on this premise. Even if Hux is the dumbest person in the entire galaxy, he's also traveling with the Supreme Leader so neither of them thought of this? Nope.
  • Leia's survival is fraught with logical issues that are hard to dismiss, especially when they could so easily be resolved. Let's just say that at some point Luke did teach Leia to be able to force pull. Let's say he even trained her a bit. Let's say that her Skywalker blood made her super good at it with minimal training. There's still the fact that you lose consciousness in space after about 15 seconds, and she was just exploded with a rocket. To show the moisture of her skin crystallize and only then does she pull herself back in isn't plausible. Even if it were, am I the only one who noticed everyone open a door to *outer space* for her with no air lock? Everyone should have died/been sucked out immediately. The issue here is these problems are *easily solved.* Maybe a flashback of her being trained? Maybe not, Star Wars does few flashbacks. Maybe a voiceover of Luke training her? Maybe have her get in through an airlock? All of these very easy fixes would make this scene a lot less jarring.
  • Maz, an expert in the criminal underground, tells Poe that there is absolutely only one person in the entire galaxy who could crack the security. Poe should not know Maz, since this movie started right after the last one and Finn met her for 5 minutes tops, but whatever. When they fail to secure this person, they are coincidentally placed in a jail cell with, I guess, the only other only person in the entire galaxy who has those exact same skills, who was sleeping off a bender in the exact same jail cell before they arrived? This happens during a fairly pointless jaunt to a casino planet. The evidence of poor writing here is in how *very easily* this scene could be modified to be better. Benicio del Toro could have grabbed the red flower pin off the gambler on their way out, 'I'll take this back,' and say he lost it gambling. He could have been the gambler himself, and the prison scene cut all together, with Benicio and the others escaping when they are noticed by casino security. More cohesion, less pointlessly mind stretching coincidences. Benicio of course goes on to 'rat out' the Rebels to the Empire, saying they're escaping in cloaked escape pods. Which he shouldn't know. And before you say 'Ah but he could have used his hacking skills to find that out.' Yes, he could have. But you'd need to show it. It's nonsensical to have people just assume it.
  • Purple hair lady uses the hyperspace jump to kamikaze her large ship into the empire's largest ship, slicing it nearly in half. How? Let's say Kamikaze is a surprising and unexpected tactic due to the precious nature of large ships. (Still, momentum is mass times velocity so even the smallest ship that can hyperspeed would be capable of colossal damage if this tactic is possible.) How do ships normally hyperspeed without running into every star and asteroid? Presumably they automatically secure routes from point to point and avoid collisions. There's definitely not a big 'kamikaze' button on the ship and if purple hair is tech savvy enough to reprogram the ship to fly into things instead of around them in a moments' time, then she's savvy enough to turn on the autopilot before she does. Feels like a lazy excuse for a kamikaze. Any spoken explanation for why someone needs to be on there, rather than just saying they do, would have helped tremendously.
  • Luke's use of the force to astral project to salt planet instead of traveling there is still weird from a writing perspective. Let's say that you want to take the movies in brand new directions, try exciting new things. I actually don't have that big of an issue with how magical it seems. It's not how I would do it, but fine. Still, why? You're going to confront your apprentice. Presumably you are aware of the strain required. From a writing perspective, death is the outcome either way. Why would Luke not travel to the planet? Why would Luke not confront him directly? I have to believe snarky Luke could annoy Kylo just as much in person as with a projection. Why would we not get a cool lightsaber battle here? Maybe seeing a body disappear would help Leia and the rest of the cast not casually shrug off the death of an entire trilogy's central character? 
  • I *still* maintain that the film's title was a cheap marketing ploy and I suspect Abrams was behind it. Name the film 'The Last Jedi' so that somebody can say 'I won't be the last Jedi?' Come on. You can take a movie in new directions without abandoning all consistency. You kind of have to if you're going to be another entry in a series. Clones attack in Attack of the Clones. The Sith get revenge in Revenge of the Sith. Luke says he won't be the last Jedi in 'The Last Jedi?' Boo.
  • We are supposed to believe that Luke instantly jumped to 'Better kill my nephew' even for a brief moment? I get that Rian Johnson has said this was just a momentary lapse to illustrate that even a Jedi master isn't free from the dark side. But this man's crowning achievement in his rise to Jedi master was when he refused to kill a supremely evil child-murdering dictatorial warlord because he thought he had a sliver of light in him! And now he's going to kill his own nephew being trained under him because he's turning to the dark side? That he would have the thought, maybe. That he would turn on his light saber? Luke's got to have him some trigger discipline. (It's worth noting Mark Hamill also disagreed with this direction, but went with it anyway.) Also, Luke, why are you standing over your disciples in the middle of the night investigating their minds with your lightsaber in your hand. Maybe do that in the day while you're all meditating. Weird.
  • Supreme leader Snoke, an amazingly powerful Sith with all kinds of new Sithy tricks, was killed by being tricked by a man whose mind he could read. Now I get hubris, and I get that Kylo was veeery clever by turning both lightsabers at once and mirroring the situation so that vaguely reading his intentions could mess up. I get how he was also holding Rey in place at the time. But the man can connect minds over space. His power is portrayed as vast and unthinkable, then suddenly very limited. It's jarring. His complete lack of back story is also an issue. I understand that not much back story is needed, but we know way WAY more about the Emperor than we ever did about Snoke, who got maybe 2 minutes in the previous film and maybe 10 in this one. He was the big bad, and the problem with killing your big bad is that now Kylo is your big bad and... well he's an emo teen angst ripoff of Vader. He's a bad big bad, and now the dark side has no gravitas or fear whatsoever, which feels like bad writing. I mean, you completely abandoned 'The Knights of Ren' which had previously been established. I'm hopeful they'll be in IX because, sheesh, that's one weak antagonist. Conflicted, yes. Understandable, yes. But I feel no fear from him being around. Bad Sith.
Ultimately, a storyteller must blend logical consistency with emotional and thematic content. The logical consistency doesn't need to be the focus, but if it is absent then every victory feels cheap, since any solution could magically appear. In a world where space magic can solve *every* problem, then why would the audience be fearful of any problem?
Again, the film had many moments that I loved, and I get that some people don't care that much, but come on, this is Disney, Rian Johnson, and in an assistive role JJ Abrams. You guys can pull it together. You don't need to be lazy. Any of these problems could have been easily fixed for a much more cohesive film that didn't leave a significant portion of your audience confused. And you could have kept all the things people loved at the same time! You can diversify. You can do new things. You can introduce new themes. You can jettison old characters. But when you betray logic and established history in the name of cool scenes and the way you wish things were, then why call it episode VIII at all?

Monday, December 18, 2017

15 Reasons Star Wars Episode 8 Was a Bad Film

Episode 8 was a bad film. It just was. And it's not that there were things that I subjectively didn't prefer, it was plain bad story writing and film making. That doesn't mean I didn't enjoy watching it -- I did! But it left me feeling at least a little betrayed. In an attempt to organize my thoughts on the subject, please review an extremely spoiler filled 15 reasons why Star Wars episode 8 was a bad film:
  • Suddenly hyperspace tracking is available and this is never explained other than 'oh new technology.' Lazy writing. (A throw away easter egg reference in Rogue One doesn't count.)
  • The main crisis of the film is an 18 hour long spaceship chase at slow speed, during which time the empire never scrambles any fighters to simply kill the rebels, which it is unbelievable to think their largest ship does not have.
  • Leia, with no known training or experience, uses the 'force' as a Deux Ex Machina to save her life despite no establishment at any point in the series that such a thing is even possible with the force. Her survival goes on to ultimately serve no narrative purpose.
  • Purple hair lady, for no good reason at all, decides to keep her plans a secret from her people, even when the plan is not dependent on secrecy and even when it is evident that the secrecy will lead to mutiny.
  • Maz, an expert in the criminal underground, tells Finn that there is absolutely only one person in the entire galaxy who could crack the security. When they fail to secure this person, they are coincidentally placed in a jail cell with, I guess, the only other only person in the entire galaxy who has those exact same skills.
  • Finn and token girl are to be executed surrounded by hundreds of troopers, when suddenly the launch bay they're in is exploded. With massive casualties and destruction every human has been either killed or thrown to another place entirely, except for some reason Finn and token girl.
  • Purple hair lady uses the hyperspace jump to kamikaze her large ship into the empire's largest ship, slicing it nearly in half. Even with the cost of ships being what they are, if this genuinely works, how is this style of kamikaze large object bombing not used more frequently? Even at its enormous cost, it could be automated and used to destroy all kinds of massive structures. You could have started with hyperspacing those bombing ships from the beginning.
  • Luke's use of the force to astral project to salt planet is weird, since it clearly was not an astral projection as it touched and passed on an entirely physical object to Leia. If the force is capable of this level of magic, which is an absolutely crazy extension of its power even in the collateral books and comics, this still would have been much more acceptable if at some point while training Rey, Luke used a small minor form of it and Rey says 'I didn't know the force could do that!' and grumpy Luke says 'There's a lot you don't know about the force.' Not hard.
  • It is now evident that the film's title was clearly always a cheap marketing ploy used to superficially drive interest. No other star wars title has done this, it is cheap and unearned.
  • The same goes for the social media hype generated around Rey's lineage. I have no problem with her parents not being important but the way the actors and directors teased about how significant of a reveal it would be is, again, cheap and untrue.
  • We are supposed to believe that Luke instantly jumped to 'Better kill my nephew' even for a brief moment? This man's crowning achievement in his rise to jedi master was the moment he decided he would not kill a dictatorial mass murderer because he knew there was even a sliver of good in him! And now he's going to kill a child being trained because he's turning to the dark side? Makes no sense.
  • Supreme leader Snoke, an amazingly powerful Sith with all kinds of new jedi tricks, was killed by being tricked by a man whose mind he could read. Also no back story ever being given him, he becomes a useless character whose existence is nearly unbelievable based on previously established Sith practices.
  • Luke's death serves no narrative purpose.
  • Rey's trip to the 'dark hole' on the island is meant to be reminiscent of Luke's trip to the dark cave, but also serves no narrative purpose.
  • This movie begins immediately after the previous movie ends. Rey appears to spend multiple days on the planet with Luke then travels to the salt planet. But for the people on the spaceship, only 18 hours passes. The difference in time passage cannot be reconciled.
What more can be said? Some of these could have caveats and minor possible reasoning, but they are all indicative of poor writing or poor filmmaking from a company and individuals who have no excuse for so fully abandoning the most basic principles of their art to coast on the popularity of a franchise they purchased.

In the interest of fairness, here are things that, more subjectively, were pretty awesome:
  • Rey and Kylo's battle royale with the scarlet guards was pretty great. The kung fu choreography wasn't the best but it made great use of cool trick moments, the most excellent of which was the thrown lightsaber that was switched on and off to put a hole through the one guard
  • Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, and whoever playes Poe Dameron all did a fantastic acting job, so they were always enjoyable to watch.
  • With what I said above, I don't mind Rey's parents being of no significance and I like the idea that it pushes: New powerful jedi are constantly being born and will always be around. Maybe that means there's a school of sith somewhere we don't know about yet? Oooooooh.
  • Not everyone liked the little bird creatures, but I did. Cute.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Is gay marriage wrong?

A couple years ago I took a test "What philosopher are you?" I don't remember the name of the philosopher I was, but someone who did better in philosophy than I might be able to tell you because I remember what his main hypothesis was: All disagreement between people is due to miscommunication because of an inability to use the right words with a common understanding.

This really rings true with me. Even if you ignore the obvious variable meanings between words like 'bad,' 'good,' 'happy,' and 'sad,' each of them containing a plethora of sub meanings, very simple words such as 'apple' carry the weight of history. A symbol of traditional america, sexuality, purity, or any number of things, when and where you use apple can be a tricky issue for such a simple fruit.

And this is why I take so much issue with one question I've been hearing a lot lately:

'Is gay marriage wrong?'

What a terrible question. Anyone who knows my personal views knows that I can be a pretty liberal guy, but this question in particular is subconsciously used and perpetuated because it sets the entire tone of the conversation to favor one side and discredit another. It is, in its essence, a terrible question. Here's why:

1. The meaning of 'gay'

People on both sides of the issue have been bemoaning the use and application of the term gay since it came into popular use. Originally meaning happy, it then became associated with men who sleep with other men, thereafter a common pejorative term which is of course rude. Sometime after that it became less but still somewhat associated with men in particular, and then under a civil rights movement that acknowledged the inhumane ways gay men were treated, the pejorative use of the word became unpopular as the other central definition began to spread out and encompass many things surrounding 'gay' culture and people attracted to their same gender. This is common etymology for many words, they mean more and more as they become more commonly used. Most recently this term could be used to describe: men who have sex with men; men who are attracted to men; men who have sex with/are attracted exclusively to men; bright floral shirts. And here there's a huge problem because being attracted to something and acting on that attraction are very different things, but when you call them the same then you influence people to believe they are. So, gay, loaded word.

2. The meaning of 'marriage'

A somewhat simpler term, marriage has two main possible meanings. In one sense it is a civil union performed by a government indicating that two consenting adults are living together and enjoy certain rights as they relate to taxation, hospital visitation, acting in one another's name, etc. In the other sense it is a sacred religious covenant by which two people are joined by a person holding divine authority to do so, usually for the purpose of opening the door to sex and children. However, even these two meanings have myriad possible submeanings based on what government or religion is performing the marriage, and in many countries which combination of the two. Mormon marriage and catholic marriage and muslim marriage are all different. American marriage and Chinese marriage and French marriage and Canadian marriage are all different. Also to complicate things people often confound the two meanings into one single mass regardless of whether or not they are religious.

3. The meaning of 'wrong'

Woof, the big one. Synonyms for wrong: Bad, Untrue, Mistaken, Goofed, Miscalculated, Misconstrued, Mishandled, At fault, Defective, Imprecise, Not working, Perverse, Spurious, Unsatisfactory. All of those words mean significantly different things but they could all be suggested by the word wrong. Of course, many words have many definitions and we usually rely on the most common ones. The two most common understandings of the word wrong are Bad and Untrue, but these are two extremely different things. I think the misuse of the word wrong in our society is responsible for many children's tears who are taught that shooting someone in the face is 'wrong' and playing a G instead of an F while playing chopsticks is 'wrong.' Obviously, aggravated violence and the incorrect piano key are not the same thing, and I don't think it helps much to say one of these is 'less wrong' and another is 'more wrong.'

4. The false dichotomy

I understand that it is simpler to classify the world into two camps but that's not how any reality works. (Sorry, American political system) When it comes to yes or no questions, I feel like the only place for them is when you need to know 'Is 21 a prime number?' or 'Have you been to Georgia?' or 'Do you know who the Queen of Macedonia is? Do they have a queen?' These things can be answered yes or no, but questions on religious governmental contracts and how they should be implemented in modern society is not a yes or no question.

So, put all those together, and I don't know what you're asking me when you say 'Is gay marriage wrong' but I hope you see how I could feel like you're setting me up for failure by presenting a complex question with hundreds of implied meanings into a false dichotomy with one demonized side. To clarify, here's what you *could* mean when you say 'Is gay marriage wrong?' and my answers to each.

Q: Should a government be allowed to condone civil marriage between people of the same gender?
A: Yes, a government should be allowed to do anything with the people's support.

Q: Are sexual relations between people of the same gender disallowed under the teachings of Christianity?
A: Yes, along with plenty of other things, including sex with anyone beside your spouse.

Q: Should the requirements of religious marriages in my religion be imposed on civil marriages performed by the government?
A: No, separation of church and state exists for a reason. Let the people decide.

Q: Are gay people bad?
A: No, unless I'm going to call every human being who's not keeping all the commandments as I know them to be bad, which would make everybody including myself bad.

Q: Should gay couples have the governmental rights afforded to married couples?
A: Yes, I can't see why two consenting adults shouldn't be able to enter a governmental marriage regardless of sexual orientation.

Q: Should religions accept gay marriages?
A: Religions should teach what religions teach and those teachings should be independent of the opinions of the people. The whole difference their is that government is from man and religion 'should' be from something higher. If you find that you can no longer agree with your religion, please see my post 'Disagreeing with Religion'

In summary, this is a bad question. I have spent a lot of energy in my life seeking inspiration and knowledge to develop my beliefs, which state that a loving Father gave us a set of instructions and promised that if we followed them we would be happier than if we didn't.

These instructions include having sex only with my wife, and many other things big and small, like not drinking or smoking, donating to the poor, being honest, and serving others.

Everybody is free to follow or not follow them, disagree with any of them they like, and long history shows that government should not be restricted by them but follow the voice of the people, so I take no issue with the SCOTUS ruling and my church was advocating for many rights for gay couples 'before it was cool,' even if as a religion they cannot condone marriage outside of the directions of God as they understand them.

But don't try to make me feel 'bad' about the directions I was given and my choice to follow them by asking questions that imply the exact same thing that has hurt so many LGBT people for so long -- that another person's decision to live or believe a certain way should determine how I live or believe. No religion or person should be held to this mandate.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Sexism is in the LDS Church. And everywhere. Calm down.

I went to St Antoine, a french catholic PreK-8 school as a child. This was a time of my life filled with interesting, eye-opening experiences for an irish mormon kid. I was glad for the opportunity to learn another language and religion -- I still remember when I was chosen to play Christ in the Easter production and the principal chewed out the rest of our class for a 'Mormon' being chosen over them, all catholics except for one atheist.

We had music class, but I guess the Southern Ontario diocese (?) didn't have enough money for a real Quebecois music teacher, because what we got instead was Madame My-Sole-Obsession-In-Life-Is-Celene-Dione. We studied where Celene Dione was born, where she first performed, her discography, with very few mentions of clefs or notes. When we were given our first 'music' test, the first question was 'How many brothers and sisters does Celene Dione have?'

Frustrated, 13-year old me voiced loudly that I would not take this test, as it was silly. Madame asked me if I wanted to see the Principal, and I replied that I absolutely did. Surely he would see reason.

I sat in M. LaFontaine's office and explained that I was taking private piano lessons, that I suspected I knew more music than our music teacher, and that I didn't think music lessons about Celene Dione were worth much of anything. After a brief silence, he asked what I would do with my time if I was not in music class. I told him I would rather do more math, my favorite subject. And so, for the rest of the year when all the other kids went to music I sat in our homeroom and did extra math for fun, like a nerd.

They gave me an A in music.

And that's when I realized my authorities weren't always right.

Don't get me wrong, I care very much about authority. In fact, I'm big on authority, one of the issues in which my Canadian side wins out. In my life I have always had plenty of authority figures and they have generally, but not always, done the job delegated to them. But no, as people with individual faults and problems and strengths and weaknesses, I have no more respect for any of them than I do for my colleagues, each of whom deserves respect and esteem equivalent to their experience and efforts.

Madame Can't-Remember-Her-Name was a poor music teacher, by my estimate. This doesn't mean the school is bad or the structure is bad. It just means that I think she was a poor music teacher. Heck, maybe she turned out to be a good one, I didn't stick around to find out.

And so goes my opinion on Sexism in Church Leadership.

It is so well-known at this point that Africans and African-Americans weren't allowed to hold the priesthood in the Mormon (LDS) Church until the late 70s that it seems silly to me when people act like it's a taboo topic. On occasion people inside or outside of the Church will ask why it took so long for a Church I believe to be led by God to allow people of a certain race to hold the priesthood, or why it was ever disallowed. My answer is as simple as it is short.

The leadership was racist.
The Church membership was racist.
We were all racist.
And we still are.

I don't mean to equate racism to sexism, as I believe they are fundamentally different issues, but the similarity is enough for this example. The important thing is that ultimately any organization is lead by people, but we do not belong to the organization FOR those people.

So, when it comes to sexism, I believe that our leadership is sexist, the church membership is sexist, the nation is sexist, we are all sexist. It's not good, it's something we're doing poorly, and it's worth discussing and working on.

But before you start calling out authority, you'd better check yourself.

If the measure of whether a person is 'good' is the amount of their personal time that they devote to selfless, charitable acts, helping others, and self-improvement, while denying themselves the opulence of worldly gains, then you would be hard pressed to find people doing better on that chain than people like the Mormon Quorum of the Twelve, Pope Benedict, the Dhali Llama, and a long list of other virtuous leaders.

If your goal is a simple, progress-driven discussion of social justice, then speak on. But if your plan is to take one aspect of the preposterously complex task of leading groups of people, say someone is doing just as poorly as a large portion of our society in that single task, and use that one perspective to defame them and paint them as foolish, unqualified, or a 'bad' person, then you have no place in intelligent discussion.

At the risk of sounding overly conservative, I would quote from scripture, that these people belong to those 'That make a man an offender for a word, and lay a snare for him that reproveth in the gate, and turn aside the just for a thing of nought.'

The joke goes "Catholic doctrine says that the Pope is infallible but Catholics won't believe it. Mormon doctrine says that the Prophet is fallible but Mormons won't believe it."

By my estimate, I am sexist, racist, bigoted, and all other negative attributes, to a certain extent.

The leadership of the Church is much less of all of these things than am I, but still have them all to their own extent.

And ultimately, I'm not looking for leaders who don't have these things. My faith doesn't rest in my leaders, it rests in Christ. My leaders are other people whose faith rests in the same place, and I'm confident that with that in mind, we'll get where we're going together.

That is, so long as we all don't rip each other apart on the way.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Not All Beasts Are Beastly

In today's world it seems like we assume the world around us is cruel, is prejudiced, or bad in some way. I think there's less bad and more good than we give people credit for.

Today's our anniversary. Krista and I have been married for 5 years now, and we've known each other for 6. We're not celebrating today, because with a nephew living with us and a house we're trying to close on before we're obligated to vacate our apartment, time is in high demand.

No worries -- Krista's gift was a plane ticket to join me on my October business trip to LA where we'll stay late and soak in the West Coast.

Our anniversary causes me to reflect on the past, in concert with the present: I'm just finishing off 'A Year Of Biblical Womanhood' by Rachel Held Evans, and then there's the conversation and buzz that has begun to die off from the excommunication of the 'Ordain Women' founder, a Mormon woman who believes that the responsibility to officiate in priesthood ordinances and hold priesthood offices should belong to both genders.

When I met Krista, she wasn't sure she'd ever be married, and she was fine with that and felt no inordinate pressure to go one way or the other. I wouldn't deny that this pressure exists in the culture of the Mormon Church, but Krista at least was unfazed by it. (Herein lies one of many huge differences between Krista and other women.) Working on her Master's in Library Science, she thought she would move back to the East Coast and be a librarian.

She never mentioned getting a few cats, but I assume that would have happened along the way.

Here was a zero drama girl I could get behind. Quick to smile and laugh, reasonable and measured approach to divisive issues, long brown hair and a love of books -- I was sold. I guess Krista saw something in me that she liked too, and we started our long walk together.

When Krista and I started dating, we began to get comments that bothered me. Much like Beauty and the Beast, Krista is beautiful, demure, soft-spoken, agreeable and accomodating -- I, on the other hand, am big, loud, aggressively enthusiastic and love problem solving. I had been told by society that this was a pretty normal difference between genders, so I didn't think much about it and neither did Krista. I knew, as I'd always been told, that I would need to quiet down, ask, and listen more to make sure I wasn't stepping on her toes or overstepping my bounds. She knew she would have to be assertive with me and communicate clearly when something bothered her. We did these things, and we fell in love. Acting as yin and yang, our personalities matched well.

On more than one occasion, a rash of breakups would hit our friends and in the midst of so many new singles Krista would ask me 'Are we going to break up too?' and I would boisterously laugh at what seemed like a ridiculous notion to me and declare 'No, you and I are together for the long haul.' She would look at me and smile, letting my confidence lift her out of her tendency to worry.
On one dark evening shortly after we married, I was taken by a fit of depression. Whatever had seized my spirit felt like it was destroying me on the inside, and I laid on the bed sobbing uncontrollably, unable to identify the source of my sadness or how to solve my problem. My wife came and sat beside me, put her arms around me and sang to me soft hymns and sweet songs. Her voice was angelic, and her softness was just what I needed, and I was comforted.

Now Krista and I aren't the type to cause trouble or voice anger. She is soft spoken in nature, and I was raised in Canada, where the jokes about being polite are funny because they're true. We often laugh at the idea of raising our voices or arguing with each other, because there's a very regular progression of what happens when either of us gets upset: One gets upset, the other gets upset, then the first gets sad because they upset the other, then the other gets sad because they made the first sad, then we're both sad, so we cheer each other up. It never fails.

This tendency to not disturb or contradict others caused us to generally keep quiet and not talk out against a sentiment that it seemed like a lot of people shared, including family, that we found deeply offensive and disturbing:

Krista was a shrinking violet and I was an insensitive brute.

Because of her humble nature and my extroversion, some individuals who had 'studied the issues' and wanted to 'represent the downtrodden' placed us into bins they had constructed from their studies. In conversations that make relationships with some individuals hard to this day, there were even whispers of abuse, if not physical then certainly emotional and verbal.

I took these accusations hard -- I hate people thinking ill of me, and I've tried to always express love and concern to others. I brought them up with Krista over and over, dealing with a kind of paranoia that maybe my personality made it impossible for me to treat her, the woman I loved with all my heart, the way a woman like her needed to be treated. Krista has affirmed to me many times that she feels respected, and that if she's ever been disappointed or frustrated with me it's certainly no more than she would expect to be with any person that she was planning on spending forever with, since everyone makes mistakes. I make many more than she does, so she's mostly in charge.

Of course, these people haven't seen Krista disagree with her husband in the act of it. Let me tell you, she's no shrinking violet.

So we've rolled on, a beauty and a beast, for 5 years now, having our own little miracle, Jack, and praying for many more. We've never been happier.

The whole experience has taught me many things, but one of the most important is the error in taking the injustices we see in the world and projecting them to our immediate environment.

This is not an issue of what people thought of me and Krista -- this is only an example of why to be cautious, rather than overzealous, when trying to bring 'justice' and call out the 'evils' that we are told surround us.

There are many important issues affecting the world these days, and we must be careful not to assume that the real people we know are actually the oversimplified images that we see on screens.

I sympathize with your experience with emotional abuse, but we do not have that problem.

I realize you feel like your local church leaders are misogynistic, we do not.

I am so sorry that someone has robbed you of the ability to trust, but we do.

Yes, the injustices and abuses and failures and dearth of love are large and great and wide in a world of people trying to get by, but we have put tears and sweat and conviction and conversation and hours of prayer and deep thought into making sure they are scarce in the walls of our home. We continue to do so. So do not bring them here.

In order to fight something, you must know what it is you're fighting. By taking the people all around you and making them the enemy, you're disconnecting the problem from the cause and as a result making it impossible to fight, and making yourself seem crazy, seeing bigotry, sexism, racism, and many other places where it never existed.

As I mentioned, I love solving problems. It seems to me that one of the largest problems is that we are trying to decide what the world and our and others problems are from bloggers or news broadcasts or novelists or charismatic figures. That is not how I would recommend we learn what a person's problems are.

First, you love them.

Then, you ask them.

What are your problems?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Russel Crowe as Noah? I'm sold!

I've been listening to the Bible since I could listen, and reading the Bible since I could read. As an LDS child and then teenager, young adult and now married-and-have-a-son-but-still-young-adult at 27, my knowledge of scriptures was always expected to be thorough. I was at early morning seminary memorizing scripture before going to high school as a teenager, and as a kid I remember sitting in a circle with my brother, sisters, and parents to read verse-by-verse before starting the day. These rituals paid huge dividends and I consider them to have been one of the greatest benefits of my life.

Like most children raised in these environments, the actual black and white of the scriptures became embellished through versions designed for children, animated film, and even more animated Sunday school teachers. Noah had a long beard. Everyone thought Noah was crazy. He totally had a staff. He and God would just kick back and chat face-to-face, because he was a prophet.

Of course, then I grew up, and I started having questions: How could all the animals fit in a boat of the dimensions detailed in Genesis? How did Moses write down Noah's story if it happened centuries before he lived, did he see it in vision, hear it in folklore, or a combination of the two? Did he just kind of sit on the ark and watch everyone run up to the ark when the water got super deep and said 'Nope, tough, you're dead?" Did anyone else sneak on the ark? Never mind room for animals, how do you get 40 days worth of food for all those animals on there and keep the chickens away from the alligators?

So, with an older, presumably more intelligent mind, I return to the source material. Good old Genesis. Read this thing through another time, fill in some spaces. So I open up to the story of Noah and...

Wow. Little disappointed.

What had become, with the addition of all the periphery, a novel, if not an encyclopedia, of a story, was in actuality just a couple chapters with not much detail. The main points can be conveyed in a half page of writing. Basically:

God decided to destroy man because they had gotten too out of hand, except for Noah, who God liked. God tells him to build an ark, sends a whole bunch of animals, and then Noah and his family get in. Floods come, 40 days, floods go, Noah sends out a few birds and one comes back with a branch. Ark lands, everyone gets out, rainbow!

That's it. Really. Go read it.

Nowhere does it say anyone made fun of Noah. Nowhere does it say that Noah is old. (It says 500 years old, but since people routinely lived past 750 years old in the Old Testament, either they counted time differently or McDonald's is worse for us than we thought -- either way, he's about middle-aged.) Noah doesn't have a staff, and nowhere does it mention him luring alligators into the ark with a bunch of grapes -- one of my favorite scenes from a childhood Bible book.

So what do I conclude? Like any good scientist, I conclude that I lack data. Using the above outline of a story, you could flesh out a million possible narratives, each painting its main characters in more or less positive lights, each giving a slightly different understanding of the history and spirituality of the events. Therefore I must accept that I know only what I know.

So when it comes to Aronofsky:

Do I know that Noah didn't look like Russel Crowe?
I do not.

Do I know that God spoke to Noah out loud?
I do not, and also considering my personal experiences and gained knowledge, it seems much more likely that God spoke to Noah in dreams or feelings, as the original Hebrew implies.

Do I know that no one else snuck onto the ark, maybe resulting in a fight to the death with someone getting killed or thrown overboard?
I do not.

Do I know that one of your sons didn't conspire against you?
I do not, but later stories in Genesis suggest that this is also pretty possible.

Do I know that Emma Watson and Jennifer Connelly ancestors weren't traipsing around for all the old testament men to leer at uncomfortably?
I do not.

Do I know that fallen rock angels didn't help build the ark?
... Well, I think I can say with some confidence that there probably weren't fallen rock angels, but I'm an open-minded guy, and where there are prophets there are usually angels, and I don't know what they were up to, but he didn't build that ark on his own.

Side note: The Bible does actually say that fallen angels interbred with humans and produced giants, but as a Christian who doesn't consider the bible ineffable after a hundred translations and a few thousand years, this doesn't bother me much.

So, Mr. Aronofsky, I put my vote in against all the nay saying I've been hearing. I wanted to see your movie last weekend, but wound up sick in bed. I pretty much know the whole thing now from reading all the buzz online, and I'm very much looking forward to seeing it.

After all, I know what I know -- it's all there in Genesis. As far as what you've decided to embelish to make an enjoyable cinematic experience, I'm excited to see what you've done as a creative artist!

And as for the concerns about people going to watch this film and thinking this is what Noah's story was like... people... if that's a real issue, we have much bigger concerns than Aronofsky's creative interpretation.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

7 Reasons To Hate Infographics

Ah, infographics, how I love to hate you. The red squiggly under your name in my text editor implies that your very existence is questionable as you try to wriggle your way into our modern lexicon. Infographics are a violation of the sacred purity of clean facts, which I consider the pinnacle of discussion and learning:

"I think that most people are trying to eat healthy, so that's a good reason to pay more attention to healthier food markets. Places like 'Trader Joe's' and generic Farmer's Markets are going to become more and more popular, and I think that's a good thing," my wife says on the way home.

"No, most people aren't trying to eat healthy," I reply.

"What?" She asks.

"Well you said that 'most people' are trying to eat healthy. 'Most people' is, by definition, a majority of the population, greater than 50%. I think 50% is a gross exaggeration. Even if you omit children and the elderly, I think the college to late-life-adult population may have 25% that are devoting any significant energy to healthier eating. That might be too optimistic. I might say 15 to 20%. Certainly not most," I explain.

"... Seriously?" She sounds exasperated.

"What?" It is now my turn to be confused.

"You knew what I meant, why do you have to be so technical?" she asks, upset by my surgical tactics.

"Because facts are the crucial underpinnings to any argument!" I cry out, reaching my arms wide as if to invite the entire logical world to embrace me, confirming my fact-driven wisdom!

I am left bereft of either the logical world's embrace, or my wife's, who looks at me like I'm crazy.

I might be a bit obsessed with getting accurate facts, and presenting them with fidelity to their actual implications. As a scientist, it's what I trained to do. Thinking this way, I have met a great nemesis: Infographics.

By taking some observed 'facts' and presenting them with colorful logos and arrows, you make a world of implications and, in so doing, tell lies to the world around you. There's a reason that we scientists and statisticians like our facts in black 10pt Lucida Console -- it reminds us that we aren't FOX news or CNN. Facts are facts and that's all they are. Believe it or not, I love little hearts and stick people as much as the next guy, but they don't belong with the facts. Looking at this infographic ( I found many concerning issues, common to infographics. Here are a few:

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#1) Calling Numbers 'Science'

I need look no further than the title for our first big deception. There is no science in this and many other infographics. Numbers do not mean science. Science is searching for answers by conducting experiments -- merely observing does not fit the bill, and can never establish causation. Using the term 'science' in your title is a terrible appeal to authority. People may be more likely to trust you because you have called it 'science.' They have been duped -- this is not, in fact, science. Despite your cartoon beakers, microscope, and double helices.

#2) Immeasurable quantities. 

Common in many infographics. Here the authors suggest a proportionality between sex (quality? quantity? length of time per? Who knows.), romance (Bringing roses home?), passion (Isn't this a product of sex and romance?) and quality of friendship (Number of times a lemonade stand was run together? Has a spit handshake been executed?). Basically four ideas that are extremely hard to measure are compared, invalidating the entire comparison. In psychology, there are sometimes standard tests for these ideas, but they typically involve self measurement on a 1-10 or 1-5 scale and are notoriously unscientific.

#3) Overly Obvious Observations

Happy people are happy and help make one another happy, but only if both people are initially happy. Also, Two happy people have a 94% chance of being happy together... Shocking. Here, facts are completely abandoned in favor of pandering.  These points are as obvious as they are useless to observe, as I haven't met many people who are campaigning for misery. This is another common infographic tactic: point out an obvious comparison that anyone would agree with, leading you to believe that all comparisons/observations in the infographic are reasonable.

#4) Oversimplification Of Complex Ideas

'Happiness' is probably the hardest metric to measure because it is so multi-faceted:

  • I eat a doughnut(Pleasure happiness); 
  • My country is not at war (Absence of fear happiness); 
  • My moral code gives me confidence in an afterlife  (Peace of mind happiness);
  • I am successful at work (Accomplishment happiness); 
  • I quit that dead-end job to do what I love (Hopefulness happiness); 
  • A history of hard work and devotion that has paid valuable dividends (Satisfaction happiness).

These happinesses are not necessarily of equal value, and every individual seeks after them to different degrees. Couples married 5 years or less and have no children may have extensive pleasure happiness (Presumed increase in sex.) or absence of fear happiness (Breaking up seems less likely.) or hopefulness happiness (Ah the possibilities for the future!). These happinesses are easier for individuals to identify in themselves.
Other more subtle happinesses that many would consider of greater value, such as satisfaction happiness or peace of mind happiness, are unattainable without confronting challenges as a couple (raising children) or sticking it out for a long time (decades of marriage).
Infographics are really bad at this sort of thing. In order to achieve a high degree of 'readability' for all people, they use generic umbrella terms which can apply to a number of things. They do this in the name of 'simplicity' so that everyone can 'learn.' But what is being learnt is confusing at best and dead wrong at worst. Accuracy takes longer to explain and more thinking to appreciate, but without it the facts become falsehoods.

#5) Nonsense Conversions

What? This... I just... what?
I'm sure there's some... numbers... behind this.
I guess someone turned... dollars... into a unit of satisfaction. Then took a measure of happiness change and converted it into dollars...
Most infographics aren't this bad. I included this particularly terrible 'fact' for shock value. These conversions may seem interesting at first glance, but only a second's thought reveals the utter foolishness hat must have gone into their concoction.

#6) Unanswered Questions On How Data Is Gathered

Which Americans? Old married couples? Newly married couples? Couples who got divorced? What does the driving decision to marry have to do with happiness in marriage? Are we supposed to believe the most popular reason to get married is also the best one? Were people allowed to choose just one option or could they choose multiple? How many could they pick? Were options given or did they generate their own? Aren't most people surveyed likely to lie and say love? If the most common cause of divorce is financial disagreement, does this imply that if financial stability were more of a factor in deciding to marry that there would be fewer divorces?
These aren't trivial questions -- the answers to each of these SIGNIFICANTLY SKEW HOW WE VIEW RESULTS. Without even a passing reference to how data is collected, which exists only in footnotes that are not well referenced for the individual facts, how can we possibly say anything? These become just random numbers.
Nearly all infographics I've seen are terrible at this. They seldom explain how data is collected, and every scientist spends years and years learning how to properly collect data, knowing that a slight change in how it's collected can render the entire study moot.

#7) Considering Only One Side Of A Question

Marital satisfaction is another compounded issue. With a child, life gets more difficult. Money, time, everything becomes tighter. When you ask someone if they are more or less satisfied with their marriage before or after children, they are probably thinking of how peaceful things used to be, or how there was more money for restaurants and movies. The way these answers are presented here implies that people were happier without kids without saying it outright.
But it wouldn't take long to disprove that idea! Ask any parent if they would rather not have their kids, or go back in time and never have kids at all. We all know how those answers would be slanted, but the way this data is presented implies that children are 'unwanted,' even if no actual numbers say that.
The simplification of extremely complex topics is something politicians have been using to deceive followers and villify opponents for centuries; That we should fall prey to the same tactics so quickly when photoshopped into an infographic with a colorful palette is a true shame.

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All things considered, I must echo the sentiments of one inspired commenter  on the original, "WTF is going on here?"

I should note that the most tragic thing about these infographics is that the data they skew is typically lifted from exellent publications by well-reputed scientistics and analytical organizations. The creators of these grade-school-quality-projects will often throw all of their sources at the bottom and hide behind the citations. It is not enough. It is wildly irresponsible to misrepresent data and then blame the reader for not delving into 20 page articles to find the truth. That was your job, and you did it poorly, if at all.

I'm not trying to be difficult, and I don't expect everyone to jump on my bandwagon. I've seen a lot of infographics, and admittedly I picked one of the worst to make my points. Bill Nye showed us all how good science really can be presented in a colorful and enjoyable format that allows us to learn it accurately. Our responsibility now is to differentiate when we are being presented with facts, and in stark contrast, when facts are being paraded and dressed up to imply conclusions that they don't truly support. Scientific papers are peer-reviewed and typically draw conservative and reasonable conclusions. Infographics are sensationalism at its worst.

You know, this post turned out lengthy and difficult to follow. I wish there was some way I could strengthen my point and communicate it more convincingly.

Maybe I'll make an infographic.