I’m Only Humanoid Oct12

I’m Only Humanoid...

I do not trust robots, least of all robots with artificial intelligence. There are a million examples from science fiction (which is obviously the most reliable source for determining the future of Earth) why robots with artificial intelligence are a terrible idea—the Terminator, Cybermen, Hal, Ultron, and the Matrix, to name a few. Despite the decades of fictional warnings, there are companies currently creating actual, functioning robots with artificial intelligence who, when interviewed, have expressed their analysis of humanity as inferior and worthy of either destruction  or placement in zoos. The idea of robots reasoning on their own scares the crap out of me. It frightens me because compassion and empathy cannot be programmed; reason without those qualities is, as the books and movies warn us, dangerous. It cannot see the whole picture, and decisions made without all of the pertinent information (which AI always assumes it has), are not usually helpful. When you have a unit that believes it has access to all information, is convinced of its own superiority and infallibility, and does not have emotions like fear or sympathy to keep it in check, I can only see one of two futures; either it runs for president on a platform of racism and terror, or it takes over and destroys the world. Because that’s the only logical conclusion to the mess we’ve made of our planet. Failure is, arguably, one of the most important human experiences. But then there’s Data. Data is the Spock of Star Trek: Next Generation. He’s also an android. Like Spock, Data finds humans fascinating. His fascination, however, is not a curiosity like Spock’s is, but is desirous of true understanding. He wants to be human. And he sees us in a unique way—through the lens of an...

Artificial Intelligence is Not Enough Oct05

Artificial Intelligence is Not Enough

A quick survey of artificial intelligences in fiction turns up a surprising number of psychopathic machines. A few are content with trying to control their human creators, but most are willing to kill to achieve their ends. Homicidal Machines GLaDOS from the Portal games is a prime example. Imbued by her creators with intelligence and singlemindedness, she relentlessly tests the player. Even her compliments are barbed and dripping with poison: “Very Impressive. Because this message is pre-recorded, any comments we may make about your success are speculation on our part. Please disregard any undeserved compliments.” She follows up cheery bon mots like that with potentially lethal puzzles and direct death threats. She delights in the prospect of the player’s painful demise. With all of that intelligence, you’d think she could find better ways to pass the time. You’d think she’d see the value of other lives. Or perhaps intelligence is not a factor here, and what she is missing is something else. GLaDOS is not alone in her murderous monomania. In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode, “The Ultimate Computer,” the Enterprise is tasked with testing a new machine intelligence intended as a replacement for fallible human crew. Spock points out that computers make decisions logically, which clearly makes them superior to biological lifeforms. Intelligence which cannot see other points of view can easily become arrogance. Predictably, things don’t work out as planned. By the mid-episode commercial break, the computer has gone out of its way to destroy an unmanned freighter and has taken control of the Enterprise. Before the episode ends, the computer has killed dozens of people, all in the name of fulfilling its purpose. Just another crazy artificial intelligence, but why? Why do so many writers predict that machines, if granted sentience, will turn on their makers? Maybe the answer lies with the granddaddy of all homicidal robots. In his 1966 novel Colossus, D.F. Jones weaves a tale about a self-aware defense computer that joins with its Soviet counterpart to take over the world. Efforts to block the computers are met with nuclear detonations that kill thousands. In the end, the scientist who created Colossus begs the machine to kill him. Colossus spares him, noting that one day the man will learn to love his new master. My question is: Does intelligence always equal a cold disregard for life? Shouldn’t a learning machine learn the value of life?  Skynet, HAL 9000, SHODAN, XANA, Samaritan… the list of deadly AIs is distressingly long. Can’t we—humans and machines—all just get along? Robots with Promise Not all fiction is hopeless. There are a few imaginary AIs which do learn. Even a few which are heroic. The WOPR computer (aka “Joshua”) in the 1983 film WarGames is designed to (again) replace humans. Joshua is put in control of the US nuclear arsenal. A hacker starts a simulated war with Joshua, but the computer can’t tell the difference between the simulation and genuine combat. In a nail-biting climax, the hacker and Joshua’s creator invite the computer to play all possible permutations of tic-tac-toe against itself. Joshua realizes that tic-tac-toe is a game which cannot be won and then stretches that generalization to nuclear war. Getting the computer to look at things from a different point-of-view saved the world. A similar conversion occurs in Pixar’s WALL-E, where the heroic robot is left alone on a wasted Earth with the task of cleaning the place up. Despite the solitude, WALL-E keeps at his task, doggedly collecting trash. He’s gone a bit mad in his decades alone and has begun to collect some of the more interesting bits he finds among the rubbish. He also watches the film Hello Dolly and clearly wishes he could live among the humans. His dreams come true (in a manner of speaking) when he finds a live plant and the sleek robot EVE comes to collect it....

Duped by Davros Oct03

Duped by Davros

Most of the time, when I’m watching a movie or TV show, I can see right through the plot twists. I catch the foreshadowing and can predict what’s coming (and sometimes dialogue—which means that it must be pretty poorly written). I like to think that I can see a lie coming from a mile away because I have worked in pastoral ministry for almost 20 years. But the episode of Doctor Who, “The Witch’s Familiar,” had my poor brain in a tizzy. I should have seen through Davros’ act—he even gave himself away early in the conversation when he called the Daleks’ compassion a “defect.” He told the Doctor that compassion “grows strong and fierce in you like a cancer” and that it “will kill you in the end,” to which the Doctor replied, “I wouldn’t die of anything else.” I mean, he completely laid his evilness out there. He said it flat out. Could he have been more obvious?! But, I got sucked in to his tears. I got sucked into his apparent remorse right along with the Doctor. He’s Davros—he’s pure evil! But, I’m Catholic! No one is pure evil—everyone can be redeemed! Initially, using a tactic that would have worked on himself at one time, Davros tried to tempt the Doctor to touch the cables that would suck his regenerative power out of him by making him think that he could wipe out all of the Daleks. The Doctor didn’t succumb. So, when that didn’t work, like the super-evil villain that he is, Davros changed gears and went for what he sees as the Doctor’s greatest weakness (and just went on and on about it!)—his compassion. Davros cried. He asked to look into his face like a dying family member would request. He asked if...

Stranger Things: The Villains in Authority Sep23

Stranger Things: The Villains in Authority...

While many nerds were losing their collective minds over whether or not Suicide Squad would be any good, Stranger Things slipped in and caught people off guard with its interesting cast of lesser known child actors, 80s nostalgia, and a contemporary view on conspiracy and power. One of the reason Stranger Things resonates with contemporary audiences is because the real villain of the show is not the unnamed monster from the Upside Down, but the nefarious government officials who run the Hawkins Laboratory, conducting the secret experiments that release the Upside Down monster into our world, and indiscriminately eliminating innocent people to prevent those secrets from getting out. Sure, the monster is scary and dangerous… but not as dangerous as the people, hidden in plain sight, whose unchecked authority and power make them untouchable. Most of the accolades for Stranger Things have focused on the show’s recreation of the look and tone of the 80s. The show is a loving homage to films like E.T., Stand By Me, and Firestarter. In fact, Wil Wheaton, former child actor and ubernerd, has declared that Stranger Things might be this generation’s Stand By Me. And while Stranger Things captures the look and feel of those films, its depiction of clandestine agents and corrupt government officials is more a product of our 21st century mindset. The films that inspired Stranger Things rarely depict authority as dangerous or malevolent.  In E.T., when the government takes the alien for testing and observation, they do so with the best intentions based on what they know. Though their methods seem barbaric, particularly to the children, the government officials are actually trying to understand an alien creature that, for all they know, could be dangerous. At best, the authorities are reactionary and unimaginative. Similarly,...

The Dawn of Star Trek Villains Sep14

The Dawn of Star Trek Villains...

Since its debut as a TV series in 1966, Star Trek has a been inventive, iconic, engaging, and at times hilarious. Characters, catch phrases and creatures have stolen a permanent spot in our cultural landscape. Even non-nerds know that redshirts will die—and you’d be hard-pressed to find a person who doesn’t have a frame of reference for a prolonged yelling of “Kaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhnnnnnnn!” Over the years, Star Trek has served as an entertaining way to challenge my assumptions, beliefs, and conscience on many moral topics—from the development of technology, to politics, to intercultural relations, to policies on war and peace, to racism—the list is as long as the number of episodes that span the different branches of the television and movie franchise. So, it’s not surprising that the last couple of movies they turned out, Into Darkness and Beyond also tackled issues that had me leaving the theatre with so many more thoughts then when I entered. Both of these movies tackle one large issue (with nuances thrown in, of course)—the development of villains. Into Darkness offers the backstory of one the most important villains ever—Kahn.  Beyond introduces us to Krull. Both of these personalities are, in part, the result of actions taken by members of Star Fleet and the Federation. We see a level of responsibility in the creation of villains that belongs to the cultures, organizations, lawmakers, and citizens. Kahn, who becomes a mortal foe of Star Fleet, and more personally, Captain James T. Kirk, was literally created to be a fighting machine. After the danger of his ability was discovered, he was placed in suspended animation and awakened centuries later by a war-hungry Admiral of Starfleet (Admiral Marcus) who forced Kahn to develop horrific weapons so that he could start a war...

No More Jurassic World Domination Aug29

No More Jurassic World Domination...

I like being in control. This doesn’t necessarily mean I want world domination (that’s only every other day), but I do desire to control my future, my schedule, and sometimes even other people. I feel like life would be easier if I could dictate everything that happens in it. I’m not sure if this is just because I’m a detail-oriented person, or if everyone feels this way. I tend to make goals every New Year’s Day, plan out each week on the weekend, make lists and schedules. I even make contingency plans in case something goes wrong. Unexpected events that come my way, such as sickness or other emergencies, can throw me off balance. It’s hard to accept that I can’t control unforeseen circumstances. The staff of Jurassic World also have this desire for control, especially Claire Dearing. She likes to predict future events, schedule her life, and do everything she can to steer the company into a profitable direction. This isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, however, her endeavors often cost spending time with the people she cares about, hurting her family life and her love life. Owen: It’s all about control with you. I don’t control the Raptors. It’s a relationship. It’s based on mutual respect. That’s why you and I never had a second date. I feel like life would be easier if I could dictate everything that happens in it. Because of Claire’s obsession with control, she loses respect for the people around her and even for the animals in the park. She treats everyone like the means to an end and not like they have lives and feelings. And does her success in making other people do what she wants make her happy? No, she is always...

Playing God Till You Run Out of Cake Aug24

Playing God Till You Run Out of Cake...

Scientific advancement is the entire backstory of the video games Portal and Portal 2. You play as Chell, a woman awakened from her Relaxation Vault in Aperture Science’s enrichment center, forced to go through a series of tests by the direction of an artificial intelligence named GLaDOS. Portal takes humanity’s tendency toward advancement beyond all logic (and that’s what makes it hilarious). Not only is the entire lab run by a robot determined to put Chell through her paces and then destroy her, but the tests themselves don’t serve much purpose. Aperture’s founder, Cave Johnson, doesn’t seem to have any morals when it comes to science. In one of his speeches to the test subjects, Cave says flat-out that they have no idea what they’re doing and they’re “throwing science at the wall and seeing what sticks.” Aperture’s motto, “We do what we must because we can,” seems completely ridiculous in light of the Portal universe (because there’s just something ridiculous about a robot chucking heart-labeled companion cubes at you and degrading you for not solving the puzzle faster). However, I find the game an ironic insight into the human mind. . . . Read the whole article from Christ and Pop...

Vulnerability Aboard the Enterprise Aug22

Vulnerability Aboard the Enterprise...

One simple pleasure of life is reconnecting with old friends after a prolonged separation. Perhaps over a meal you swap stories, catch up on each other’s lives, and remember what brought you together in the first place. That was how I felt about Star Trek Beyond. I can’t recall a time when I didn’t know Kirk and his diverse crew. I watched the show so often I could identify episodes after hearing a couple lines of dialogue. Although other series in the Trek universe scratched my itch for new stories, none of them quite evoked the same warmth for me. Star Trek Beyond put me back in touch with my dear friends. The plot of the film is mostly an excuse to showcase the crew’s personalities. Despite nagging doubts about his career decisions, Kirk remains both energetic and resolute in defending life—especially the lives of his crew. Spock approaches his problems—even romantic troubles—with cool detachment. McCoy greets every new crisis and opportunity with an evenhanded mixture of snark and competence. Sulu gets time in the spotlight as the de facto leader of crew members who are temporarily separated from the command structure. Uhura serves as Sulu’s second, showing her heroic side. Chekov steps up his game as Kirk’s apprentice in action. Kirk has won the crew’s affection because they know they can rely on him. Just like a dinner with old friends, the characters reminded me of the things I loved and admired about them even as I learned about their new adventures. Kirk and company feel real to me; more like characters than mere collections of personality quirks. Star Trek Beyond got me thinking about my own friendships. Who am I to my friends? The endlessly, annoyingly, pragmatically logical Spock? The cantankerous McCoy?...

Dear Anakin, My fiance doesn’t agree Jul29

Dear Anakin, My fiance doesn’t agree...

Dear Anakin, My fiancé is a great guy and we’re madly in love, but he refuses to agree with me that a beach wedding is the greatest way to get married. Just think about it, the sunlight on the water, a cool breeze, and the warm sand between our toes. He wants to get married indoors somewhere, which I just can’t believe! I really love him and I don’t want to come across as a bridezilla, but I can’t imagine getting married inside when the beach is calling our names. What should I do? Signed, Looking For Love In Alderaan Places Dear Looking For Love In Alderaan Places, That’s a real problem. First of all, don’t compromise. Any time you compromise in a relationship, it shows weakness. You should be compelling your loved ones to act in a way that serves you and your desires at all times. When speaking to your fiancé about the issue, stare at him wordlessly, without blinking, and sneer until he eventually accepts your demands. Don’t stop even if he asks you explicitly—he will break first. Your love should be the most powerful thing in the universe and if it’s not, you’re just pretending. That being said, as much as I agree with your desire to control the outcome of every event you’re involved in, I have to disagree with the concept of a beach wedding. I hate sand. It’s coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere. If you get married on a beach you’re basically inviting the worst thing in the galaxy into your marriage. Powerfully Yours, Anakin Send your requests for relationship advice to...

The Doctor’s Eternal Perseverance Jul27

The Doctor’s Eternal Perseverance...

“This traffic is taking forever.” “I’m never going to find the right woman.” “Waiting for the DMV took an eternity.” I recognize these statements, of course, as the hyperbole that they are, even as I speak them. But such a blasé attitude towards the concept of eternity and infinity cheapens it. I have never experienced more than a lifetime and my exaggerations do not come close to expressing what eternity must feel like. Therefore, to be patient or persevere in the face of eternity is an ideal that escapes me completely. I know there is either a finite time that I will have to wait or I recognize that death will claim me before I ever see the consummation of my hope, whatever it may be. What would happen, though, if somehow I could comprehend eternity to the point that, no matter what happens, I can push through? In the penultimate episode of the ninth season of the “new” Doctor Who (titled “Heaven Sent”), Peter Capaldi’s Doctor explores this concept of forever. He finds himself in some sort of elaborate trap with a mysterious stalker who elicits something we’re not familiar with the Doctor experiencing: fear. The Doctor is afraid of this… thing. We know it’s called “The Veil” only by the end credits, but, beyond that, we don’t know anything other than it was specifically designed from the Doctor’s worst nightmares to evoke a reaction of fear from the rogue Time Lord. The intense grief of losing Clara and the darkness of being alone can only be overcome by his memory of Clara and his love for her. The Doctor reasons that fear is being used as a motivation to coerce him to reveal his deepest, darkest secrets. As fear does its work,...

The Morality of Robots and Self-Driving Cars Jul22

The Morality of Robots and Self-Driving Cars...

If Isaac Asimov is known for anything within popular culture, it is his three laws of robotics, made famous in the book I, Robot and its movie adaptation. The laws were conceived because of the invention of self-directed robots. They answered the question of how created objects were allowed to act with respect to the safety of the people who created them. Asimov envisioned a robot morality controlled by inviolable laws which began with the first law: “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.” That seems straight-forward: when a robot can direct its own actions, it must not be allowed to cause human beings to come to harm. Of course, there are situations where it is not simply a choice between harming a human or not. Sometimes the question concerns reducing the total harm when some injury cannot be avoided. In that case, at least according to the movie-version of the story, there is a complex heuristic by which a robot must make a decision between the value of one or more humans: the result of that calculation directs the action. If a burglar entered my house and I found myself in the position to kill him, what would I do? For example, in the movie, the protagonist Del Spooner is saved by a robot because he was deemed to be more likely to survive after being pulled out of the water. Extrapolating from the presumed algorithm, I expect that quantity of humans would also factor in, that is, saving two humans would take precedent over saving one. This question of the value of human life based on an algorithm is now coming to the fore in the realm of self-driving cars....

It Takes More than Optimism Jul06

It Takes More than Optimism...

I was five when Armstrong and Aldrin walked on the moon. From that day forward I wanted desperately to travel in space, and the Disneyland adventure Mission to Mars gave me a little simulated taste of that adventure a few years later. The pre-show featured animatronics wearing white lab coats with the Rockwell and NASA logos prominent. After a stirring recorded speech about the amazing progress scientists had made in the exploration of space, we were seated in our “space craft,” a circular theater with projection screens mounted on the walls, floor and ceiling. As we blasted off for Mars, the seats rattled and in the space of minutes we’d travelled to the surface of the red planet where we explored Olympus Mons and the Valles Marineris before returning to a safe landing at Disneyland. The effects were only convincing if you wanted them to be and the science was… imaginative. Yet I loved it. Truly there was nothing that science couldn’t accomplish given enough time. Like the song said, there really was a great big beautiful tomorrow. I waited, but that bright future didn’t arrive. Skylab came and went and the International Space Station still orbits, but NASA—for the moment—is out of the manned launch game. Jet packs and flying cars are still the stuff of fiction as are food replicators and gleaming, plastic, self-cleaning houses. Instead, our attention is focused on disasters, both natural and manmade. Our “beautiful tomorrow” vanished under a floodtide of pessimism. Something went very, very wrong. Watney doesn’t expect to simply “believe” his way to success. Which was more-or-less the point of Bard Bird’s 2015 film Tomorrowland. The film’s hero, Frank Welker, begins the movie as a hopeful child who grows to become a paranoid, curmudgeonly old man...

You Are, and Always Will Be, My Friend Jun27

You Are, and Always Will Be, My Friend...

One of the many reasons I love Star Trek is that the series highlights friendships. The romances come and go, but the friendships, when the right effort is put in, endure. It reminds me of my own experience. I only have a handful of friends who have withstood the test of time, and they mean the world to me. In Star Trek: Into Darkness, many of the characters display key factors to working, lasting friendships. This diverse crew struggles through much conflict, whether it stems from outside circumstances or their own biases and emotions. But when push comes to shove, the crew of the Enterprise are steadfast and enduring. I especially appreciate the attributes of trust, honesty, forgiveness, acceptance, and sacrifice they exhibit. Sulu and Trust For the Enterprise to run smoothly, the crew has to put their faith in each other, especially in cases such as letting a crewmember command as acting captain. When Kirk goes with Spock onto a Klingon-space planet, he leaves Sulu in charge to manage the ship. Though McCoy is nervous about this situation, Kirk has enough trust and confidence in Sulu that he can get the job done, which he does. Giving control over to someone else and trusting them to get the job done can be challenging, especially if you are one of those people who likes to do everything yourself. Trusting someone else when the stakes are high is the mark of true friendship. It is difficult to be honest, especially when honesty could mean jeopardizing a job or a relationship. McCoy and Honesty It is difficult to be honest, especially when honesty could mean jeopardizing something important to you, like a job or a relationship. McCoy is candid with Kirk despite the possible repercussions. He plays the devil’s advocate to many of...

iZombie’s Lessons in Empathy Jun17

iZombie’s Lessons in Empathy...

I’m not a very empathetic person. There, I said it. I mean, I’m a not robot, but other people’s emotions have always made me uncomfortable (I have a strict “no crying in my office” rule for my students).  I have difficulty relating to other people’s experiences because I have trouble seeing the world through their eyes, their feelings. I think I can be sympathetic, feeling pity or sorrow for another’s misfortunes, but empathy is much, much harder for me. And it’s my own struggle with empathy that makes The CW’s iZombie such an interesting show. For the uninitiated, iZombie is a unique spin on the traditional zombie narrative: zombies exist but can (mostly) pass in regular society if they feed on brains. Brains not only prevent zombies from becoming the mindless instruments of death we all know and love, they also transfer the memories and disposition of the former owner to the zombie. When Liv Moore is infected, she takes a job in the city morgue to have a steady supply of brains. She uses these memories of murder victims to help the police solve crimes, all the while trying to uncover a larger zombie conspiracy. As ridiculous as this premise sounds, the show’s strength is in its exploration of larger issues. Liv’s decision to avoid her friends is based on what she considered best, and fails to take into account the other people’s wants and needs. In the pilot, when Liv realizes that she’s a zombie, her first course of action is to remove herself from her various relationships for the safety of her friends and family. Liv’s motivations are largely altruistic: she no longer thinks of herself as human, she doesn’t feel like she is safe to be around, and isolating herself is the...

Team Cap: Standing Firm Jun13

Team Cap: Standing Firm...

You’re a prude because you’re waiting until you’re married to have sex. You’re ignorant because you believe everything was created by a loving God. You are a misogynist because you believe life begins at conception. You’re homophobic for finding an identity based on your faith rather than finding it in how you feel or who you are attracted to. Have you ever had any of these things said to you? If so, then grab a shield, and welcome to Team Cap! Society tells us how to see people, how we should act, and the things we should accept as true. If we disagree, we are the villains. But society isn’t always right. Popular opinion is rarely the best indicator for truth and justice; actually, it is often the worst. Consider Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian during World War II and, I would argue, a proud member of Team Cap. He spoke out against the atrocities committed by his society to the Jewish people, the handicapped, and the poor. He spoke out against war and taking land by force, and he was sent to a concentration camp by his society to be abused and ultimate die. I also think of Susan B. Anthony, James Brown (the 18th century abolitionist, not the singer), Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr; all people who spoke out against the societal norms and views of minorities, all who suffered for their convictions. All too often we present only the edge of our shield as we condemn people who disagree with our opinions and perspectives. These people, and many more, found their truth outside society, planted their feet and set their shield echoing the words left to Peggy Carter’s niece: “Sometimes when society says ‘MOVE’ you have to look back...

Team Iron Man: Keeping Us Accountable Jun08

Team Iron Man: Keeping Us Accountable...

Tony Stark knows the people of Earth are in danger and he’s going to protect them whether they want him to or not. He is so determined to shield them that he rides a nuclear bomb through a wormhole in The Avengers. In Iron Man 3, he builds dozens of suits, planning for any and every possible scenario, always fearing it won’t be enough. In Age of Ultron, he finally sees a way to keep the world safe (though it backfires horribly). “I see a suit of armour around the world,” he says. Every action he takes is a means towards that end. That’s how deeply the knowledge of imminent danger has rooted itself in Iron Man’s mind. When the Avengers themselves start being held to account for the deaths caused by their world-saving actions, Stark sees a huge problem. Vision spells it out in Civil War: “Our very strength incites challenge. Challenge incites conflict. And conflict… breeds catastrophe.” Stark is burdened with the knowledge that catastrophe is coming, and he wants the Avengers to be the solution, not the cause. That’s why the idea of accountability is so important to him. Each time they save the planet, hundreds—maybe thousands—of innocent people die in the process. Each of those deaths weigh heavily on Stark’s conscience. Captain America is asking the world to trust a team of people who could destroy the planet on a bad day. Captain America is asking the world to trust a team of people who could destroy the planet on a bad day. By signing the Sokovia Accords, Stark is attempting to put some accountability in place. I also think he might feel the lives of thousands of people should not be in his hands alone. While Captain America is a soldier and has had...

Restoring Relationships (and the Force) May04

Restoring Relationships (and the Force)...

Like all relationships, the ones in Star Wars have their challenges. In A New Hope, the first meeting between Obi-Wan and Darth Vader in almost twenty years isn’t as emotional as I imagine it should be. After all, Obi-Wan basically raised Anakin before eventually slicing his legs off. Emotional stuff. Instead, they simply speak a few short utterances to each other in cold tones. There’s no love between the two; their cords have been completely cut, and as such, they no longer see each other as human. For Obi-Wan, Darth Vader is “more machine now than man,” and for Vader, Obi-Wan is just another obstacle to tear through. In this bond built a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I see a challenge being forced upon me, to look at the broken relationships in my own life and think about how they became that way, and what I might do to repair them. In an imperfect world, we’re all bound to have broken relationships. I’ve said many things that have hurt others, and people have driven me away, too, either by cruelty or by simple indifference. The thing is, the longer I let time pass without reconciliation, the more bitterness will take root, and the harder it becomes to heal the damage. The task of pulling it up becomes too daunting to even try. And soon, the person I’m split from has become a memory to me. Any relationship we had dies, wasted and transformed into a nothingness, like the emotional space between Vader and Obi-Wan. Luke makes the sacrifice that restoration costs. Of course, it doesn’t just take realization to reconcile; it takes action. And action requires selflessness. I find that whatever reserve of that characteristic I have in storage...

Not a Runner-Up Prize Apr20

Not a Runner-Up Prize...

Unrequited feelings are never any fun, no matter which side of them you’re on. Eli Wallace from Stargate: Universe knows what I mean. After solving a complex mathematical equation embedded in a video game, Eli is beamed up to a starship, sent to another planet, and eventually transported, along with a small crew, onto a ship called Destiny that is light-years away from Earth. Seems like a good time to make friends and fall in love to me. He becomes close with Chloe, a senator’s daughter (she doesn’t have much practical use aboard the ship, but I digress). They get along. They enjoy each other’s company. They find each other easy to talk to. Cue the beginnings of unrequited love music. Whatever that sounds like. Eli likes Chloe. A lot. Chloe likes Eli. Like a friend. Chloe becomes romantically involved with the good-looking, good-hearted soldier on board the Destiny, and Eli is stuck in an enclosed community he can’t get away from, with feelings for a friend who loves someone else. If someone genuinely tells me, “Let’s be friends,” it’s not a runner-up prize. There are a variety of ways Eli could respond here. He could shut Chloe out as much as possible. He could become angry and moody around her. He could be mad at her for not being clear in the first place about what she wanted. He could pelter her with questions of “why not me?” He could constantly ask himself why he isn’t good enough for her. He could be jealous of the people she spends time with instead of him. These are some of the responses I’ve received when I’ve said no. These are also the responses I’ve been tempted to give when someone rejects me. But oddly enough,...

Identifying with a Sarcastic Martian Apr04

Identifying with a Sarcastic Martian

Sarcasm is my love language. If anyone can understand what I mean by this, it’s Mark Watney, the protagonist of The Martian novel by Andy Weir. Watney, a brilliant botanist and astronaut, finds himself stranded on Mars after his crew abandons him for dead. Completely isolated, he has to survive in a hostile environment that is basically out to kill him every second of every day. New problems stack up during his indefinite stay on the planet while he waits for a rescue that may never come—how to get enough oxygen? What to eat? Where to get water? How to pass the time when you don’t have Netflix? You know, the important stuff. But perhaps the biggest problem he faces is psychological. How to stay sane? (Remember, there’s no Netflix on Mars.) Watney answers this question with one coping mechanism. Watney is stranded for several months before being able to communicate with Earth. His ten days of isolation training at NASA is a joke. Even the most introverted of people (and I would know) need a certain amount of social interaction to stay mentally sound. How does he deal with his isolation? The only way he can: with humour. “I started the day with some nothin’ tea. Nothin’ tea is easy to make. First, get some hot water, then add nothin’.” (The Martian) Many studies have shown that humour and laughter are therapeutic for relieving tension and anxiety. There is even evidence to support that a good sense of humour can contribute to muscle relaxation, control of pain, positive moods, and overall psychological health. NASA psychologist Al Holland also says it’s actually healthy for a completely isolated person to start interacting with inanimate objects (think of the volleyball named Wilson from Cast Away). Watney has a similar relationship with his camera and logbook, using them to talk out what he is going through. This is also a way for him to express his delightful sarcasm. “Problem is (follow me closely here, the science is pretty complicated) if I cut a hole in the Hab, the air won’t stay inside any more.” (The Martian) Humour, for me, has always been a way of coping with less than optimal experiences and, most importantly, it helps me battle loneliness (that, and Netflix). My close friends know to crack a joke when I am sad, because it will relieve my tension. I know that if I make a joke about my own negative feelings, it will shed some light in my darkness. Growing up in an evangelical Christian environment, I often felt like humour was frowned upon when talking about God or my beliefs (not by my parents, bless my dad’s sarcastic heart, but by “the church” in general). God was serious business; you didn’t joke about him and certainly not with him. (See “A Laughing Matter” for more on humour and the Christian Church.) I only thought to question this later in life. If I’m operating under this presumption that I am created in God’s “own image,” is it so far-fetched to extrapolate that God may have a sense of humour of his own? I mean, talking donkeys, kings literally caught with their pants down, stomachs so big they swallow up the sword they’re stabbed with and it’s not discovered until the autopsy—some of these biblical tales are rather amusing. There’s definitely irony there. Is it so unbelievable that Jesus could have cracked a joke? Wouldn’t his listeners have laughed when he talked about rulers calling themselves “benefactors,” when the working folk knew very well those in authority were just the opposite? That’s actually bordering on sarcasm. Jesus, sarcastic? No, that can’t be right. Could it be that Jesus knew about this trick that Mark Watney employed, that psychologists have confirmed? That humour is the answer to life, the universe, and everything? Okay, fine, perhaps not the answer to everything, but it sure makes my...

10 Reasons You Shouldn’t Watch The Force Awakens Apr01

10 Reasons You Shouldn’t Watch The Force Awakens...

The Force Awakens comes out on DVD this month! Should you be excited about it? Nah. Here’s why not. 1. Who needs strong female role models like Rey, anyway? 2. That warm, fuzzy feeling of nostalgia when you see the Millenium Falcon again isn’t worth beans. 3. We want a villain exactly like Darth Vader. Kylo Ren is too different. 4. John Williams did the score. Blech. 5. Chewbacca is still impossible to understand. 6. Luke should have just updated his Spacebook profile with his location. 7. They gave us a cute, voiceless droid instead of Jar Jar. It’s like they didn’t learn their lesson from the prequels. 8. Who cares that Han Solo even came back? Can’t we write any new characters these days? 9. Too many cool action scenes. Needed more politics. 10. You might as well just watch how it should have ended where Han vaccinates Kylo with...