Star Wars: The series that never should have continued

Having finally seen Star Wars, The Last Jedi, I have a few thoughts about the entire franchise.

  1. I’m grateful that I only paid the RedBox fee. Had I paid movie theater prices for that movie, I would have walked out and demanded a full refund.
  2. I saw enough entertainment in Rogue One to like it as a B-Side Star Wars movie. I wasn’t a fan of the discontinuity of the technology and had a flashback to SpaceBalls while watching it, but as a one off, I was OK with it.
  3. I thought The Force Awakens was formulaic, and served only the purpose of passing the baton with a copy/paste of the major Episode IV themes. I maintained an optimistic thumbs up, but wasn’t completely sold on the movie.
  4. The Prequels aren’t as bad as many will say. I watched them all eagerly because it had been so long since there was anything Star Wars, but ultimately they consist of great moments surrounded by mediocre cinema.
  5. New Hope and Empire Strikes Back are classics that have stood the test of time. Han shot first.
  6. Return of the Jedi is really good. I would say great, but the ewoks were pretty stupid and watching them win in combat against Imperial Stormtroopers left a sour taste in my mouth. I imagine they were the idea of Kenner toys.

Star Wars is a great trilogy, followed by poor movies. Which actually brings it down to the cultural level of Rocky, which is also a great movie trilogy, followed by movies that may not be up to par, but at least they are better than all Star Wars movies after Return of the Jedi.

If I even bother to see Solo, it will be via RedBox.

There was a gun scare in my community this week and I’m angry

Yesterday an alert was sounded that a white man wearing black clothes with a backpack and holding a rifle was seen in the vicinity of a Waukee school. This caused the schools to be put on lockdown, an outdoor elementary track and field event to be moved from the High School track to the elementary facilities, uneasiness among the faculty and students, and more. News reporters converged on the town. Everybody had a sense of dread, waiting for the next bit of news.

And as the information trickled in, I began to become angry. Why aren’t they giving us more information? Why isn’t this all over the news outlets? Why haven’t they hardened the schools against attack yet? The day continued on, more or less a normal day, and our daughter got out of school and spent some time with her grandparents.

When we picked her up, I asked her about the event and she didn’t seem too upset about it. But she said that she heard through the grapevine that this gunman had been seen in close proximity to the school by students. When asked why that hadn’t been reported she didn’t know, and honestly I didn’t expect her to know. But then I asked if they got any pictures of this guy, who was walking near the school, but not firing his gun or taking any offensive posture toward anyone. She said no. They stood at the window and watched him for a few minutes, but not a single one of these children thought to pull out their smartphones and take so much as one picture.

That’s odd. These kids are addicted to their phones. And they take photos and videos of everything. Maybe not in a fight or flight situation, but if they are staring out the window at a bunny in the grass, they’re getting photos of it. Probably with Instragram filters. And a whole group of them didn’t think to reach into their pockets to take any pictures. The only rational conclusion of this is that the gunman was Bigfoot.

My spidey sense started tingling.

Fast forward to today, when I first saw this story about a local mother who is also angry. I echo the sentiments of Sara Coen. The fear, the vulnerability, the unknowing, those were very frustrating. The confusion was disorienting and the reports after the fact, while clarifying the situation somewhat, have also sparked some emotion. Anger.

Seriously, the terrorists have won. Does that sound like hyperbole? It did to me until I looked up “terrorism” in the Google. Terrorism is the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.

This gunman, assuming there ever was one, did not use violence or intimidation according to this news report. There was only one report made, and from the released information it was a report of a man spotted near Stivers Ford with a rifle. No information has been forthcoming about what kind of rifle, not that it matters, or whether the rifle was secured in a case, which matters only on a societal base in Waukee, Iowa. Oh, we do know that the man had fair skin, which doesn’t matter, and we do know that he was wearing dark clothes and had a backpack. None of this is illegal in any way. Had he been on school grounds as described, the possession of any weapon would be a felony. But he wasn’t on school grounds. In fact, he wasn’t near any school grounds. 

The closest landmark to the scary man that Google Maps recognizes is Stivers Ford, a great place to buy a Ford vehicle. The closest public school to Stivers Ford is Prairieview school, a transitional school for 8th and 9th grade children, which semi-shares the High School parking lot. Using Google Maps, I routed a drive from Stivers Ford to Prairieview school and found that driving the 2.3 miles under normal conditions would take 5 minutes. But the man was said to be on foot. I need to adjust my calculations here. So make that 34 minutes walking 1.7 miles.

I’m all for safety in our schools. I have some reasonable ideas on how to improve that safety. Perhaps I’ll share them someday. But let’s think about this rationally. A single man with a gun was reported miles away from any school. Nothing this man was reported to be doing was threatening or illegal in any way. And events in the school were transferred to other locations because of this. The learning environment was disrupted. The parents were placed into a state of fear.

And for what? Maybe this guy was returning home after visiting the local gun club. Local what? The New Pioneer Gun Club is located inside the city limits of Waukee. And they’re easy to find when you’re in town. Just listen and head toward the sound of shotgun shells. I’m not saying this guy had been at the gun club. I am saying that the caller who sounded the alarm didn’t know if he had been there or not. They allegedly saw a gun in the community and reacted the only way they knew how.

So the terrorists are winning. But the terrorists, by definition, are not who we may think they are. Terrorism is the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.

There was no violence here. Put that word out of your mind. There is intimidation. It was made against civilians. It was made in the pursuit of political aims. Until Google changes the definition of “terrorism” I can’t say much else about it. Was the Waukee Police Department right to follow up on a report? Yes. Was it appropriate for the schools to be locked down over an unverified report of law abiding activity? No. Were the students placed in fear over this? Yes. Was the fear directed at an inert object, possessing no inherent faculties of good or evil? Yes.

So who is the real terrorist here? I’ll let you come to your own conclusion. It’s not like anyone in this country is listening to any facts that don’t already agree with their presuppositions anyway.

Switchfoot and the Art of the Bridge

Anyone who knows me well knows that I have a love for the band Switchfoot. Their music, the interaction they have with the fans, the words that Jon Foreman writes, the whole enchilada. I became a fan when the album “The Beautiful Letdown” was in stores, so that would make it about 2003 or so, and since then I have purchased every album they put out, as well as any solo project that Jon has produced. I have seen them in concert several times and love every moment that I’m there.

Their song lyrics are honest and they hit home with the realities of life. It is no stretch for me to say that “Hello Hurricane” was an album that helped ground me during the most difficult time of my entire life. I could see the trouble on the horizon. It was headed my way and there was nothing I could do to stop it. Landfall hit and it was horrific. And after the storm had passed, there was clean up to do, but clean up is something only done by people who had survived the catastrophe more or less intact. And I had survived.

And in my clean up effort, the album “Vice Verses” had some key songs that helped me communicate where I was at. Emotionally. Physically. Spiritually.

Many of the songs the band sings come to a head. Everything leads up to a bridge, and in that bridge, Jon sings something profound. The entire song has prepared you for it, and the bridge is the application of what they are trying to convey to you. Read without context, the lyrics of the bridge may not make as much sense, and if that is the case my best advice is to listen to the entire song a few times. Everything sung before and after the bridge makes sense in light of the bridge.

Recently, Switchfoot has announced a well-deserved hiatus from touring. They’ve been busy for 20 years, and I don’t blame them one bit for taking a break. If they never produce another record, their career as a band will not lack for anything. If they do return, which I do expect eventually, I have no doubt that the new music will be awesome.

I am adding a new category to my blog. That category is “Switchfoot Bridges” for lack of a more interesting name. I’ll try and remember to name the posts with the song name and include the album name as well. So if you see a post entitled “Needle in a Haystack Life” or “The War Inside” please don’t get all concerned for me. I’m just remembering the discovery of songs that spoke to me as few others have.

“Your wounds are where the light shines through.”

Buh-Bye YouTube Red. Facebook is on notice.

I’ve been a YouTube Red subscriber for years now. Ad-free videos, YouTube original content (which were pretty lame, to be honest), YouTube Music, and so on. It cost a little something each month, but in exchange, I had a wealth of information and entertainment in front of me. I could learn about sports, a diverse range of political ideas, woodworking tips, sermons, product reviews, marksmanship concepts, apologetics, concerts, cooking and more. YouTube has been established as the dominant medium of informational video on the Internet. My $9.99 a month was given in exchange for a world of uninterrupted content.

But that world is just not worth it any longer. YouTube has been constricting certain viewpoints that don’t march in lockstep with the social engineers of Google. This goes for thoughtful channels such as PragerU, who is actually suing YouTube for censorship beyond the contractual agreement they had entered into. This goes for other channels I have enjoyed like Apologia, which is actively spreading the gospel and opposing societal problems such abortion and the distortion of biblical marriage, have received strikes against them for thinking and speaking in ways that are not in complete agreement with Google. To be clear, I am not looking for a service that checks all of my boxes. I am looking for a service that isn’t actively unchecking them.

Not that long ago, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and others were actively protesting the end of Net Neutrality. They had claimed that this Neutrality ending would result in unfair data speeds and in people being censored by those evil ISP’s. But now YouTube is demonetizing their content creators, removing their videos without recourse, and shutting down channels that they disagree with, regardless of the number of fans of those channels. They are the ones censoring their own partners. And I have heard from people who I follow on both Twitter and Facebook who say that the companies are refusing to allow them to advertise on their networks because they disagree with their stance in one way or another.

I don’t know what else to call this, but hypocrisy.

So what am I to do? I have all these DIY honey-do projects lined up and YouTube has been my main source of inspiration to learn the concepts. And I have learned other skills by watching people do them. Should I call a government bureaucrat and demand that they step in?

Only if I want to be a hypocrite myself.

You see, I want to be consistent. I don’t want the government to force someone to bake a cake in celebration of an event that they disagree with. I don’t want the government to force someone to affirm a behavior that repulses them. I don’t believe that a Hilal deli should be forced to serve pork products either. And I don’t believe government should be asked to force YouTube to accept any video outside their existing contracts.  If I were to ask government to get involved in determining what First Amendment rights YouTube has, I would be ceding too much power to a government comprised of extremely polarized viewpoints.

I won’t ask any member of government to advocate for the channels I enjoy. What I will do is voice my displeasure at the constriction of free speech by cancelling the membership that had once benefited my experience with YouTube. This doesn’t mean I can’t watch YouTube videos. It does mean that I would rather deal with interruptions, advertisements, loss of services, and other annoyances than offer up my monthly tribute to the virtual monopoly of video on the Internet.

Trying out wine for the first time

Dayna has expressed an interest in trying out wine. Since I have VERY limited knowledge of wine, we discussed it and decided to try some red wines. I love shopping at Trader Joe’s, their Kenya coffee is the bomb, and they also have a decent (I think) wine assortment. Most notably, they have Three Buck Chuck. So if we don’t like a wine, we’re not out too much money.

I did some investigative research, which means I Googled it, and the top wines in that category I purchased were Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. $6 for two bottles. We’d have a few evenings of wine tasting, probably with chocolate or cheese or something like that. We would feel sophisticated and romantic. We’d find out what the big deal is!

Except for one thing. We were trying out Three Buck Chuck. And either we just aren’t the target market for wines or we were getting what we paid for. I poured two glasses tonight and handed one to Dayna. Her face was something to behold! I took a sip and asked her how she would describe the flavor. Tart? Bitter? Be honest with me.

“I think it tastes like liquid garbage!”

All this to say that we may need some suggestions from others. Preferably for a wine that won’t end up down the kitchen drain.

NFL Playoff Predictions: Wild Card Round

Welcome to the Wild Card Round of the NFL Playoffs, the one week where the home stadium is a true advantage, with the home teams historically winning 75% of the time. With that in mind, here are my predictions.

Titans at Chiefs
I live in Iowa, where you only see the Titans on television if they are playing the Vikings or Packers. Or if they are playing on a Monday or Thursday night. And that’s assuming that I don’t have something more important to do, which is likely because the Titans haven’t impressed me since…

Look for the Chiefs to take this game by at least a touchdown. Arrowhead Stadium will be rocking and Alex Smith with complete a pass that travels more than 10 yards in the air. Yeah, I said it!

Bills at Jaguars
If you didn’t catch what I said earlier, I live in Iowa. We don’t care about either of these two teams, nor do we know a whole lot about them. Except for a few things. The Bills required the help of Andy Dalton of the Cincinnatti Bengals to get into the playoffs in the first place, which doesn’t speak well for their chances to win a playoff game. If Andy Dalton is your Playoffs good luck charm, you’re going to have a bad day.

The Jaguars will win this game convincingly with their top rated defense and middle of the road offense. Total points scored in this game will be kept under 40.

Falcons at Rams
Iowa boy here. Since the Rams left for California, we stopped caring about them. No, it was earlier than that. Since the Rams had Jeff Fisher as their coach we stopped caring about him. But Jeff Fisher is no longer the coach of the Rams and that is why the Rams are hosting a playoff game. Jared Goff is playing well, which you would expect with one of the best running backs in the NFL supporting him. Todd Gurley should win the MVP of the league. And the Rams should win this game.

The Falcons are eager to get the stink of last year’s Super Bowl off of them, but now that Matt Ryan has returned to what he is, an average NFL QB, they will lose a close game. Here me now, believe me later. Matt Ryan will never be in the Super Bowl again.

Panthers at Saints
“To be the man, you have to beat the man.” is a favorite quote by Ric Flair. Ric is a fan of the Panthers, which is nice and all, but the Panthers have been so erratic this year. They could beat the Saints by 20 or they could lose by 20. It’s just a matter of which team decides to show up. The last two times they played the Saints they lost. And I predict that trend will continue with another loss.

Oh, I’m from Iowa. And I really don’t care about any of these teams. The Chiefs have some local support around here, but this is really a Viking state. Mix in a little Packers and Bears and there you have it. Add to this the fact that the NFL is in a 10% slump of viewership, this would be a great weekend to spend time working on that honeydo list. Earn some brownie points for next week when the Vikings, Eagles, Patriots and Steelers enter the mix.

Oh, and #FireRogerGoodell