July 31, 2004

"For I Have Tasted the Fruit"

Well, today was the last day of July, and I spent 11 hours of it playing a game of Alpha Centauri. Don't worry, it wasn't all in one sitting . . . No, indeed. I played from 12:30-4:30 AM and then 12:30-7:30 PM. It was fun. I never get tired of this game.

The plot: In 2060, Earth launches the United Nations Spaceship Unity, bound for a habitable planet orbiting our nearest stellar neighbor (Alpha Centauri). The colonists on board are supposed to spend the 40-year voyage in cryostasis, but a reactor malfunction followed by the assassination of the captain at the hands of an unknown assailant throws everything into disarray and chaos. The travelers split into seven factions, uniting behind the seven most charismatic and influential figures on board, and each group boards a separate pod to the surface of Planet.

Upon arrival, they all set up primary bases and attempt to build an empire (through exploration, scientific discovery, conquest, economy, etc.) capable of securing the dominance of their own particular ideology. Almost immediately, they come into violent contact with the native flora and fauna, and as time goes on the faction leaders begin to experience the tentative mental advances of an awakening planetary consciousness. The planet they have colonized is in the process of achieving sentience, and whether its attitude towards the interlopers is hostile or friendly remains to be seen . . .

It's fairly standard science fiction material skillfully woven into an addictive turn-based strategy game (and sequel to Civilization II . . . another of my favorites).

As always, I played as Academician Prokhor Zakharov (formerly of the Russian Commonwealth), Provost of the "University of Planet" faction. For my money, you just can't beat technology bonuses . . .

All of the options, however, are fairly entertaining in their own way. The game features reasonably talented voice acting and a large collection of well-written key quotes from each leader which really lend personality to the key players. Each character has a reasonably extensive background biography and a collection of three or four published works which serve as the main source for the quotes. The title of this post is from one of Zakharov's books.

The rest of the cast:

-Lady Deirdre Skye (formerly of Free Scotland, author of "Planet Dreams" and "Our Secret War"), leader of Gaia's Stepdaughters (the "environmentalist wacko" faction, color green).

-Chairman Sheng-ji Yang (author of "Essays on Mind and Matter" and "Ethics for Tomorrow"), ruler of the Human Hive (an atheistic police state, loaded down with population and social bonuses, color blue).

-CEO Nwabudike Morgan (author of "The Ethics of Greed" and "The Centauri Monopoly"), head of Morgan Industries (ahhh, the capitalist pigs, color yellow).

-Colonel Corazon Santiago (author of "Planet: A Survivalist's Guide" and " The Spartan Battle Manual"), commander of the Spartan Federation (these people are nuts!, color black).

-Sister Miriam Godwinson (formerly of the Christian States of America, author of "The Blessed Struggle," "But for the Grace of God" and "We Must Dissent"), guider of the Lord's Believers (uhhh . . . yeah, I'd love to know who decided on a "crazy fundie" faction, color orange).

-Commissioner Pravin Lal (author of "The Science of Our Fathers" and "Our Next Journey"), in charge of the Peacekeeping Forces (I hate this guy . . . he's the humanitarian UN flunky, obviously, color purple).

There are four ways to win a game of Alpha Centauri. In a diplomatic victory, you finagle 3/4 of the Planetary Council to unite behind you as Supreme Leader. You can vote for yourself, and number of votes is decided by total size of each factions' bases. Late in the game I had something like 3300 votes as compared to 70 or 80 votes for each of my competitors, but I've never cared for the diplomatic route.

You can achieve economic victory by cornering the Global Energy Market. In order to do this you must accumulate enough money to mind control every single remaining base on the planet. I have never even tried this.

A conquest victory is fairly self-explanatory, and is by far the most satisfying. I usually go for this in combination with the fourth type of victory: transcendence victory. This last is achieved by advancing as rapidly as possible along the tech tree until you have the ability to complete the Ascent to Transcendence project. By this route, your faction is the first to advance to the next stage of sentient evolution, joining with the fully-developed planetary consciousness in "ageless immortality."

In other words, I prefer to win the game by crushing all opposition while evolving into a immortal, semi-omniscient superbeing.

Along the way it's always fun to watch how the technology develops. You can research temporal mechanics, frictionless surfaces, self-aware machines, industrial nanorobotics, and . . . ethical calculus? Yup. Ethical calculus.

These techs in turn lead to advances in weaponry and base facilities . . . and they enable you to work on "secret projects" which grant even more benefits. These are particularly fun (only one can be built of each, so you have to beat the other players to the punch, and they come with an in-game movie as each one is completed). They include things like The Theory of Everything, The Cloning Vats, Clinical Immortality, The Space Elevator, and The Bulk Matter Transmitter.

It is my usual practice to name my bases after Star Wars planets, and today was no exception. I had nearly 100 bases by the end (micromanagement gets to be a real pain at that level) and I was having a very difficult time coming up with names I hadn't already used. The Peacekeepers and the Morganites were wiped out before I ever even came into contact with them, and I destroyed the Spartans fairly early in the game. It's not a good idea to let the Spartans build up when they're sitting right next to you. I made some sort of eternal alliance with the Gaians, but they dropped it suddenly when we were close to eliminating the final two factions. I was most displeased . . . so I took out all three of them. I achieved transcendence just before I had conquered the map, but I played on for a few turns just to have the satisfaction of controlling every last base.

One of my favorite features at the end shows a time-lapse animation of the development of the game using a color-coded map that plots each factions' territorial progression through the game. The colors moved rapidly around the board for quite a while, but then there was a sudden outbreak of "University of Planet White" in three or four places all over the map which grew outwards fairly rapidly to consume the entirety of Planet . . . *sigh*

Time to find something else to do now . . .

Posted by Jared at 11:38 PM | TrackBack

July 26, 2004

Verily y'all missed a goodly sport . . .

'twas indeed a big weekend for the SC Skeleton Crew, here holding down the fort in our remote East Texas outpost for the entirety of the summer. We had tickets for the "Texas Shakespeare Festival" this weekend, and Gallagher came to town.


We saw a performance of The Tempest on Friday night, and The Merchant of Venice on Saturday night. I had suggested on Thursday that we attend both performances decked out in full Elizabethan garb (thinking, of course, that if people can go see Episode I dressed up like Qui-Gon Jinn, there's no reason I shouldn't be able to attend "The Merchant of Venice" in Shylockian attire). The suggestion was not met with a good deal of enthusiasm, and to tell the truth, I was certain that it would involve far too much effort on my part anyway.

When we arrived at the theater in Kilgore, however, Anna noticed two women (who looked to be in their forties or fifties) who had stolen my idea. That is to say, they would have been able to blend in seamlessly at a Ren Faire. We were highly amused.

Tempest isn't exactly the best comedy ever, but I was fairly entertained throughout. The acting wasn't as strong as in Merchant, but obviously I didn't know that at the time. Some of the costumes were rather special . . . (I shall simply point out that a few of the cast members could have used codpieces and leave it at that). Ariel's costume practically wasn't, so to speak (although her problem had nothing to do with the lack of a codpiece, naturally).

I didn't care for Prospero's costume in particular . . . it just didn't say "all-powerful uber-sorceror" somehow. Scholl thought they were going for the "Greek oracle" look. Maybe. I also didn't care for the attire of the random spirits. Their outfits said something like "I am an orange hospital orderly dual-wielding Mexican piņatas."

This notwithstanding, the strongest acting in Tempest came from Caliban (a hideous monster who unwillingly serves Prospero . . . he was quite excellent), the two drunken sailors (Stephano and Trinculo, they provide the bulk of the comic relief when Caliban switches his allegience to them and their "celestial liquor"), and the elderly counselor, Gonzalo (a very Polonius-like character).

I'm not a huge fan of love stories that involve naive girls falling in love with the first men they've ever seen aside from their fathers (and, in this case, Caliban), but aside from that the plot is entertaining. The King of Naples was fairly wooden in his role, and Ariel was giving off a heavy weirdness vibe with her constant swaying and arm waving (as if she were a lighter-than-air floating spirit . . . or possibly both drunk and high). Prospero, Miranda, and Ferdinand were solid enough.

The general atmosphere of the entire thing, particularly in the stage decoration and lighting, produced a very surreal effect . . . on purpose I'm sure. The bizarre designs and lighting were a bit distracting to the eye, but all things considered, 'twas good enough.

Merchant came off quite a bit better when we went the next night. It was the final performance, and I should note that all of the actors from Tempest were in Merchant except the guy who played Prospero. Almost all of them seemed a good deal more comfortable in their Merchant roles with the exception of Antonio (The Merchant himself) who had played Trinculo. He was okay. So were Bassanio (Sebastian), Jessica (Ariel), and Lorenzo (Ferdinand).

Shylock, played by the same guy who played the King of Naples, was magnificent in all respects, thank goodness. Portia (Miranda) and Nerissa had excellent rapport. Launcelot Gobbo was loads of fun to watch. Gratiano (Stephano) and Salerio (Caliban) were hilarious. Tubal (Gonzalo), though a small part, was solidly delivered.

Particularly noteworthy, if only because of what it required of the actor involved, were the Duke of Venice, Prince of Morocco, and Prince of Arragon . . . all played by the same guy. I thought that was funny because, as I recall, Martinez played all three of those same parts (in addition to playing Lorenzo, Stephano, and Leonardo) in our version.

All three parts were very notably discharged . . . even Arragon (who was flagrantly gay . . . as gay as Paris in the spring, as it were . . . I'm still not sure quite why he was wife-hunting).

The costumes were largely late 19th century (fairly standard thing to do, I suppose). Gratiano and Lorenzo wore blinding shades of pink/peach and cream that would put even Dr. Roden to shame, but most of the other costumes were reasonably conservative in comparison. Anna complained that Jessica was obviously wearing a wig, but I wouldn't have known that this was the case had I not seen her real hair the night before. Morocco had the usual white robe, fez, and . . . large scimitar. Arragon . . . all black and silver, excessively tight pants, shirt with a severely ruffled collar and wrists and sharply plunging neckline to mid-chest or so. Scary.

The stage design worked a lot better for this one, I thought. Nice, shiny, marble-looking floor . . . a few (three, I think) columns off to the left . . . large, ornate, arched facade off to the right, with a few shallow, rounded steps leading up to it . . . equally large, flat circle hanging in back to fill in the empty space (the lighting changed its color each time we changed locations). Simple, easy on the eyes, not intrusive . . . All in all, an exceedingly enjoyable production.

And that is my first (and probably only, for awhile) attempt at being a dramatic critic. I'll end this little piece by tossing in this shamelessly arbitrary, and all but totally irrelevent, but still reasonably amusing paragraph on William Shakespeare that I stumbled across today while reading my latest Lemony Snicket book.

There is another writer I know, who, like myself, is thought by a great deal of people to be dead. His name is William Shakespeare, and he has written four kinds of plays: comedies, romances, histories, and tragedies. Comedies, of course, are stories in which people tell jokes and trip over things, and romances are stories in which people fall in love and probably get married. Histories are retellings of things that actually happened, like my history of the Baudelaire orphans, and tragedies are stories that usually begin fairly happily and then steadily go downhill, until all of the characters are dead, wounded, or otherwise inconvenienced. It is usually not much fun to watch a tragedy, whether you are in the audience or one of the characters, and out of all Shakespeare's tragedies possibly the least fun example is King Lear, which tells the story of a king who goes mad while his daughters plot to murder one another and other people who are getting on their nerves. Toward the end of the play, one of William Shakespeare's characters remarks that "Humanity must perforce prey upon itself, like monsters of the deep," a sentence which here means "How sad it is that people end up hurting one another as if they were ferocious sea monsters," and when the character utters those unhappy words, the people in Shakespeare's audience often weep, or sigh, or remind themselves to see a comedy next time.
Posted by Jared at 04:43 PM | TrackBack

July 23, 2004

Vaecordia Confiteor

It is a time for reflection, I suppose. They say that confession is good for the soul. They say that the first step to recovery is admitting that you have a problem. Of course, they are also largely idiots, but . . . Well, we'll see where this takes me. Check out the following list.

Star Wars: The New Jedi Order

1. Vector Prime by R.A. Salvatore - 100%
2. Dark Tide: Onslaught by Michael A. Stackpole - 82%
3. Dark Tide: Ruin by Michael A. Stackpole - 88%
4. Agents of Chaos: Hero's Trial by James Luceno - 86%
5. Agents of Chaos: Jedi Eclipse by James Luceno - 84%
6. Balance Point by Kathy Tyers - 70%
7. Edge of Victory: Conquest by Greg Keyes - 85%
8. Edge of Victory: Rebirth by Greg Keyes - 91%
9. Star by Star by Troy Denning - 93%
10. Dark Journey by Elaine Cunningham - 83%
11. Enemy Lines: Rebel Dream by Aaron Allston - 94%
12. Enemy Lines: Rebel Stand by Aaron Allston 96%
13. Traitor by Matthew Stover - 100%
14. Destiny's Way by Walter Jon Williams - 92%
15. Force Heretic: Remnant by Sean Williams & Shane Dix - 88%
16. Force Heretic: Refugee by Sean Williams & Shane Dix - 82%
17. Force Heretic: Reunion by Sean Williams & Shane Dix - 76%
18. The Final Prophecy by Greg Keyes - 61%
19. The Unifying Force by James Luceno - 89%

(Disclaimer: Please keep in mind that my rating system for books is so arbitrary, it makes amoebas juggling gelatin look reasonable. Really the only reliable judging factor for the percentages above is as a measure of how good the books were in relation to each other.)

I started the first book in the list way back in late 1999, and yesterday evening I finished the last book on the list. So . . . where do I start in on this, anyway?

This is by far the longest series (to date) which I have read in its entirety. It took me five years . . . and I've only been alive for twenty. The series itself actually covers five years of "Star Wars time," by the way. I was in 10th grade when I started reading The New Jedi Order series. I lived on an orphanage in a suburb of the capital of Guatemala. I was being homeschooled. I had never heard of LeTourneau University, or even Longview. I barely had a driver's license, and I certainly couldn't fathom the concept of graduating from high school. I really don't remember for certain what I thought I might major in. I'm pretty sure that both the archaeology and vague "some branch of science" phases were over. I wasn't anywhere near engineering yet. I was probably thinking "teacher" . . . or maybe just "missionary."

I finished the book while riding in a car with three other people whose existence I was unaware of five years ago. It is the summer before my third year of college. I am double majoring in English and History/Political Science. I am living in East Texas.

In short, I am not particularly staggered by having completed a 19-book series, which totalled 6,974 pages in length, I just can't believe how much water went under the bridge while I was following the epic account of Luke Skywalker and company in their struggle against the Yuuzhan Vong. I find that one of the few things I can confidently say that I still have in common with that other self is that we both enjoy picking up a Star Wars book from time to time.

If you're already rolling your eyes, take care. They might unscrew from their sockets and go rolling away over the course of the next few paragraphs . . .

At latest count, there are 96 Star Wars books on my booklist . . . that's out of 922 total books. 1 in 10 of the books I have read over the course of the last eight years has been a Star Wars book. The only meaningful figures that really even approach that are Hardy Boys books (at 1 in 20, much to my chagrin), and those books that have "Favorite of All Time" status (1 in 30).

I own 77 of these books, plus two of the trade paperbacks (comics). My copy of the Episode II novelization is autographed by the author. On my computer I have 33 MB of reference material in Word documents, including an encyclopedia and a timeline/summary of all published material (together they are over 5,000 pages long, single-spaced). I have 150+ Star Wars pictures in a file, mostly for use as wallpaper. I have written two completed works of "fan fiction" (they are saved in Word), one is 10 pages long and the other is 40, and a half finished work which sat at 20 pages the last time I did anything with it nearly three years ago (all three are single-spaced). (As a brief side note, I didn't use any of the established main characters . . . merely borrowed the universe.) There are nine and a half hours of music from the Star Wars movies on my computer. And, still speaking of computers, I have at various times both owned and played through Dark Forces, Jedi Knight, Mysteries of the Sith, Jedi Knight II, TIE Fighter, X-Wing, X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter, X-Wing Alliance, Rogue Squadron, Galactic Battlegrounds, Force Commander, Starfighter, and Episode I Racer. I can hardly wait to get my hands on Knights of the Old Republic. In other words, I've flown a dozen kinds of starfighters in combat, raced pods on dozens of planets, commanded large complements of both Imperial and Rebel troops in land and space battles, and killed more stormtroopers than you can shake a stick at with everything from lightsabers to turbolasers. I own the Original Trilogy (Special Editions) and Episode I on VHS, Episode II on DVD. Since I don't own a TV or VCR, the full versions of the Original Trilogy (also Special Editions) take up an additional 2 GB of space on my computer. I have a small collection of Star Wars Micro Machines. I own Star Wars Trivial Pursuit. I own a Star Wars beach towel (it features pod racing).

Ballpark figures: I could probably name over 80 Star Wars planets before I really had to stop and think and tell you something about each of them. I might even be able to place about 1/4 of them on a galactic map. (I know the galactic coordinates of Coruscant, why it is named Coruscant, and two alternate names for Coruscant from when it was renamed by invaders.) I could name and describe at least that many alien species and identify their homeworld, if any. (I know about the Vors' Concert of the Winds on Vortex and the floating cities inhabited by Ithorians.) I could probably name over 300 characters, both major and minor, and give you whatever comprehensive biography exists for half of them. (I can name Chewbacca's wife, father, son, nephew, and former arch-rival from his homeworld of Kashyyyk. I can name half a dozen people who have held the position of Director of New Republic Intelligence, and half a dozen Imperial Warlords.) I know the names and a few technical specs (sizes, capabilities, functions, manufacturers) for nearly 200 types of Star Wars vehicles, weapons, and droids. (I know the color of Anakin Solo's lightsaber blade, why the Errant Venture is the only red Star Destroyer in the galaxy, and the function of the YVH 1 droid.) I don't remember the exact number of published Star Wars books, but there are nearly 140. I could put them in chronological order simply by referring to a list of titles. In fact, I might not even need a list . . . I could just list them for you. I could tell you who wrote them, and probably a few other things that they've written. I know who designed the cover art. I could tell you when they were published to within a year (maybe two in some cases) and by what company. I could list and explain the major events from over 55 years of Star Wars "history." I know who the commander of Rogue Squadron was 12 years after Return of the Jedi. I know the particulars of the Wookiee "coming-of-age" ceremonies. I know who killed Grand Admiral Thrawn and why. I can quote the movies, verbatim. I know who played who and what else they've been in. I know that Dennis Lawson (who played Wedge Antilles in the OT) is the real-life uncle of Ewan McGregor (who plays Obi-Wan Kenobi in the prequels). I know that Pernilla August (Shmi Skywalker) is from Sweden. I know names of directors, producers, cameramen, stuntpeople, make-up artists, special effects wizards, puppeteers and sound editors. I know that Yoda's eyes are modelled after Albert Einstein's. I know that they used model battleship kits to construct the miniature of the first Death Star trench. I could simultaneously Force-choke three assailants to death before they could take two steps.

Well, okay, maybe not that . . . I could, however, beat Leatherwood at any game of Star Wars trivia. Probably in my sleep. (This is not a point of pride.) I could go on . . . a lot. But I won't. I just . . . won't.

In conclusion, I don't really need to try and defend myself. It wouldn't work. I merely lay the facts before you. Perhaps you can at least understand why I might enjoy reading Star Wars books. I know these characters better than I know my children . . . errr . . . so to speak. It is comfortable to slide into a familiar universe, and it is fun to see what goes on there as the years go by.

To conclude in as choppy a fashion as possible, let me just say this: May the Fluff be with you, for the Fuzz will be with you, always.

I will now go read the Star Wars version of this, this, and this. And yes, that does mean that I just started Star Wars book #97.

And you will all mock me now. Copiously. And for anyone who wants to know, the correct spelling is L-O-S-E-R.

Thank you very much.

Posted by Jared at 04:32 PM | TrackBack

July 20, 2004

Happy Moon Landing

It was exactly 35 years ago today (on July 20th, 1969) that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin completed their historic trip to the moon. These men were among the first members of a fairly new profession at the time known as "astronauts" (men who travel into outer space). The moon, as some of you may know, is the earth's only natural satellite (that means it orbits around us, held on its path by our gravitational pull, you see).

Armstrong's and Aldrin's (both Americans, by the way . . . Russian space travelers are called "cosmonauts") landing on the moon was the culmination of our 12-year "Space Race" with the Soviet Union. The Soviets had launched the first man-made object (Sputnik) to breach the atmosphere in 1957, and had also launched the first flight to carry a man (Yuri Gagarin) both into space and into orbit in 1961.

America had started late in the race, and it took years for us to catch up, but by 1969, NASA (that's "National Aeronautics and Space Administration," by the way . . . the government agency in charge of space exploration) had caught up and were finally ready to win the race after the long haul. We beat those Commies to the moon, and Armstrong's first words as he stepped out of the lunar lander will forever be remembered by the hundreds of millions of people who were watching him on television: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

You know, I like to think of that great day in our history as a sort of global parallel to the events celebrated by the nation of France on July 14th. You see, on that day in 1789, French revolutionaries stormed "the Bastille Saint-Antoine, a castle serving as a political prison in Paris." This marks the beginning of the French Revolution and is still celebrated today as the day that France finally took steps to free itself from the oppressive rule of the monarchy.

In the same way, we as a race symbolically "stormed" the moon on July 20th, 1969, declaring our freedom from the earth's oppressive gravitational pull, which had until that time kept us tied to itself, unable to soar high above it as our imaginations had already been doing for centuries.

In conclusion, there is certainly no mockery of Wilson whatsoever going on in this post, and there is also no sarcasm whatsoever at LeTourneau.

Thank you, and good night.

Posted by Jared at 10:15 PM | TrackBack

July 19, 2004

LeTourneau University, With All My Heart . . .

I hate you forever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and . . .

Dear summer residents,

We have some details concerning the transition out of summer housing into fall housing. Due to our need to complete a thorough cleaning of the Honors apartments, we will need to make that space available to Facilities Services to prepare the apartments for the fall semester.

If you are living in Honors housing or Carpenter house for the fall semester, you will need to move to the Trinity halls on August 1st and then will transition back into your fall housing assignment on August 18th. We will be providing your housing assignment for that two week period in the Trinity halls. Women will be housed in ELH and men will be housed in Mabee hall.

. . . ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever.

Scholl will be leaving here on the 2nd of August to return on the 10th, and I'm flying out on the 11th to return on the 25th . . . How can they send out something like this on JULY FREAKIN' 19TH?!

Even had we known this earlier . . . I still would have hated everyone responsible, but we wouldn't have . . . We are completely moved into this apartment. We are settled in with the sort of permanency that suggests you will be living somewhere for the next full year. Boxes are unpacked and stored in the attic. Bookshelves are full. Drawers are full. Closets are full. Refrigerators and cabinets are full. Couches and chairs are placed.

In short, I expect it to take at least two (probably three) very full and tiring days to get us out of here, and another week to move us back in to how we are now.

It's not so much a question of whether to kill someone at this point . . . it's how many, and who first.

Update: (Received at 8:10 PM, July 22nd)

Hi Summer Students -

The meeting is still on tonight at 10:00 in the Village Center (I've heard that it's closed right now but I haven't been around this week to look into it, so whoever wants to come let's still meet there but prepare ourselves for flexibility).


Due to approximately 50 interrelated factors, the decision has been made NOT TO MOVE YOU OUT OF THE APARTMENTS ON AUGUST 1. In other words, everything is exactly as it was before this soap opera began (as far as Summer Housing goes).

Posted by Jared at 11:11 AM | TrackBack

July 13, 2004

A Wilde Shot in the Dark

As you can see on the right, we watched Wilde last night. It was fairly disturbing . . . and I thought movies had stopped disturbing me awhile ago. I do not recommend it to . . . well, anyone, really.

But I wouldn't have minded nearly so much if they hadn't been so disgustingly incorrect in their characterization of Oscar Wilde. It's positively criminal . . . like the screenwriter penned a movie on the great author without reading anything he'd written. They actually did quote him at length in the movie, of course, but it's as if they weren't paying attention to what they were reading while selecting the quotes and so forth . . . Gross negligence!

I suppose I was also more than a little distraught by all of the familiar faces involved (the movie had a ridiculous number of famous actor types) . . . and what those faces were . . . ah . . . doing. You can get a full cast list for yourself if you want it . . . I will simply mention in passing that this was Orlando Bloom's film debut.

Now, on to the main point:

Wilde's character was reduced to that of your average quiet, sardonic wit . . . no flavor or flamboyance, no spring in the step, no gaiety. Well, okay, there was gaiety all right, it just wasn't the kind I'm talking about. If you're going to be gay, dammit, be gay!

Whatever. I sense that I am straying slightly from my original aim. The chief problem with the movie was this: It turned Oscar Wilde into a victim, not only of his society, but of other young men. He is seduced, to begin with, by a man younger than himself, and he proceeds to be swept into affair after affair as if he doesn't want to be involved at all, really.

Always he is the too-quiet voice of reason and propriety and moderation and discretion, simply unable to assert himself in the face of his lover's belligerence. Did any of them actually read all of De Profundis? (I have previously quoted pertinent portions of this letter, written to Lord Alfred "Bosie" Douglas on this blog.)

Wilde wants to do the right thing, or, failing that, he wants to be discrete about doing the wrong thing, but he is unable to get past the beautiful vision he seems to have of so-called "ideal love" as he believes it existed in Ancient Greece between master and disciple.

Meh. Again, whatever. All this and more I could have accepted as potentially believable, (or at least acceptable), twists on the actual character, but then they went and blew the moral of the story, and a movie with great potential for a powerful illustration of redemption becomes a self-righteous (and rather late) sermon for gay rights.

Oh, yes . . . Wilde found a moral. Well, fine, the movie found a moral as well, it just wasn't a moral moral. Or, rather, it was amoral moral. Uhhh . . . yeah. I just hope you aren't reading this out loud to someone for whatever reason.

Anyway, the point is, as the excerpt from De Profundis and the following excerpt from the poem he composed while he was in prison clearly show, Wilde was getting it. He spent the last few years of his life getting it, becoming a Catholic on his deathbed. He certainly didn't spend that time with Bosie.

From "The Ballad of Reading Gaol" (The "he" referred to repeatedly is a murderer, recently hanged)

And thus we rust Life's iron chain
Degraded and alone:
And some men curse, and some men weep,
And some men make no moan:
But God's eternal Laws are kind
And break the heart of stone.

And every human heart that breaks,
In prison-cell or yard,
Is as that broken box that gave
Its treasure to the Lord,
And filled the unclean leper's house
With the scent of costliest nard.

Ah! happy they whose hearts can break
And peace of pardon win!
How else may man make straight his plan
And cleanse his soul from Sin?
How else but through a broken heart
May Lord Christ enter in?

And he of the swollen purple throat,
And the stark and staring eyes,
Waits for the holy hands that took
The Thief to Paradise;
And a broken and a contrite heart
The Lord will not despise.

The man in red who reads the Law
Gave him three weeks of life,
Three little weeks in which to heal
His soul of his soul's strife,
And cleanse from every blot of blood
The hand that held the knife.

And with tears of blood he cleansed the hand,
The hand that held the steel:
For only blood can wipe out blood,
And only tears can heal:
And the crimson stain that was of Cain
Became Christ's snow-white seal.

Posted by Jared at 11:31 PM | TrackBack

Geek Hierarchy Update

I humbly submit that Anime Freaks are without doubt the most frightening of any group of people in existence.

P.S. I blame it on the ratio.

Posted by Jared at 04:49 PM | TrackBack

July 12, 2004


Being a bachelor is a lot like being five years old.

This thought occured to me earlier today as my mind was wandering in the midst of painting, and a couple of Fallen Ones were swapping stories in the next room.

To begin in with, there are the comparisons that will laughingly be drawn concerning how much each cleans up the house or otherwise displays general signs of responsible behavior. That's not what I'm talking about . . . (Well, maybe a little).

Both bachelors and five-year olds have the general ability to hold a carefree (or even careless) attitude about life in general. Both can afford to be extravagant with their free time. Neither has any particular reason to care what anyone else thinks about them.

But the chief similarity that struck me was this: Neither of them seem to have any appreciation at all for this ideal state! How unfair is that? They are both ridiculously preoccupied with advancing to the next stage in life, never realizing how well off they are until the current stage has passed and they can never return to it. So sad.

So few demands on time . . . So few responsibilities to keep track of from day to day . . .

What a waste.

That is all.

Posted by Jared at 10:58 PM | TrackBack

July 11, 2004

Hey, Moore, guess what I had for dinner . . .

Some of the delicious blueberry pancakes that Ardith made.

Mmmmmmmmm . . .

Anyway, if you're reading this, then you probably noticed the rather conspicuous lack of posting since . . . well, June or so. But I'm back, as the two posts below will attest. As you can see from the dates, they were both begun long ago, and I simply had to complete them . . . I've, uh, been kinda busy.

You can tell from the sidebar what I've been watching and what I've been reading, so that's taken care of. Since the last time I mentioned a movie, I have watched a few noteworthies (95%+): Apocalypse Now (97%), Amadeus (100%), A Passage to India (99%), and Big Fish (97%). Apocalypse Now I had never seen before, but the others I had . . . and I've blogged about all of them, I believe.

In short, outside of my brief sojourn to West Texas (from whence I returned Tuesday evening), I have nothing further to report for the moment. This leaves me with one of two choices . . . I can sit here and blog about the lack of post-worthy material, or I can go get me some.


Posted by Jared at 10:46 PM | TrackBack

July 04, 2004

God Steals the Show or: A Midsummer Night's Vacation

Ahhh . . . My big middle-of-the-summer vacation time has finally arrived, and I am enjoying copious amounts of it here in West Texas even as we speak.

It is very much the 4th of July . . . barely. And as such, a post is quite in order. As busy as today has been, however, I had probably better catch the lot of you up on my activities as of our last communication first.

Prepare yourselves for epic journeyings by automobile, epic loungings on epic recliners for epic lengths of time, and even . . .

Well, read on . . .

I picked up the folks and the littlest brother in Dallas on Thursday and brought them back to Longview. My parents relaxed at their hotel, and I entertained Ian with a trip to the library, a guided tour of campus, and an evening of movie-watching.

On Friday we had a very long trip to Lubbock . . . Normally takes 7-8 hours, but we managed it in 12 thanks to a major blowout about 25 miles from Abilene. I hate Abilene, and spending 4 hours in a Wal-mart there (wasn't even one of the Super kind . . .) didn't improve my disposition any.

Nevertheless, we managed to complete the journey safe and sound, and I was very glad to see everyone . . . Brett called for a midnight trip to the Sonic, and since Audra (who works there) didn't object, I had no objections of my own to raise. We arrived and discovered that neither Ashley or Audra actually wanted to order anything and Brett had no money. I ordered a small chocolate shake.

I didn't spend nearly enough of Saturday in bed, but I made up for it by spending the rest of it sprawled across various couches and recliners. The afternoon and evening found me glued to the proverbial boob tube as I watched five movies, consecutively (but not concurrently). Only one (and possibly a half) of them was actually worth my time, but . . . Oh, well.

And then it was the 4th of July. Or, rather, now it is the 4th of July, I suppose. I accompanied family (immediates and extendeds) to Trinity Church of Lubbock, TX and experienced there a service that I'd rather not rehash before we all gathered at the traditional Sunday lunch restaurant: Rosa's Cafe.

The food wasn't as tasty as usual, but this might have been due to an argument I was engaged in over the finer points of the sermon, the justifications for our present war in Iraq, and Hillary Clinton's chances at becoming president someday . . .


We decided that clearly a movie was in order for the whiling away of the afternoon, and I, of course, had just the proper 4th of July movie in mind: 1776. Yes, indeed. If that movie doesn't strike the perfect tone of patriotic cynicism and general Founding Father fun and hilarity, then I don't know what . . .

Of course, hardly anyone appreciated it as I do, and there was certainly some open dislike among those watching it. Philistines.

After this we all found our way to my grandmother's house in Lubbock (having watched the movie at my grandma's house in Southland) for a happy 4th of July evening celebration.

I helped a bit with the decorating of our parade "floats" but for once there were enough enthusiastic youngsters milling about to void the necessity of my participation . . . Perhaps I should back up a tad and explain.

Every year the denizens of my grandparents' half-mile stretch of street gather at one end with whatever vehicles and outfits they have on hand, and parade down to the other end of the street, turn around, and parade back. It has been a habit of ours for many years to decorate my grandad's orange tractor and green ride-on mower with flags and appropriately colored streamers for the purpose of joining in the fun.

I stopped enjoying my role as driver of the ride-on mower (being the eldest of all the grandchildren on both sides of the family) somewhere around the time that I got my driver's license, but my younger siblings and cousins have been strangely reluctant to take over this duty, and I have done my best to drive in the parade anyway . . . Until this year.

I decided that clearly there were more than sufficient younger types running around to take my place. After all, Audra, Jessica, Micah and Brendon have all acquired permits and/or licenses as this point . . . not to mention Ashley, Shawn and Brett. And Aaron, Ian, and Camie are all plenty old to get behind the wheel of a lawnmower or tractor.

In short, there's no reason why I should have to drive outside of the general prescriptions of tradition. The fact that tradition is not easily broken has been responsible for my driving of the thing for the past five years, but this year I was determined to pass the proverbial mantle.

To make a long story short: Ian drove the mower, Brett drove the tractor, and Shawn rode in the bucket. This is funny when you know that said "bucket" is attached to the front of the tractor is raised about 8 feet off of the ground, and that normally Camie, who is about 13 at this point, rides up there. Shawn, like Ashley, is 9 months younger than I. Or maybe it's not funny to you at all. I don't know.

We got Ian out of the front yard with many shouted instructions and much wringing of hands (he had to wind his way through eight haphazardly parked cars . . . another consequence of the number of driver's licenses that are floating around now), and settled in to enjoy the show.

I glanced around as my two grandmothers took seats on either side of me, and . . . nothing looked familiar, somehow. Then I realized that I had never (in over 10 years) enjoyed the parade from this perspective before. This year we had a real, live Naval officer in full dress uniform wielding a flag at the head of . . . all the little girls on their pink and purple tricycles, boys on go-carts, cowpersons on horseback, cousins and brothers riding mowers and tractors, etc.

It's quite a spectacle . . . but people throw candy at you.

Grandma: Jolly Ranchers? Ooo! Peach! My favorite!

As Brett and Ian went by, I went nuts . . . Cheering and yelling at the top of my lungs. A few others joined in. Ian squirmed, obviously embarassed, and Brett shouted back, calling me obscene names in Spanish. I sat back, satisfied. This is what being an older brother on the sidelines of the parade is all about . . . and I was finally getting to experience it.

At this point (the parade being over) Audra expressed an interest in game time. I did my best to rally all of The Kids to my banner, and before long we had two teams of four sitting down to play Ultimate Outburst. Somehow (and I couldn't really tell you how this happened) the teams came out with Ashley, Shawn, Brett, and myself against Audra and three Little People. We mopped up the board with them. Ooops.

I tried to make Catchphrase a bit more fair, joining Audra's team and bumping Brendon onto the other one. The teams were fairly even and gaming went on until after dark . . . The Adults had their own game of Catchphrase going in the next room. Adults are loud.

Anyway, now that I've been rambling about this and that, we arrive at the actual topic of this post, as dictated by the title.

It was time to do fireworks, and once again I relegated myself to the sidelines. My mother wanted me to go supervise, but I reminded her that my brothers have been doing stupid things with dangerous flammables for many and many a year already, and they hardly needed any help from me. Instead, I limited myself to shouting general insults in their direction as we waited for them to figure out what to light first. I also got up a bit of a chorus with Ashley and my grandma . . . as each colorful fire-flower exploded overhead we gave a loud "Oooo" or "Aaaa" in concert.

Fireworks hadn't been going off for very long before we started noticing something quite a bit more spectacular off in the distance (but getting rapidly closer). God, seeing our pretty Independence Day lights, had decided to get in on the action, I suppose . . .

Between each rocket of ours, there were at least two or three multi-forked bursts of lightening shooting down from on high less than two miles away (as the thunder . . . umm . . . claps, I guess). I, for one, quit paying attention to what was going on overhead and focused on God's Fireworks. Hard to beat, those . . .

Within 20 minutes, the rain had arrived and we went inside for a game of Trivial Pursuit. Before organizing that, however, I couldn't help but spend a few moments at the window . . .

God's Fireworks, of course, are quite rainproof.

God's Fireworks, in addition, are not constrained to being displayed for the viewing pleasure of any particular nation on any particular day. I may be from the United States of America, and I may be inclined to love my country more than any other, but my God is not nearly so limited.

Posted by Jared at 11:59 PM | TrackBack

July 01, 2004

"The horror! The horror!"

-Kurtz, Heart of Darkness & Apocalypse Now

"And this also has been one of the dark places of the earth."

-Marlow, Heart of Darkness

My friends and faithful readers, I come before you this evening saddened and deeply troubled. These feelings are undoubtedly due to the events of this past weekend, tragic as they have been.

As difficult as as it may be, however, to recount them all to you as they transpired, I feel that it is necessary that you all understand the gravity and the depth of the terrible fate which has overtaken our comrade, Jonathan Wilson.

Allow me then (with no small amount of trepidation) to begin at the beginning and so proceed until I have laid the entire matter before you.

It has long been a somewhat latent ambition of mine to journey deep into the dark and forbidding wilds of central Texas to engage in a study of the local flora and fauna (like Baptists) and to accrue further knowledge of the geography of the country. When we began, some weeks ago, to receive disturbing reports from our man in the field the certainty of a forthcoming sojourn was clinched.

My supervisor reluctantly commissioned the trip, with explicit instructions regarding various eventualities (everything from encounters with hostile natives to unforseeable difficulties with the transportation) and it was with no small amount of enthusiasm that I faced the adventure ahead.

Leaving in the middle of Friday afternoon, I carefully made my way into the jungle proper, leaving the bare trappings of civilization contained in our own remote outpost of east Texas behind me.

The first portion of the journey was pleasantly uneventful, as I breezed lightly downriver. Thick foliage pressed close on both sides, often reaching over my head towards their brethren standing opposite them, but amidst the densly packed mass of greens and browns it seemed there were none who dared to attempt the crossing. The reason for this became obvious as I occasionally passed the mutilated remains of some of their smaller, furrier relations, the corpses often disfigured beyond my ability to recognize what they once had been. The "highway" is a harsh mistress.

As I traveled, I thought over what I knew of Wilson's record . . . Exemplary scholar, sparkling intellect, immaculately groomed and attired . . . Sterling service record with the LeTourneau University Honors Committee and founding stake in the self-styled "Shadow Council" . . . and that quirky fixation on what he often referred to as "ethics." None of it seemed to add up . . . How could someone like that be showing signs of the state his superiors seemed to suspect that he was in?

After some hours had gone by, I found myself in a somewhat developed area and I docked at what appeared to be the most popular local dining establishment. A prominent, elevated sign announced that I had arrived at "Dairy Queen," and I cautiously tethered my craft and ventured inside. I was greeted, briefly, by half a dozen vacant stares, and I immediately recognized the sort of natives I was dealing with from my studies of the region.

This particular Texan tribe is known formally as "Small Town High School Students," although they often group themselves into subtribes. I had heard that they were best left to themselves unless one was willing to attempt contact with them (being sure to speak in their own tongue). It is one of the many peculiarities of this particular tribe that the language changes regularly on something like a 2-10 year rotation cycle, and is spoken with an odd lilt which cannot be imitated by anyone above a certain age. I, however, was in no mood to make contact at that time at any rate, as I had more pressing business to the south. I ate quickly and resumed my journey.

Before long I noticed a dark mass of clouds gathering in my path, and it was obvious that I was sailing into a dangerous storm which would test my abilities to the very limit.

And it did. To summarize:

The weather started getting rough,
The tiny ship was tossed,
If not for the courage of the fearless crew,
The pickup would be lost, the pickup would be lost.

I could hardly see a thing as the ship was tossed back and forth, slewing wildly from side to side. Blinding columns of white light struck the tree-dotted fields on either side of my small vessel, followed immediately by violent blasts of thunder. I screamed obstreperously right back and forged bravely ahead.

After weathering the storm, I had smooth sailing the rest of the way to Wilson's place of residence. Tethering my craft outside the house, I disembarked and stepped inside. The radio was blaring out the final notes of a folk song of some sort, and I heard the station identify itself as "NPR." I went further in, and there he was.

I almost didn't recognize him, and he certainly didn't seem to recognize me. Huddled under a blanket on the couch, as NPR continued to broadcast its odd assortment of this and that, he was darting wild glances about the room and muttering to himself in French. Approaching cautiously, I could see that he was clutching a collection of Bakhtin's essays to his chest. A review of Fahrenheit 9/11 sat, neglected, on a nearby table next to haphazardly piled movies and textbooks. In fact, his dorm room seemed to have been transplanted in bizarre, jumbled sections to the center of this room. Piles of his possessions rose up like mini-skyscrapers, obscuring the floor. Wilson, seated as he was, couldn't even see all the way across the room.

Of course, I immediately leapt into action, even as his half-crazed eyes flitted in my direction.

"Wilson," I said. "Muslims are people, too."

I saw the glowing embers of intelligible thought brighten ever so slightly somewhere deep inside him, and I was encouraged. Perhaps I was not too late, after all. After a mere half hour of that kind of talk, I had him responding with noncommittal grunts and the occasional monosyllabic answer. Two more hours and we were conversing fluently about the general ignorance with which limited or nonexistent historiographical knowledge is applied to modern political science by the average layperson. Those glowing embers had become a joyfully flickering flame, dancing back in Wilson's head.

As I drifted to sleep early that morning, I congratulated myself on a job well done . . . completely unsuspecting of the impending disaster lurking just around the corner.

By Sunday morning, Wilson was looking quite a bit better, and it seemed to me that we should be able to risk a trip to the First Baptist Church of Bastrop with very little to fear. I'm sorry to say that this proved to be a very clear lapse in judgment on my part.

Everyone seemed to recognize my charge as we entered the building, and greetings were meekly offered from all sides. These simple natives were obviously pleased that Wilson had deigned to walk amongst them, but the slightly crazed look that crept into his gaze at each successive greeting did not escape my notice.

Lost in the Apocrypha during the sermon, I failed to note the waning of the sparks I had so recently stirred to life. A bit more attentive as the Sunday school lesson unfolded, I began to see the depths of my error. Wilson's attitude was quietly benign, his demeanor that of a visiting patron saint. Each time the teacher, (the entire room, even), turned to him for a hint, he answered slowly, but with certainty. They ate up his words and seemed to take a degree of confidence from them . . . but I could see.

They were feeding off of him. His power, having corrupted him, was now being slowly drained away in company with his intellect.

Several eternities later, the lesson was over and I guided Wilson out of the room. We made our way slowly back to his house and he collapsed on the couch after switching on NPR, shakily drawing the blanket around himself. I turned the radio back down and knelt at his side . . .

"Wilson," I said urgently. "C'mon. You can pull out of this. I see it's been rough, but you want to make it back to LeTourneau next semester, right? You don't want to go like this, surely?"

He kept on looking out past me with fiery, longing eyes, with a mingled expression of wistfulness and hate. He made no answer, but I saw a smile, a smile of indefinable meaning, appear on his colourless lips that a moment after twitched convulsively. "Do I not?' he said slowly, gasping, as if the words had been torn out of him by a supernatural power. His was an impenetrable darkness. I looked at him as you peer down at a man who is lying at the bottom of a precipice where the sun never shines.

Anything approaching the change that came over his features I have never seen before, and hope never to see again. Oh, I wasn't touched. I was fascinated. It was as though a veil had been rent. I saw on that ivory face the expression of sombre pride, of ruthless power, of craven terror--of an intense and hopeless despair. Did he live his life again in every detail of desire, temptation, and surrender during that supreme moment of complete knowledge? He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision--he cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath:

"The horror! The horror!"

And the light of intelligence died, finally and completely, behind his eyes. I sat like that for awhile . . . I don't know how long . . . until at last I knew that I ought to depart.

I stepped wearily outside and boarded my pickup, guiding it slowly out of Wilson's tributary and onto the winding main drag that would take me home.

The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed sombre under an overcast sky--seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness.


*clears throat*

*looks around*

Okay, so my visit to Bastrop didn't go down EXACTLY like that, per se. I confess it freely . . . but truth is stranger than fiction, and you'll find that some of the most far-fetched elements of my story actually did take place last weekend.

Had I arrived one week later than I did, everything you just read might actually have taken place. It might be taking place even now, for all I know. Sadly, I now lack the transportation to ascertain for certain that Wilson's intellect remains intact.

We must all continue to hope for the best, and pray that the summer ends sooner rather than later . . .

Posted by Jared at 02:27 AM | TrackBack

That is too funny . . .

I must see this movie . . .

Posted by Jared at 12:42 AM | TrackBack