Saturday Music: Skillet

I’m not musically inclined, so I’m not really qualified to discuss the objective musical quality of any band. My criteria for music that I like is a purely subjective enjoyment and / or that it sparks some creative juices or gives a good emotional charge.

The result is that I only rarely get attached to actual bands; I mostly go on a song-by-song basis. But one of the few that I regularly return to and find a reliable source of songs I like is Skillet.

I’ve mentioned them before, but the short version is that they’re a rock band with Christian sensibilities. Or perhaps a Christian rock band. Or a rock band that happens to be composed of Christians. Some of their songs are explicitly religious, others are just rocking awesomeness or gooely emotional.

But whatever the subject matter they have a tendency to hit just the right note for my tastes. I go to them fairly often for my Appreciation videos and have a few other creative ideas for their work down the line.

If you haven’t heard them before, I offer a selection of some of my favorites of their songs for your enjoyment.

(There are two versions of this one: one with a growl, another without it. This is the one without, since that’s what I prefer)
(This one pretty sums up my feelings about Progressive movements)

Mauler Vs. Snyder

I have absolutely no interest in the Snyder cut of Justice League and I never did.

Honestly, the man who made Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman, the guy who openly sneered at fans of Superman who expected a hopeful, upbeat hero and arrogantly likened experiencing his ‘mature’ and ‘gritty’ version to losing one’s virginity (while displaying an absurdly childish understanding of human behavior, storytelling, and consequences throughout), and we’re supposed to be excited that he gets carte-blanche and an unlimited runtime?

When I first heard about this and started seeing trailers, I figured it would be completely different from the original cut: a different story, with a lot more things going on. Then I started seeing summaries and reviews and I thought, “Wait, so this is the exact same Steppenwolf / Mother Boxes story, only told over four hours? That plot was thin over a two-hour film: you stretched it out to four?” Similar to how I’ve heard there’s a six-hour cut of Black Panther: a film where well over half the theatrical screentime is pure filler. I have to wonder just what they heck these filmmakers are wasting time and money on.

Enter the legendary Mauler (legendary as in I was legitimately uncertain whether he still existed as a reviewer, as it’s been eight months since his last video), who seems to have hated the Snyder cut and the praise it’s been getting so much that he did a rush job to tear it apart.

It isn’t his best work (he jumps around a lot in this one, a consequence of the rushed production it seems), but as usual he bring clear, logical arguments and side-by-side footage to illustrate just how bad this version is and to make the case that, believe it or not, Joss Whedon actually did all he could to save the damn thing.

(Learned that most of the few moments I actually liked from the original cut, e.g. Superman showing up with a corny line about justice, Supes and Flash saving civilians, Flash commenting on how digging up Clark with super-speed felt disrespectful – literally the one moment I actually liked the Flash in that movie – were original to Whedon’s cut).

(And seriously, Flash can time travel at will? Cyborg can control all machines on earth? What the heck is this?)

Mauler does a great job of breaking scenes and character arcs down logically, illustrating why they do or do not make sense and what they bring to the story or take away from it.

I particularly liked his summation of why Snyder doesn’t deserve any slack:

“How many directors get to shit out a horrendously written movie destroying established, beloved characters with a multi-million dollar backing and an all-star cast? Three times?”

Language warning, by the way: he’s no Razorfist, but he doesn’t mince words.

“Four ***ing hours and the characters are almost as thin, if not thinner, than a two-hour cut? How the **** does that happen?”

(By the way, can we please stop with the boom reverb on alien / demonic bad guys? They do it in every film these days and it’s really old, making them all sound exactly the same. Again, like a child’s idea of how a meany villain ought to sound. I’d like to point out that Michael Ironside, Clancy Brown, Powers Boothe, Ron Perlman, Kevin Michael Richardson, Corey Burton, Mark Hamill, David Warner, Michael Ansara, and so on didn’t need it for voicing far more intimidating and memorable versions of the DC villains).

Miracle of the Vistula

In August 1920, newly independent Poland stood all-but alone against the newly risen monster of the Soviet Union. The Soviets were looking to eliminate the old bastion of the Church from their borders, as well as give themselves a route to foment and take advantage of the chaos in Germany, hoping to spark a Communist revolution in Karl Marx’s homeland, from whence it would spread through the rest of Europe.

On the Feast of the Assumption, the outnumbered and outgunned Poles smashed the advancing Soviets at the Battle of Warsaw, dubbed “The Miracle of the Vistula.”

https://external-content.duckduckgo.com/iu/?u=https%3A%2F%2Fi.pinimg.com%2Foriginals%2Fc7%2F44%2F8b%2Fc7448bfbf21d41cb59fa01f0371f3196.jpg&f=1&nofb=1
“Don’t worry everyone, I’m here to save the world. Again.”
-State Motto of Poland

One of the highlights of the battle was a Polish cavalry unit breaking through Soviet lines early on to capture an important radio tower, which they used to broadcast readings from the Book of Genesis in Polish and Latin to the Soviet troops. Which is a quintessentially Polish thing to do.

This video does a pretty good job of summarizing the context and events of the battle. I pass it along to you in the hopes that we can start making this pivotal event better known.

Exceptionalism vs. Patriotism at the Everyman

Wherein I tackle American exceptionalism and try to explain why we need to give up on the idea:

I don’t say this just because our system of government and society barely resembles that which existed at the nation’s founding (even allowing for the passage of time and development of technology). Nor because we have recently witnessed the departure of what may well be the last legitimate president we will ever have, leaving the nation in the hands of criminals. Nor do I say this on account of slavery or racism or any of the other sins of our past (which are only to be expected).

It isn’t even because I think the philosophy we based our nation upon is incoherent and dangerously self-contradictory, or because I think the narrative underlying it to be thoroughly false.

No, the reason we need to give up the idea of our own exceptionalism is that it is fatal to patriotism.

As Americans (as I assume most of our readers to be) this may shock you. It may even sound like nonsense. But I beg you to try to understand what I’m saying.

Suppose a man were to say to his young son “I love you because you are the smartest, best behaved boy in school.” Suppose then that the boy gets a poor grade on his test, or gets into trouble with the teacher. What is he to think? The most natural thing would be for him to fear that his father would no longer love him, or not as much because he has shown himself to not be so smart or so well-behaved as his father believed him to be.

It is unlikely his father would really feel that way, but the boy would think so. He would think so because that would be the logical deduction from his father’s words. Therefore, even if the boy never does break the rules or get a bad grade, he will have that fear in the back of his mind of “what if…?” “What if I fail this test? What if I make a mistake and get detention? My father won’t love me a much anymore.” He will thus either work fearfully and fervently to ‘keep’ his father’s love or else despair and give up entirely. One thing is sure though: any love of the subjects themselves or any enjoyment in the ordinary life of a schoolboy will be crippled because none of them can be enjoyed for their own sake. They must go toward the satisfaction of that all-important condition.

It is the same for a husband and wife. A woman whose husband tells her “I love you because you are so beautiful” will fear the aging process and, just as much, fear the inevitable rival whose looks outshine her own.

If you ask why you love someone or something, you may give reasons (“She’s so sweet and so lovely!”  “He’s so strong, so honest”), but the real, proper response – which it is important to understand whether or not it is directly stated – is simply “because you are yourself.” As Professor Von Hildebrand says, to love something means to perceive the unique idea in the mind of God that it represents: to see it as something unique, irreplaceable, incomparable.

This is the great danger of American exceptionalism: it seeks to justify patriotism. Worse, it actually takes those justifications seriously. We are to love America because she is the freest, most just nation on earth, the nation that corrects the mistakes of the rest of the world, where equality and opportunity and liberty reign supreme.

Read the rest here.

There’s obviously a lot more to be said about all this than I was able to fit in or had time to adequately research. But if there is one idea, one section of this essay that I would wish to be ingrained in the readers’ mind and to hammer home as much as possible, it’s this:

No nation is meant to be a creed. It is not our duty to save mankind or to be the shining example for the world to follow. We are not the new Jerusalem, we are not the last best hope of earth, we are not God’s chosen people. America is not the Church. It isn’t even Rome.

Friday Flotsam: Don’t Like ‘Like, Comment, and Subscribe’

1. More and more it seems to me that where modern psychology is correct, it ends up being a complicated way of saying the same thing that Old Wives and monks have said for time immemorial. This week I watched a couple videos on dopamine, its affect on brain, and the means to counteract it, and all I could think was “so, deliberately moderating our pleasures and periodic fasting.”

2. I’ve been watching a lot of YouTube videos recently. Or let me clarify: I’ve been watching videos from a lot of new-to-me channels and topics recently. Mostly involving finances, bookkeeping, budgeting, DIY, and pop-psychology. Thus far, my impression is that everyone seems to be copying everyone else: jump cuts, multiple takes spliced together to form one long-ish take, pretending to lose your train of thought in the middle of a sentence, “be sure to like, comment, and subscribe / smash that like button” (everybody smashes that like button), “what’s up guys?” (seriously, everyone uses this introduction), “studies have shown…” etc. There’s definitely a remarkably consistent style across a surprisingly broad spectrum of videos.

It may be just me, but I don’t like being asked to subscribe to YouTube videos, or to like or comment.

3. I seem to have lucked out without realizing it. See, I’m a creature of habit to a possibly-pathological level, so when I find content I like, I tend to simply stick to it until I start to get tired of it. So, the few YouTube channels I actually follow, I tend to just stick with rather than venturing out into the wild to search for more. This is partly because of my aforementioned sedentary approach to these things, but also because I think if I do venture out there, about 99% of what I find will be junk. Maybe entertaining junk, but junk.

The few YouTube channels I do follow all buck this trend, and indeed usually make fun of it. Ross of Accursed Farms did a whole video commenting on how strange it feels to him to be asking for money to make funny videos about weird games and laying down promises of what he’d be doing with it and who should and shouldn’t donate. Mauler likewise only brought up the subscription question in distinct sections are the tail-end of his videos, and then was very transparent about what people would be buying (though he’s been a little disappointing lately as his reviews have slowed to an absolute trickle, to the point where I think I’d be feeling annoyed if I had backed him, but that’s another story. Then again I’m averaging about two videos a year right now, so maybe I shouldn’t be throwing stones…).

I don’t remember Razorfist ever asking for money or subscriptions either (though I’ve heard him tossing some typically-colorful invective against creators who do from time to time), and when he expanded onto a subscription site he explained it was just a way to maintain independence: a subscription site can at least maintain itself in existence if YouTube tightens the noose. David Stewart does invoke the ‘like, comment, and subscribe’, though he saves it to the end and honestly is so low-key about it that I forgot he even does it until I double-checked.

I’ve watched videos where a big ‘SUBSCRIBE’ animation pops up about every thirty seconds or so (not exagerrating). Or where the host just stops the video two or three times to ask for subscriptions.

I know that people have to try to work the algorithm and all, especially if they’re trying to make money, but I have to think there’s a better way. Actually, I know there’s a better way: let the content speak for itself and only bring up money and subscriptions when you have to.

If I ever expand my video production (which I hope to do in future), I hereby vow I will never play the ‘like, comment, subscribe’ game.

(And while I’m talking about channels I like, definitely check out Modern History TV, where a modern knight – OBE – delves into the practical side of Medieval life, especially of Medieval knights. He also doesn’t do the ‘like, comment, subscribe’. Though to be fair, something tells me he isn’t in it for the money).

Catholic Match Catch-Up

I’ve been taking an extended break from Catholic Match while trying to get the rest of my life together.

But I still write for them intermittently, which means that, as a side effect of my break, I’ve been missing when my own essays appear (these things are written months in advance). So today I’m going to offer the three most recent posts of mine that have appeared there:

January 26: Should You Date Someone with Different Politics?

Let’s talk politics.

We live in a peculiar world in this regard. A world in which political matters are often taken very seriously, in some cases to the point of being essentially a religion. But, with this being the case, the question cannot help but arise; should two people form a romantic relationship from different ends of the political spectrum?

If I had to give a short answer, it would be “no.”

If I had to give a somewhat more nuanced answer, it would be “probably not, but it depends.”

You see, it is one thing to have political disagreements with a friend or neighbor, to hash things out and come to verbal blows every now and again with someone you like and see regularly. It is quite another thing to do this with your spouse, for your partner in life to hold a different understanding of the world from yours. Just how much this will disrupt your relationship depends on what place politics has in your life and, yes, what those politics are.

I’m afraid there’s no getting around it; political views are not created equal.

Some are more compatible than others, some are more open to opposing views than others. Because, every political perspective is, at the bottom, a narrative for understanding the world (at least as far as the interactions of society are concerned). Depending on what that narrative is, it will tend to create more or less hostility toward a different narrative and those who hold it.

A classical liberal and a libertarian, for instance, will likely get along better than either will with a socialist or even a mainstream liberal, because the narratives of each side directly address those of the other as being fundamentally opposed to their own, while regarding each other as more or less variations on the same premise. Whether this is true or not (that is, how the actual content of a given political philosophy compares to another) is, for our purposes, less important than whether they believe it to be true.

The short version is that if you think your spouse is perpetuating a moral evil or encouraging tyranny and oppression, then your relationship will have problems.  

Read the exceptions and how they’re a potential relational time-bomb here.

February 1, When We Feel We Can’t Wait

Why do we bother?

We pay our dues, we maintain our profile, we run our searches, make the effort to reach out…and nothing happens. We seem to be doing everything right, but no one responds, or if they do, nothing comes of it. So why bother to keep it up?

Do you remember the incident in the Gospel of John at the pool of Bethesda? A man had lain beside it for thirty-eight years hoping to be cured, but each time the angel disturbed the water, someone else got down first and he missed his chance. Or the woman with the hemorrhages, who had suffered for twelve years and spent all she had on doctors, only to be made worse.

I wonder how frustrated they must have been. How much they must have begged for God to take away their infirmities, no doubt wondering why He had abandoned them, what sin they had committed to suffer so.

But the truth, though they could not know it during their long years of suffering, was that God had heard their prayer, and He was preparing something special for them. He meant not only to cure them in His time, but at a time and in a manner that would glorify Him and them to the end of world. In fact, He was building them up to serve as types of every sinner and every suffering soul who seems left aside, passed over, and forgotten by God. One could almost put it that God forgot them for a time in order to show they were never truly forgotten.

The Almighty has His own purposes, which we cannot know ahead of time.

They may or may not correspond with what we want, and almost certainly don’t correspond with what we expect. Probably most of them we won’t understand until after death, when we see the whole form of our lives and of history itself laid out before us. But we can catch glimpses of it even now: how often do we want something badly and are denied it only to find something far better later on, or to discover some truth of ourselves or the world that we may never have realized but for the opportunity created by this disappointment?

Much about the dating scene today, online or otherwise, seems to encourage discouragement. Like the man by the pool or the woman with the issue of blood, the case seems hopeless and intensely frustrating. But also like them, no doubt God has His plan for each of us, which He will bring to fulfillment when the time is right.

Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean we just keep doing the same thing as we’ve always done. Perhaps we should vary up our approach, perhaps we should explore other avenues. That’s as may be. But we should continue to make the effort, even when it seems pointless.

Find out more here

February 10 Reflections on the Year of St. Joseph

The present Liturgical Year has been declared a special year of St. Joseph.

Lord knows we need his intercession right now more than ever, but we won’t go into that.

Instead, in order to prepare ourselves properly to celebrate this year, let us reflect: who is St. Joseph?

He was a carpenter, which is to say a relatively respectable man in his community. Not wealthy, but what we might call comfortable, as he was able to travel and seek accommodations at an inn; though for a temple sacrifice, he could only afford the two turtledoves reserved for the less wealthy. He was what we might call a skilled tradesman, though he was of noble blood through at least two lines.

We are told he was a righteous man, as would only make sense. There is a venerable tradition that, like his wife, he had taken a vow of perpetual virginity from a young age. Certainly, he cared for and guarded the Blessed Virgin and her Divine Son for as long as he lived.

He is not directly quoted in Scripture at any point, though he serves as the protagonist of St. Matthew’s introductory material. This tells us of his doubts regarding whether to take his betrothed into his house after she was found with child (which the Saints tell us was not because he doubted her purity, but because he doubted his worthiness to be part of the Divine scheme) and of his angelically guided efforts to evade the persecutions of Herod.

More important than any of these details is the nature of his mission.

St. Joseph was the man fitted by God the Father to stand in His place to God the Son: the man who taught God to be a man.

In that curious household the natural hierarchy of the family—father, mother, child—was reversed: the child was greatest, the mother next in prominence, the father next after her. And yet (for such is the nature of goodness) at the same time it was not reversed. The Divine Child, we are told, was obedient to His human parents (Luke 2:51), and His immaculate mother was likewise obedient to her husband.

Responsibility thus fell to St. Joseph of caring for God’s two most perfect works. As Pharaoh elevated the Patriarch Joseph as his steward, so God made St. Joseph “master of his house and ruler of all his possession” (Psalms 104: 21).

Read more about St. Joseph here

Weirdness Epic

I think I’ve mentioned before my fondness for Ross’s Game Dungeon, one of the more unique game-review pages on YouTube. Rather than striving for ‘relevance’ with reviews of the latest triple-A games, Ross tends to aim at more obscure, odd, or interesting games, old or new.

It’s hugely entertaining for two reasons: one because Ross comes across as very genuine, like he’s just a guy talking about things he likes. He’s open about the fact that he just picks games to review or topics to cover because they seem interesting to him. The other is that his sense of humor is very much to my taste. A lot of it is of the ‘say something utterly outrageous with a straight face’ variety which I adore. He swears sometimes, though not very often and it always feels warranted, not just a cheap way to get laughs.

Like most people, I found Ross through his Freeman’s Mind series: a playthrough of the original Half-Life where Ross narrates his interpretation of the famously silent protagonist’s thoughts on the events. That’s a brilliantly hilarious series as well (“Give peace a chance! Or at least stand still”), but I’d recommend any viewers who haven’t played the game itself and have any interest in doing so should play the game first to get the full experience (I swear I will do a full Half-Life essay at some point).

I also find many of his videos on other topics to be interesting. I don’t like when he gets onto global warming or peak oil (which happens sometimes, though he at least tries to back up what he says with research), but his talks about, say, improving the GUI or VR are great, and I especially appreciate his efforts to sound the alarm on games being destroyed (see his Games as a Service is Fraud video for an excellent summary of the problem).

Here’s an nice, low-key episode to give you an idea of what Ross is all about: Puzzle Agent

But for Saturday, I’m going to present what I think is his magnum opus in terms of game reviews: possibly the weirdest, most surreal, most insane game ever made. And I mean literally insane, as in some viewers might find this hard to watch because the game honestly feels like its internal logic and aesthetic sense is that of someone with legitimate mental illness. Not just ‘quirky’ or imaginative, but genuinely insane. I can’t even think of any other examples of that sort of thing that I could compare it with.

Put it this way: the instruction manual for the game includes a statement from the developer that “This game is not the fruit of a sick man’s mind.”

They actually felt the need to assure people of that in the introduction to the manual.

This on top of a truly surreal, slightly disturbing artistic and musical sense and…well, it’s really hard to convey just what this game is like. Ross describes it as “The Odyssey of Gaming,” an utterly unique epic of weirdness that very few souls have explored, let along conquered. You really have to experience it for yourself, and the best way to do so is with Ross as your guide.

I give you Armed and Delirious. Proceed with caution!

Escape to Some Fantastic Schools

Want to take your mind off things? Pick up a volume or two of Fantastic Schools (now both available in paperback: a nice, thick volume to decorate your shelf and that can’t be digitally taken away from you).

Official Blurb:
Have you ever wanted to go to magic school? To cast spells and brew potions and fly on broomsticks and—perhaps—battle threats both common and supernatural? Come with us into worlds of magic, where students become magicians and teachers do everything in their power to ensure the kids survive long enough to graduate. Welcome to … Fantastic Schools.

Vol. 1
Follow a girl trying desperately to find her place in a school of dark magic, a band of witches desperate to prove they can be as good as the wizards, a school of magical monsters standing between the evil one and ultimate power, a businesswoman discovering the secrets of darkest evil … and what happens when a magical education goes badly wrong.

Vol. 2
Follow a mundane teacher striding into a world of magic, a spy on a mission, a guided tour of a magical school, a school dance for monsters, a dangerous reunion … and many more.

Follow us into worlds different, magical …

… And very human.

My own story, Halloween Dance is the final entry in the second volume. It’s all about the trials and complications of young love, particularly when the boy has a troubled past and is covered in scales, the girl is outgoing, friendly, and gorgeous, but can’t show her face without killing someone, and both are attending a school for monsters where unspeakable evil can strike at any time.

Pick up a copy today and escape into some fantastic schools.

Peace on Earth at Catholic Match

When I wrote today’s Catholic Match piece, I was taking it for granted that the year would end in tumult (these things are written weeks or months in advance). Turns out, this is even more timely than I expected:

In truth, if you’re seeking reasons to lament the apparent failure of the angelic promise of Christmas there is no need to go to a Civil War or a natural disaster or…whatever you would call the events of 2020.

Loneliness, disappointment, and depression will do just as well or better for most of us. Sure things are bad on a global level, but what is that to the fact that maybe we’ve just lost a job, are mourning the death of a loved one, or ended yet another year still single?

Yet every year, amidst whatever personal or historical sufferings or disasters that confront us, we receive that same message from on high: “Fear not, for I bring you good tidings of great joy.”

Those good tidings are not of the immediate end of war, or of the restoration of basic sanity to our civilization. They aren’t even of personal happiness and success, the promise of a better year to come.

They are, “this day is born to you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.”

We know, for we are told, that this is good news.

But what does it mean here and now? It clearly doesn’t mean ‘peace on earth,’ at least not in the sense we would expect, for wars and strife still torment us.

Yes, but it means that these things shall not have the final word. Our existence is not limited to this world. For God has come to establish His Kingdom upon earth; a kingdom not of this world. To be of that kingdom is to be in right relation to the cause and center of our being. And God has provided us the means to do this through His son, who is born to us on Christmas day.

That is the peace on Earth that angels proclaimed, and that is the great joy of Christmas; the peace of being in union with God, and the joy of knowing that He has come among us. This is a peace and joy that can and has endured amid the most savage worldly turmoil and most devastating personal tragedies.

Hence the joy of Christmas, the reason why songs of celebration are uplifted every year on this day even from battlefield trenches and terminal wards.

Read the rest here.

Merry Christmas everyone, and be not afraid!