The Fresh Morning: The Run

I don’t like to sleep in. I love the feeling of waking up to the birds chirping outside the window, smelling the freshness of Spring and Summer, and going out for a quick run.

There is something relaxing and even spiritual about running with the morning sun shining and the shining of dew on the grass all around. As I weave my way through the local community, I wave at people and they wave back. Sometimes, we even greet one another as it is someone I have seen more than once.

It’s about the experience: feet pounding on the ground, body striving to go, breath getting harder as I push myself to increasing speeds. But it is about more than that: a way to get out and see nature in the morning, to experience the community, and to recognize that I am part of a larger picture of reality that goes beyond the confines of my normal route to work and back.

I think there is something deeply spiritual to this activity. It is hard to describe and nearly ineffable, but it might be sensed, it is experienced. By placing myself in the context of a larger world, I acknowledge that the world is not centered around myself. There is a feel, a beat to the community as cars move in patterns, people go outside to get their papers, birds chirp in the trees, and squirrels seek ever-more acorns. As part of this world, I realize that it goes beyond myself. I realize that I have become part of…

The Fresh Morning: The Run.

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Star Trek: TNG Season 2: “The Measure of a Man” and “The Dauphin”

measure-man

Oh, it comes off? Shoot… sorry.

I’m going through “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and reviewing every episode, complete with commentary and a grade from A-F. Here, we’re in season 2 and discussing episodes nine and ten. I’ve also included a score and comment from my wife, who has never seen the show before. There are SPOILERS for each episode below.

“The Measure of a Man”

Plot

Data is ordered to report to a starbase in order to be disassembled so that Maddox, a scientist, may create more androids. He refuses due to the risks of the procedure, but Captain Phillipa Louvois rules he is Federation property and so cannot resign. Picard challenges and Riker is forced to step in to prosecute Data in a courtroom to determine whether Data may be seen as property. Riker does his best and makes a stunning, dramatic case which even involves turning Data’s power off. Picard, after consulting Guinan, makes the argument that Data meets criteria of personhood and should be given benefit of the doubt. Louvois rules in Picard’s favor, ultimately overturning her previous finding. Data is not property.

Commentary

I’ll say it now: I’m going to gush. This episode is one of those that has stuck with me for years afterwards. The elements are all there for a fantastic piece of dramatic television. Riker’s stunning prosecution of the case brings one of the most chilling moments in the series so far as he says “the strings are cut…” and refers to Data as Pinocchio. The examination of the contents of Data’s packed bag demonstrates his own concerns in a way that no arguments ultimately could. The stakes are also high, as Data is clearly a major element of the crew of the Enterprise.

These dramatic elements are balanced by thoughtful reflection. Data, early on, voices objection to losing the “feel” of his experiences in-the-moment. Philosophically speaking, Data is essentially appealing to phenomenological aspects of consciousness, and although the episode only touches on the metaphysics behind all this, ultimately the question of personhood is determined by elements such as these.

Undeniably, this episode is carried by both plot and character development, and viewers are forced to see Data in ways they had never considered before. Can a machine become a “person”? The fact that this episode has us asking deeper questions like this demonstrates its staying power and effectiveness.

The closing scene of this episode also does something rare: it manages to blend sentiment and mentality in a way that shows exactly what science fiction does best. When Data speaks to Riker and tells him that he knows prosecuting Data’s case “wounded him” “and saved me,” I admit tears sprung to my eyes. Riker’s self-sacrifice became a way to save Data’s life.

The plot never drags, the drama continues to build, and even knowing the outcome you can’t help but dive in and immerse yourself in the arguments and celebrate the triumph of Data’s right to choose. The philosophical questions the episode brings up are just icing on the cake. Overall, this is hands-down one of the all-time best episodes of the series and indeed of any show I’ve seen.

Grade: A+ “One of the all-time great episodes with so many big questions and threads to chase down.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: A “It’s like a coming of age story for Data!”

“The Dauphin”

Plot

The Enterprise is summoned to transport a head of state, Salia, to her planet. Salia is accompanied by Anya, her governess who is actually a beast-mode angry shapeshifter, which they don’t find out until later. Wesley falls in love with Salia and seeks advice for how to talk to her, which goes horribly. Ultimately, they fall in love, Anya tries to scare Wesley away, but everyone learns something.

Commentary

This episode had all the makings of an all-time worst episode. First, it’s focused on Wesley. Strike one. Second, it doesn’t really have much in the way of a threat, which is what TNG generally thrives on. Strike two. Third, it attempts to talk about teenage hormones and love…. in an 80s sci-fi show. Strike three? Despite all that,  I surprisingly didn’t hate the episode.

Wesley’s character had some good development (!) and although the episode at times bordered on some really annoying stereotypes (Wesley needs to “leave Salia alone”? She came into his quarters and kissed him!) it was at points enjoyable. Wesley is turning out to be not so hateful as I thought. So the episode really had a high upside. Unfortunately, it seemed “The Dauphin” never lived up to its potential. It largely turned into an episode about watching Wesley and Salia chase each other over the Enterprise. Despite the crew’s expressed fears over Anya’s abilities, it is hard to imagine that such a beast could not easily be disposed of with some phasers or just beaming her off the ship somewhere. Not much actually happens in this episode, which doesn’t necessarily make it bad, but it does force it to drag out a bit.

It would be interesting if they raised up Salia’s character again at some point in the future, and I don’t remember if she is, so I’ll give it a bit of a bonus for piquing my interest enough to care.

Grade: C “Surprisingly much better than the disparate parts, but still under-realized.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: B “I liked the character development and the unexpected twists and turns.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Great movies of 2014?

edge-tom

My favorite movie of the year so far.

I realized recently that I haven’t been to as many movies this year as I went to last year. However, it does seem that the movies I have gone to see have been awesome.  Early in the year I saw Frozen, which I felt had some great themes in it to go with its fantastic music. Then, I went with a friend to see “Lone Survivor,” which I am pleased to report showed greater complexity than many war movies or commentary on the war in Iraq. Then, I saw “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” which may have been the greatest superhero movie other than the Dark Knight trilogy. I loved its moral commentary.

Finally, I went to go see “Edge of Tomorrow” and “X-Men: Days of Future Past” back-to-back last weekend. The X-Men flick was fantastic and brought up, again, questions of morality.  “Edge of Tomorrow,” I would say, is my favorite movie of the pack so far. It was just so good and it helps that it was a genuine sci-fi epic. I love science fiction and I admit I kind of give sci-fi stories some bonus points just for genre. But “Edge of Tomorrow” brings up a number of topics like sacrifice and choice which aren’t always explored in movies, let alone blockbuster action flicks.

What movies have I missed that you would consider a “must see”? Let me know in the comments!

Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 2, “Unnatural Selection” and “Matter of Honor”

unnat-select

First one to lift their hands loses!

I’m going through “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and reviewing every episode, complete with commentary and a grade from A-F. Here, we’re in season 2 and discussing episodes seven and eight. I’ve also included a score and comment from my wife, who has never seen the show before. There are SPOILERS for each episode below.

“Unnatural Selection”

Plot

A Federation ship is found with the whole crew aboard dead… of old age. The crew of the Enterprise traces it back to Darwin Station, where they discover some disease has taken hold. Pulaski dives in to try to solve it but ultimately ends up contracting it herself. Ultimately, all is saved when the Enterprise uses the transporter to reconfigure people to their old DNA.

Commentary

Wow. I had forgotten how good this episode is. The plot actually kept me guessing. I’d seen it before of course but it’s been years and I couldn’t remember all the twists and turns. It was a great feeling of mystery and discovery. Pulaski’s voiced-over commentary at the end was interesting and having her commentary on human discovery and how it came at a cost juxtaposed over the destruction of the ship that had been completely killed off by the “disease” was poignant and well-delivered. It’s the kind of monologue-type thing that probably wouldn’t make muster in today’s television but sets apart TNG as a great show with (sometimes) awesome commentary.

The character development for Dr. Pulaski was also excellent. She finally got a chance to shine in her role and remind of why I came to like her character. She apologized to Data (!), had some good interactions with Picard, and overall kicked some butt and took some names throughout the episode.  The way she took charge, was willing to take risks for herself, but ultimately unwilling to risk the health of the entire ship just to save her finally painted her as a strong personality rather than simply an obnoxious one. Picard and Pulaski’s attempts to discover more about each other made the episode feel like it had bigger implications than just a one-off.  This is one of the best episodes so far.

Grade: A-

Wife’s Grade and Comment: A- “It was good character development and a not wholly-expected plot.”

“Matter of Honor”

Plot

Riker is sent to serve aboard a Klingon Warbird, Pagh, as part of the Federation officer exchange program. A biological threat emerges attacking both the Enterprise and the Pagh and the captain of the Klingon vessel sees it as a threat. Meanwhile, Mendon, an alien ensign, is struggling to learn his own way aboard the Enterprise and attempts to discover how to fix the issue. In the end, Riker takes over the Pagh, Mendon figures out how to rid both vessels of the biological threat, and high-fives are given all around–one of them in the form of a backhand to Riker’s face.

Commentary

I think this episode is the kind that TNG thrives on. It’s fun, it has a fast-paced, high-risk plot, and it allows individual characters to shine. Mendon’s struggles aboard the Enterprise aren’t as painful as they could have been and it’s actually interesting to see his character develop. I don’t remember if we see him ever again, but I wouldn’t mind a reprisal later. Riker aboard a Klingon vessel is genius. He fully embraces the role, eating still-living Klingon food, joking with those aboard the Pagh, beating up other officers, all in a day’s work on a Klingon ship! Some of the one-liners in this episode are just great, and Worf gets his own share of them in when interacting with Mendon: “You may impress me” (followed by look-of-death).

All of that said, the pace starts to bog down towards the end and that’s what prevents this episode from being on the list of true “greatest” episodes for the show. Some scenes seem to just take too long, and while the comedy mixed throughout the episode helps keep it entertaining, there are points where it just felt like filler.  The resolution is interesting but expected, though Riker sitting as Captain and ordering Picard to surrender is quite fun. Overall, a good but not great episode.

Grade: B+

Wife’s Grade and Comment: B+ “Riker’s exploration of the Klingon traditions was entertaining.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Star Wars: Expanded Universe- Initial Thoughts on “THE END OF THE WORLD”

sw-fotjIt’s been a little while since Disney announced the Star Wars Expanded Universe is officially unofficial and non-canon. Star Wars fandom is going nuts. I personally have a few thoughts on this overall.

The Expanded Universe has had some amazing moments, but it has also had some weak points (here’s looking at you, 90% of the books on the Yuuzhan Vong). My initial reaction to this news was to immediately horde Star Wars books from the EU because I wanted to be able to relive those memories again and again. But, when I looked back over the whole post-movie EU universe, I realized there weren’t really that many books I needed to grab. I had the major series I enjoyed, and I’d already gotten rid of the vast majority of the books I thought weren’t that great. Looking back, for the number of books there are in the EU, the quality has not been consistent.

Maybe, just maybe a reboot is something that is needed to get this show on the road and going strong for a long period of time.

That said, it will be impossible to try to forget or ignore the EU if and when I read the new novels that come out of the canonized book series. In particular, Mara Jade and Ben Skywalker have been some of my favorites, and of course the development of Boba Fett off and on was a major plus for me. I am not at all sure how I will be able to move beyond the sense of loss over having to pretend much of this history just never happened. To me, it may as well be a completely alternative universe at this point.

I think the biggest hurt for me was not being able to experience the now-cancelled “Sword of the Jedi” series. I was so looking forward to that after the “Fate of the Jedi” ended so exceptionally well (read my thoughts on that series at my other site). Realistically, I don’t see why Disney could not have at least allowed for the “Sword of the Jedi” trilogy to be written and tie off any number of loose ends that remain open. Of course, there would always be more loose ends, but those which appeared in “Apocalypse” are extremely important and, frankly, worth tying off. Maybe Disney will reconsider and allow for some closure here. If they did this most of my feelings of disappointment would dissolve.

Overall, then, I think that the ending remains a shock for me and it is something that I wish did not happen. I remain hopeful for the possibility of a trilogy somewhere to tie up the “Legends” universe at least a little bit, but I also tentatively am hopeful for the next iteration of Star Wars in the form of the newer novels.

What do you think of this development? What have been your favorite Star Wars books? Leave a comment and let me know!

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 2, “Loud as a Whisper” and “The Schizoid Man”

loudwhisper

I feel ya, bro!

I’m going through “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and reviewing every episode, complete with commentary and a grade from A-F. Here, we’re in season 2 and discussing episodes five and six. I’ve also included a score and comment from my wife, who has never seen the show before. There are SPOILERS for each episode below.

“Loud as a Whisper”

Plot

A centuries-long conflict between two factions has come to turn a new leaf as the sides realize they are nearing extinction. They ask for an arbiter for peace talks and the Federation selects Riva, the guy who negotiated the alliance between the Frederation and the Klingon Empire. It turns out Riva communicates through a “chorus” of three people who interpret his thoughts into words. As an empath, he is hot for Troi, and their relationship helps when Riva’s chorus is destroyed by one of the natives on the planet’s surface. Riva is convinced to return to the planet to continue negotiations by turning a weakness into a strength: by teaching sign language, he plans to teach communication to the people.

Commentary

I’ve enjoyed this episode every time I have seen it. I think the concept of Riva is really cool. His approach to a “disability” as something that makes someone special–and how that resonated with Geordi–was also really awesome. The way he is fairly mysterious while also confident in his approach to diplomacy was also brilliantly overturned by destroying his chorus. The episode forced Riva to confront his own fears and confidence while also trying to unite people desperate to end a conflict. Moreover, the little developments of Geordi, Data, and Troi were interesting–though I’m not sure why Troi must always be reduced to sex appeal or overblown counseling efforts.

As an aside, it is interesting to look at the chorus’ make up: men are reason/lust while a woman is harmony. Does this say anything about gender-essentialism–that men are one way and women another no matter what? I considered this, but the fact is the episode portrays the chorus as being Riva in a kind of symbiotic way, so Riva is all of these “parts” at once, just reflected through words in different people. Something interesting to consider. On the other hand, the predictable thread of having Troi be the center of some random guy’s desires is getting tired. She seems to be a token sex symbol more than a character, which is a shame because there’s a lot of potential with her character.

Anyway, overall a really solid episode with good development of a one-off character and the crew all at once. That’s hard to do, and I enjoyed it a lot.

Grade: B

Wife’s Grade and Comment: B “The first half was kind of weird, but the second half was better.” 

“The Schizoid Man”

Plot

A VIP, Dr. Graves, is dying and the Enterprise is sent to provide medical aid. On the way, another ship, the Constantinople, a vessel with a couple thousand people also called needing help. Of course, Picard chooses to help both, so they drop an away team and return after an off-screen solution to the other problem. The VIP, it turns out, is terminal and is also super crotchety, sexist, and abrasive. He takes over Data’s body by transferring his brain into it. Ultimately, he is defeated by his own acknowledgement of his ability to wreak havoc he doesn’t want and puts himself in a computer.

Commentary

“Women aren’t people…. they’re women.” – I’m still recovering from this line. The premise of this episode actually isn’t terrible. The notion that someone might come along and hijack Data is just as plausible (if not moreso) than the holodeck incidents, though it has been done before. The problem is that Dr. Graves is so chauvinistic and obnoxious that there is absolutely no reason to get emotionally involved in hoping he doesn’t die. Towards the end I found myself just wanting him to go away forever and being upset that he even managed to continue in the computer. So basically, the premise may have worked if the character weren’t so horrible. The whole thing seemed to take too long and I found myself wishing that I’d gotten to see the other incident with the thousands of people on the line–maybe one of them would have been more interesting than a one-dimensional aggravated old man.

Because Dr. Graves was so annoying, I genuinely felt relief at getting Data back, and there was some decent buildup about how the crew would finally figure Graves’ switcheroo out. Overall these saved this episode from being a dumpster-bin episode, but only just.

Troi’s laughing at Data’s beard actually makes it seem like she’s not a very good counselor. I don’t remember why, but I’ve always liked Troi. So far her character hasn’t had much development, nor many good things happening. I’m hoping for a decent Troi episode at some point. Also, what’s with showing the Enterprise at warp speed for every single transition? Seriously, it’s cool once, but if you watch the episode again, you’ll notice that it happens between almost every single change of scene between commercial breaks.

Grade: C-

Wife’s Grade and Comment: B/B+ “Interesting and entertaining, but fairly predictable.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Ready for endless pick-and-rolls? Here come the NBA Finals!

So the NBA Finals are here and Game 1 resulted in a rather big win by the Spurs. I only watched part of the game in the 3rd quarter when it was fairly even but man I should have kept watching because I love watching the Heat lose. Sorry.

But then I remembered: oh no, the Finals are going to be one long series of pick-and-rolls because the Spurs are once more in it. Yes they’re an incredible team, and yes their bench scoring is great, and yes they ____ (fill in the blank), but the core of the Spurs’ game is to Pick-and-Roll. Sometimes this can be a thing of beauty, like when you watch a perfectly executed play result in a quick and easy bucket. But to watch it again… and again… and again…….. it’s mind-numbingly boring.

…Or at least that’s what some want you to think!

For myself, I see well-executed game plans as an exciting thing. If the Spurs can win simply by playing the basics well (and that’s something the Bulls have continually proven under Thibs), then more power to them! There’s something of a beauty when a team is able to beat down a bunch of superstars just by executing some of the most basic plays of basketball. It’s not flashy, but it gets the job done.

Anyway, what are your thoughts on the Finals? Are you happy to see the teams that are in it?

For myself, I would have been so pleased to see OKC in it, because I love Kevin Durrant. But alas, can’t win ’em all (I am a Bulls fan so I acknowledge that after living through the Jordan era, I may never complain about basketball)! Let me know what you think of the finals. Who will win?

My prediction: Heat in 6. And yes, that does kill me to say, and I’m rooting hard for the Spurs, but the Heat are too talented to let basics beat them again and again… or are they?