Best Game Soundtrack of the Year

I have to put in some more time on Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine to really get a good sense of it, but so far I’m lovin’ it. It’s been in development for years by Andy Schatz and his Pocketwatch Games: a team smaller than the one responsible for the credit scroll in Bioshock Infinite. It has a handcrafted feel, full of the kind of detail and personality that’s only possibility from a small team of developers.

The game is a candy colored caper movie with a Pac-Mac/Frozen Synapse style to it. Watch the trailer to get an idea of how it plays, but for this post I want to point you at this link for the soundtrack by Austin Wintory.

Wintory already has one Grammy nomination to his credit for his soundtrack to the game Journey, and his ragtime-style silent-movie score for Monaco should net him a second. I tweeted about it to Joseph Susanka, who declared that he had now found the soundtrack for the rest of his life. Play the title track while you’re doing anything–say, washing the dishes–and all of a sudden you’re Douglas Fairbanks. It’s just a whole lot of fun, particularly if you’re a fan of silent film.

You can buy it straight from the composer for $6, or I also found it streaming on Rdio.

UPDATE: Austin Wintory tagged me on Facebook to bring my attention to this offer, which includes the soundtrack and an additional collection of music inspired by the game for only $9 total. And it has a great commercial:

K-tel, eat your heart out.

 

NOTE: Posts are going to be short and scattered as I finish my semester and take finals. Should be back on schedule soon. 

Is This the Voice of Alexander Graham Bell?

The Smithsonian thinks it is.

They’ve been using imaging technology to listen to unplayable experimental recordings by non-destructive means, and accidentally hit upon this snatch of audio, in which the speaker says, “In witness whereof—hear my voice, Alexander Graham Bell.”

You have to click the link the hear it, since I can’t embed it, but here’s a bit of the back story:

Today, however, a dramatic application of digital technology has allowed researchers to recover Bell’s voice from a recording held by the Smithsonian—a breakthrough announced here for the first time. From the 1880s on, until his death in 1922, Bell gave an extensive collection of laboratory materials to the Smithsonian Institution, where he was a member of the Board of Regents. The donation included more than 400 discs and cylinders Bell used as he tried his hand at recording sound. The holdings also documented Bell’s research, should patent disputes arise similar to the protracted legal wrangling that attended the invention of the telephone.

Inside the lab, Bell and his associates bent over their pioneering audio apparatus, testing the potential of a variety of materials, including metal, wax, glass, paper, plaster, foil and cardboard, for recording sound, and then listening to what they had embedded on discs or cylinders. However, the precise methods they employed in early efforts to play back their recordings are lost to history.

As a result, says curator Carlene Stephens of the National Museum of American History, the discs, ranging from 4 to 14 inches in diameter, remained “mute artifacts.” She began to wonder, she adds, “if we would ever know what was on them.”

Then, Stephens learned that physicist Carl Haber at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California, had succeeded in extracting sound from early recordings made in Paris in 1860. He and his team created high-resolution optical scans converted by computer into an audio file.

 

Dungeons and Dragons and Demons and Dopes

So last week I shared a little video on Facebook, adding some mocking comments. Here it is:

Oh Pat. PatPatPatPatPat. What are we going to do with you, you crazy knucklehead, you!?

I decided, at the time, not to post it here because it gives Pat Robertson a kind of credibility and importance he’s never had. No one cares what Pat Robertson says aside from the droning callers who dial in wondering if their used clothing might be possessed by demons, and liberals and atheists who like to pretend all Christians are dopes like Pat.

Look, this video is just Pat performing a central part of his job description: Offering Meaningless Opinions and Lies On a Subject About Which is Completely Ignorant. (He not only lies about it “literally” destroying people’s lives, but makes a confusing leap from videogames with magic to the D&D hysteria of the 1980s.) In other words, it’s a Dog Bites Man story of amusement to my gamer friends and me, but few others. No one really still believes any of that bunkum about the dangers of D&D.

Or so I thought. Turns out some people really still believe that Dungeons & Dragons is Satan’s Very Own Playground, complete with a set of Swings of Damnation and a Slide Into Eternal Hellfire.

Okay then.

I was informed that it was no different from a Ouija board in terms of summoning spirits and demons. I even had one fabulist spinning outright lies about an overzealous bunch of “D&D LARPers” committing a series of grisly homicides inspired by the game.

Yeah, okay: so that never actually happened, but do go on. I sense that an early Tom Hanks movie is about to break out in the middle of your story, and I love me some Rona Jaffe.

Also: “D&D” and “LARPs” are two different things. It’s technically possible to have a D&D LARP, I guess, but it’s not something people really do.

I asked for a single example of D&D leading to actual real-life homicide. My interlocutor let his Google fingers do some walkin’ and replied, minutes later, with a link to the Lieth Von Stein murder. I didn’t even need to follow the link, because I knew the case already. Chris Pritchard murdered his stepfather for a $2 million dollar fortune. A murder-for-money story was too tame for notorious liar, hack, and Sarah Palin stalker Joe McGinness, so he spun the murder into a “young men obsessed with D&D story” for his ridiculous book, Cruel Doubt, which was later made into a ridiculous TV movie: the final stage in turning Legend into Fact.

It must have been irresistible for ole Joe: Pritchard and his D&D group had mapped the same steam tunnels allegedly tied to “the disappearance” of James Egbert: the seedbed of all “obsessed D&Der goes wacko” legends. (It, too, was a media-generated hoax.)

See, the thing is this: “Murders by people who also play D&D” is akin to “Murders by people who also eat pizza.” Correlation is not causation.

For example, a few years ago the game industry was rocked by the murder of a Microsoft Games employee by her jealous husband, who then killed himself. The husband worked for Wizards of the Coast on the D&D line, but the case had nothing to do with games other than proximity. It was about a decaying marriage, accusations of infidelity, and domestic violence.

In the minds the anti-D&D folk, however, either the murderer had rolled badly on a D20 and had no choice but murder-suicide because the game told him to, or it was simply a gateway through which demons poured to possess him.

That’s not how D&D works. The idea of role-playing games confuses people because it doesn’t follow any familiar game form. The “game” aspect, in fact, is secondary. RPGs are group storytelling. A DM (Dungeon Master) creates a story for a series of player encounters. He begins with simple scene setting: “Your group is in the tavern, relaxing after your long journey. A frightened young woman approaches your table and begs for you to help find her family, who disappeared into the Dark Forest. What do you do?” Then you’re off and running: talking to people, fighting, gaining treasure, leveling up, getting new skills, and so on.

The game is as good or bad as the DM makes it. They can weave elaborate stories, and the players then shape the way those stories unfold. At critical decision points, players use various skills, usually combat-related, which require dice rolls for results. The game continues until a quest is completed. The end.

And that, folks, is that. People don’t attempt to actually summon demons. (D&D doesn’t even have real “demons.”) Characters may, in fact, be evil, and they may choose to perform evil or immoral actions in the context of the game. But the player is not is the character. That’s why it’s called a “character.”

Unlike a Ouija board, players are not directly attempting to contact spirits. Every RPG player plays not as himself, but as a dwarf, elf, fighter, magician, or whathavethee. It’s play, like cops and robbers for adults, or like a fantasy novel you and your friends create in real time. It’s no more demonic than Harry Potter.

Of course, there are many who are opposed to fantasy fiction (particularly Harry Potter), believing no Christian should enjoy it because they make magic and the occult seem alluring. That’s an entirely different debate, and one that I respect so little I’m not going to bother engaging it. Magic, fantasy, dragons, myth, and even the occult have been fit topics for fiction since we’ve been spinning tales in caves, and Christianity didn’t change that. In fact, it re-energized it.

Is it possible for gamers to go too far? To become entranced by the occult? To take it too seriously and lose perspective on their lives?
Anything’s possible, I guess, but the fault is being placed on the wrong side of the ledger. There can be bad gaming groups, because there are bad people. (See also: Fall of Man, Original Sin, etc.) It’s not only possible, but demonstrably provable, that Catcher in the Rye has inspired more than one murderer. Is that the fault of the book?

Of course not. Catcher in the Rye is just a really bad book by a wildly overrated writer. Its negative effect on certain disturbed psyches is not the fault of the book, but of the psyches. Charles Manson thought The Beatles “White Album” ordered the Helter Skelter murders. As comedian Sam Kinison observed, “He would have gotten the same message out of The Monkees.”

I’ve written about play and games for a couple decades: everything from ancient board games and playing cards up to RPGs and high-tech interactive entertainment. Play is woven deeply into the human experience. Ancient game boards have been found carved into roofing tiles discovered in Egyptian ruins and cut into rock in Ethiopia.

Play is an exercise of the intellect and the imagination. It is fundamentally social, and few games are more social than RPGs like D&D: a non-competitive exercise in communal storytelling in a collective battle against evil. Christian parents have nothing to fear from role-playing games. Kids aren’t summoning demons and searching out eldritch tomes to learn dark spells for their games. I take the threat from demons seriously, and believe that possession and oppression are real. I just don’t believe it has anything at all to do with a game.

My aspie son found a home and a community in the local D&D club, and even a position of leadership when he founded his own. He now writes elaborate tales before each session, and is highly respected in the group for his vivid imagination and storytelling abilities. For kids who tend to be misfits and out of the mainstream–for those who aren’t athletic or traditionally social, who don’t share the musical or materialistic obsessions of their peers–an RPG club can be a godsend. After my son started a D&D group at his school, they began to incorporate it into socialization lessons for ASD students because it taught important skills.

Even RPG hysteria can be good. After all, it gave us the best gaming comic in history, and the entire career of Tom Hanks:

 

SimCity (2013) [Game Review]

Note: From time to time, I just do straight-up game reviews with some content info for parents and occasional critiques of religion in games. And, yes, I still owe a final review of Bioshock Infinite, which I finished a couple weeks ago. I’m still mulling it over.

SimCity (2013)
EA/Maxis
Format: PC: $40-$60 (OSX version due in June)
Rated: E10
Content Descriptors: Mild Violence
Rating Summary: This is a simulation game in which players create and expand fictional cities by managing resources and keeping their population content. From a birds-eye perspective, players build residences, factories, and civic structures to improve city conditions; certain actions (e.g. building a casino) may cause crime to increase in the city. Murder is sometimes referenced in the text (e.g., a news ticker displays “Shocking murder puts local police in the spotlight”); small figures can be seen robbing banks and engaging in shootouts with police. Players are also able to deploy natural and fantastical disasters on the city (e.g., tornadoes, flaming meteors, fires, giant monsters, destructive robots). Includes online features that may expose players to unrated user-generated content.
Parent Recommendation: The always online and massively multiplayer features may be a deal-breaker for parents on this one, since it’s difficult to play the game without the multiplayer. In terms of content, the most violent thing are various disasters that destroy cities.

+++++++++

Well, that was interesting.

When you aim high in game design, you can’t afford to be sloppy. In their newest entry in the SimCity series, EA/Maxis aimed very high indeed, and completely shook up the whole city-building genre with an entirely new way of playing. It’s dense, detailed, and complex. It also demands always-on internet connections and folds multiplayer support right into the heart of the game. In other words, it needed massive amounts of testing and a careful rollout.

What it got instead was a disaster that so enraged users they managed to get EA named the Worst Company in the Country in a poll conducted by The Consumerist with 78% of the total votes. It was the final straw in a long run of missteps that forced the resignation of EA CEO John Riccitiello.

Oddly enough, it was also one of the most successful recent EA launches, moving over 1 million copies in two weeks.

That very volume is probably what caused the system breakdown, since EA appears to have launched their massively multiplayer SimCity, complete with extremely unpopular digital rights management (DRM), with only four servers. EA claims the live internet connection was essential for handling the processing load needed to manage all those AI sims. That was, of course, a lie, but that’s okay: I never believed them anyway.

Adding to the issues were myriad bugs that continued to plague the game itself even after the long server waits and crashes began to be resolved. The huge, complex mechanisms of the game didn’t always mesh well, with weird problems in pathfinding and strange AI and economic behavior. Equally irritating was the disabling of “Cheetah Speed”—which enables players to speed up game time rather than having to move through each day slowly–at launch.

At this writing (three weeks after release) cities are still vanishing on occasion, and work remains to be done, but the game is starting to stabilize. We’re beginning to see the potential beneath the problems as one of the classic strategy games of all time moves in new direction.

Users will have to decide for themselves whether that direction is one that appeals to them or not. Let’s take the two major gameplay elements—city building and regional management—separately, since each requires a different kind of critique.

Inside the game itself, where you build your city, there are elements that are both welcome and unwelcome. The cities themselves are a sheer delight, both visually and functionally. The game zooms down to the smallest level, tracking each citizen as he goes about his business. (This doesn’t always work, mind you, and the AI can send sims to random houses or on the wrong paths.) Buildings have an astonishing level of detail, and the city is beautiful, dynamic, and alive, mixing sights, sounds, music, and events as you lay the bones for an entirely new place and watch it slowly come alive under your guidance.

It’s hard to fault the interface, which puts a great deal of power and data into a few clicks. Road building, zoning, and building placement all work just as they should, although railroads seem a little finicky. It’s possible to create wild, freeform road systems or tightly interlocking grids. Pipes and electricity run along the roads, simplifying one of the more tedious jobs from previous SimCity games.

But even with these boons, there will be long-time SimCity players who find themselves deprived of essential features. Terraforming is out. Cities are much, much smaller. And you can’t just create a sprawling, messy metropolis like you used to be able to. Cities are specialized now, with some regions better for ore production, some better for commerce, and so on.

These individual cities tie into regions, which brings us to the second level of the game. Regional management is where old-time Simmers will start to feel adrift. Each smaller city acts as a zone in a larger region. In order for cities to really function, they need to tie into other cities in order to trade goods and resources. It is possible to create a wholly single player game in which you create and manage the regions and the individual cities all by yourself, but that’s not how this new SimCity is designed.

The goal is to build in an online region where others are also building, tying your city to the cities of other, human players. I really can’t see what’s gained by this, and indeed much is lost. In fact, if someone simply stop managing a city, a region can be left with a malfunctioning ghost town, and I haven’t been able to tell just how the game will manage this as time goes on.

There are games where multiplayer is a good fit, and city building games are not among them. I don’t want to chat with other players, and I don’t want the health of my city dependent upon the play style and dedication of a stranger. It’s possible to create wholly private games, but that assumes you know enough people who want to mess about with cities in a game that’s not really giving people everything they want from a SimCity title.

And you know what? You can still get most of the good stuff from another game called … SimCity 4. Currently selling for under $20, it even has an offline regional management system. The interface and graphics, as well as some gameplay elements, are just better in the 2013 version, but SimCity 4 has the benefit of several years of patches, no online DRM, and no mandatory multiplayer. It’s just a good old fashioned SimCity game.

SimCity was always called a “software toy,” because it encouraged twiddling around. You could save a city, have Godzilla destroy it, respond to the destruction with emergency crews, and then reload the old city just as it was and do it again. That’s all gone now. The cities themselves are wonders to behold, and the interface has never been better, but the multiplayer is a poor fit, and unless EA continues to service, fix, and expand it, SimCity will continue to disappoint.

You can buy it here.

Really Old Medieval Cookbook Found

Researchers have discovered a collection of recipes written in Latin by monks of Durham Cathedral in 1140. Some are calling it the oldest such collection of the Middle Ages.

Many of the dishes sound like they would work on a modern restaurant menu. Faith Wallis, an expert in medical history and science based at McGill University, translated a few for Discovery News:

“For “hen in winter’: heat garlic, pepper and sage with water.”

“For ‘tiny little fish’: juice of coriander and garlic, mixed with pepper and garlic.”

For preserved ginger, it should kept in “pure water” and then “sliced lengthwise into very thin slices, and mixed thoroughly with prepared honey that has been cooked down to a sticky thickness and skimmed. It should be rubbed well in the honey with the hands, and left a whole day and night.”

Re – the “hen in winter” dish, Giles Gasper from Durham University’s Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies said, “We believe this recipe is simply a seasonal variation, using ingredients available in the colder months and specifying ‘hen’ rather than ‘chicken,’ meaning it was an older bird as it would be by that time of year.”

Gasper added, “The sauces typically feature parsley, sage, pepper, garlic, mustard and coriander, which I suspect may give them a Mediterranean feel when we recreate them. According to the text, one of the recipes comes from the Poitou region of what is now modern central western France. This shows the extent to which international travel and exchange of ideas took place within the medieval period. And what more evocative example of cultural exchange could there be than food?”

Monks needed to eat simply and often without meat, but that doesn’t mean they had to forgo seasoning and good taste. If you’re looking for a solid collection of simple but appealing monastery cooking, try Twelve Months of Monastery Soups.

“I Hope He’s In Hell”

I’ve been reading and hearing variants of the words in this headline since Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev* was killed in a gun battle with police.

Things Christians Shouldn’t Say: “I hope he’s in Hell.”

Since the capture of his brother, Dzhokhar, I’ve also seen various sadistic fantasies about how he should be treated, each more lurid than the last, all of them steeped in blood and violence.

I understand the impulse behind that: I really do. It’s hard to express outrage commensurate with the crimes these two committed, and even harder to comprehend the impulse behind them. The reasonable mind rejects the idea that human beings can be this callous and evil, and since reason seems to have no place in the equation, the mind moves downward into sadism to try to grasp their wickedness and respond in kind.

And that’s exactly the wrong way to respond. The mind needs to move upward to God.

Violence certainly wasn’t the first response of those in Boston: the people who rushed to the aid of others, and the city united in tragedy and willing to assert their pride and fight back. I don’t doubt that many Bostonians still would like “just five minutes with Dzhokhar,” but many seemed more likely to do what humans usually do in response to tragedy, disaster, and violence: become closer to their neighbors, hug their kids tightly, and do good.

The normal human response to the vile acts of these people is to seek revenge and want blood. That’s certainly my first impulse, and it was the impulse that drove the ancient world up until a Man who was also God came along and said, No: you have to do better. Jesus didn’t tell us not to have enemies. He didn’t even tell us not to fight. (Matt 5:39 must be considered alongside Luke 22:36.) He did, however, tell us to love our enemies and pray for them, because he wanted our enemies to be saved as well.

That’s the horrible-wonderful part of this Christianity thing. The proper, Christian response to something like the bombings is the best possible response: help those in need, pray for both victims and the perpetrators, and then just place it all in the hands of God. Because we don’t know what He has planned.

Hell for Tamerlan?

I only turn on TV news if something really big is breaking. At 8 on Friday Fox was on, and Bill O’ Reilly came on and did what the Catholic Church doesn’t actually do: he declared that someone is in Hell. Here was my initial reaction:

Tamerlan may in fact be in Hell.

Oddly enough, I hope he’s not.

Yeah, we’re pretty perverse, us Christians.

I’d rather think that, after his brother dragged his body under the wheel of his getaway car, and as he breathed his last, he was visited by Christ, repented, and found salvation.

It’s a horrible thought, isn’t it?

Justice–God’s justice, more than man’s–would seem to demand eternal punishment. Hell is, in fact, wholly just for those who violate laws of God and man. Nothing would be more just, then, for Tamerlan to spend eternity to swimming in the lake of fire.

But we have to ask, again: is that what Jesus wanted? After all, he did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, and he made no real distinction about the nature, gravity, or wickedness of the sins.

Surely the Christian-hunter Saul should have been knocked from his horse and straight into Sheol for his sins, yet he became one of the greatest of all Christians. Weren’t there thousands of people better suited for the job of Apostle to the Gentiles? And wasn’t Jesus trying to tell us–and the early Church–something very important by selecting a man with blood on his hands to write half of his New Testament? Rather than sending him to Hell, He caught him up to the Third Heaven.

In short, don’t be so hasty in consigning others to damnation. The Church definitively pronounces on those who it thinks is in Heaven, but makes no such pronouncements of those it believes to be in Hell.

And last I checked, it hadn’t delegated that power to Bill O’Reilly.

As for the other half of this headline: people should never use the word “hope” in this way. Hope is one of the theological virtues: the things which allow us to know God and conform to his will. It is a powerful virtue, and should never be used so callously as to wish the opposite of what God would want.

God may in fact will the damnation of of Tamerlan as an act of his divine justice, but he would never want any of his children to “hope” for it. We hope in salvation. That hope should extend to our enemies, with the desire that God’s will be done, because we cannot see all ends. Hell is a place of no hope, no love, no faith. Given that our mandate as Christian is to live with and preach those virtues, we certainly shouldn’t be so quick to abuse them for the purpose of vengeance.

Eternal justice is God’s alone. He can exercise it quite well without your help.

Death for Dzhokhar?

And now it’s time to really confuse my readers, some of whom objected to my suggestion of mercy for abortion butcher and serial killer Kermit Gosnell. Given that the last few popes have urged that the death penalty no longer be applied, this seems wholly reasonable, since both justice and public safety can be maintained by keeping Gosnell in prison for life.

I’m not sure the same can be said in the case of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. This would seem perverse, since Gosnell killed many more people than Tsarnaev, but the key here is the issue of public safety.

If Dzhokhar is convicted and imprisoned for life, two possible scenarios need to be considered. Will a Muslim radical who killed Americans on American soil in an act of jihad become a folk hero to Muslim radicals around the world? Israel already faces issues with terrorists kidnapping their citizens and soldiers and demanding the release of radical prisoners. In addition, there’s a danger of a long prison sentence allowing Dzhokhar to continue to spread his message and radicalize others. He might have 60, 70 years left to him.

And can you imagine him ever being released?

If you can’t, then you really need to acquaint yourselves with the names Bill Ayers, Kathy Boudin, and Bernardine Dohrn, and then imagine 30 years from now, a “rehabilitated” Dzhokhar Tsarnaev getting a cushy teaching post at Columbia.

Weighed against this, you have the obvious witness to mercy, the denial of a martyr’s death, and the possibility that Dzhokhar will repent and embrace Christ.

Support for the death penalty is not akin to support for abortion. Abortion, as the taking of an innocent life, is always gravely evil. The key word there is not “life” but “innocent.” In the case of the death penalty, we are not talking about taking an innocent life, but one that is guilty of crimes against God and man.  Support for it is a matter of prudential judgment. Bernardin’s “seamless garment” argument is theological nonsense.

After considering the Gosnell case, I think mercy is warranted because both punishment of the wicked and protection of society are honored by life in prison, which, given his age, will not be long. I also believe that responding to the poster boy for the Culture of Death and the abortion industry with a plea for mercy is a powerful and needed witness for a Culture of Life.

In the case of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, we need to consider other issues, however.

Is it possible he will ever get out? Given his age and our short memories, yes, it’s possible.

Is it possible he will be a danger to the public if he is imprisoned for life? Given his motives (radical religious fundamentalism acting in a global war against American citizens and interests), it seems quite obvious that he could be.

It’s too early to tell whether the death penalty will be pursued, and whether Catholics should support it if it is pursued. It’s still an open question for me, but I think as the story and case comes to light, Catholics should be able to learn what they can and make a prudential judgment about the support for, or rejection of, the application of the death penalty.

We do well to reject the death penalty whenever we can. Doing so promotes a wider culture of life and exercises the most powerful witness to God: mercy.

But there may be times when its application is in the good of society, if only to protect society in a way life in prison cannot. The Boston bombings may be one of those cases.

UPDATE: Just to put this all in context for those reaching all the way back to Trent for their thoughts on the death penalty, here is where matters stand:

CCC 2267 Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.”

 

____________

*Here’s a child-rearing tip the Tsarnaev’s should have considered: naming your son after one of history’s most notorious mass-murderers probably isn’t such a hot idea. He was pretty much the Muslim Hitler.

Because What I Always Look For in a Quality Adult Beverage Is …

… an interactive bottle.

What is this I don’t even–

(Emphasis added so you can really savor the marketingspeak.)

The Heineken Ignite interactive bottle is born from Heineken’s ambition to develop an idea that would create a memorable Heineken experience unlocking the power and possibilities of mobile innovation and technology. To match our ambitions we followed an innovative project methodology developed by Tribal DDB called ‘SPARK’.  It’s an innovation process which blends inspiration, ideation and creation to produce an actual working prototype which can be tested in the  real world. The project is run like a start-up, which means collaborative ideation, rapid prototyping, multiple rounds of user testing and feedback, all under tight timings. The first 3 day workshop was held end of February in Amsterdam where the Global Heineken Digital team and Tribal DDB Amsterdam built a multidisciplinary creative team partnering with Massive Music, Contagious, the Global Heineken Design team and independent experts from a wide range of industries. Over the 3 days the team goes from a TED like inspiration workshop on day 1, to ideation and refinement of ideas during day 2 and 3.  A total of 3 fully fledged briefings were chosen, one of which gets the go-ahead for prototype development. The selected brief was based on the idea that when people ‘cheers’ with their bottles, ‘something magical’ should happen: a Heineken moment.

Oh for crying out loud it’s a light-up bottle for a crappy beer, not a #$%^&*@ artificial kidney!

Next up: integrated cell phones in bottles so you can drunk-dial old girlfriends without putting down your beer.

This is why we haven’t returned to the moon in decades: all the smart people are busy Making a Better Beer Bottle. Because, y’know, that was something we got wrong the first time.

And The Darkness Has Not Overcome It

By now you’ve heard the name of Martin Richard, the 8-year-old boy killed in the Boston Marathon bombing yesterday. This is Martin:

This picture filled my social media and news feeds this morning, and it just hit me in the gut. My wife is a sacrament coordinator, and Martin is dressed in his first communion suit and holding the same banners she has all her students make each year.

We’re in the First Communion season now, so she’s having retreats and preparing kids like Martin to receive the Lord in the Eucharist for the first time. It’s a wonderful age of openness and wonder and joy, and teaching religion to kids this age is to understand why Jesus said to let the little children come unto him. Theirs of the kingdom of heaven. They are open to the work of the Spirit in beautiful and simple ways. We’ve seen the giddy joy of kids who get it–really get it–coming to the Lord’s table for the first time. They’re touched by God, and they feel it.

To imagine, then, that beauty snuffed out in a second in the most brutal and pointless way imaginable is enough to make you weep and rage. Martin was waiting for his dad to finish so he could give him a drink. He was excited. He’d just had ice cream. He was standing in a crowd with his mother and sister, and then he was gone. He’s left behind a room full of toys and clothes and books that will stab his parents in the heart as each one recalls a gift that brought happiness and a moment lost in time. He’s left behind parents who will carry the intolerable burden of losing a child for all their remaining days. He’s left behind a whole school and Church and neighborhood and extended family full of people who are now touched by a violence from which they normally feel immune.

The first question after an outrage like this is often, “Where is God?”

Theology can offer no comfort to the grieving: only grace can do that. The Holy Spirit sometimes does His most powerful work without any words at all: in someone to hold a hand, bring over a meal, cry with those pain, and simply say, “I’m sorry.” Even commonplaces like “He’s in a better place,” though said with good intentions, are of little help and may actually hurt. Words fail us at these times. Love suffices, and sometimes love just means showing up.

But for the rest of the world, looking at this tragedy from the outside, the question presses on us: “Where is God?”

No one yet has found a better explanation than Augustine: evil is allowed to exist so that good may come of it. And good does come of it. It’s cold comfort to the grieving, but it helps us understand how this world fits together. We see the truth of it in the wake of Newtown, where a deep and impenetrable evil is yielding to good in the actions of those who survive. We already see it in Boston, where people reminded us that there is more good than bad.

Every time the forces of darkness crack open our world, the light rushes in. There is nothing in science, evolution, or psychology that can sufficiently explain people rushing towards danger to help strangers. Nothing. All the materialist explanations are just nonsense. It’s simply a function of grace. Sentient sacks of meat don’t rush into explosions to save other sentient sacks of meat. Only the human soul, which ties us to all others with bonds of love, is capable of that.

So where was God in Boston?

Right here.

And here.

And here.

You see, evil can only triumph for a little while. Its victories are all Pyrrhic. Certainly, evil acts can generate more evil acts, but in the annals of human history evil acts have given us something in much greater quantity: saints. And the worst evil act of them all–the death of the incarnate Word–threw open the doors of heaven for us all. We already know the ending: God triumphs. Evil loses.

Sometimes, humanity is shown our capacity for evil so that we may show our even greater capacity for good.

Death for Gosnell? Or Mercy?

Robert George addresses something that’s been on my mind as well. As surely as I know that the sun rises, I know that, if found guilty, Kermit Gosnell deserves the death penalty for his crimes.

We know very little about the psyche of Dr. Gosnell. His keeping of souvenirs certainly suggests that he took some psychotic kind of pleasure in what he did, but the motivating factor appears all too mundane. Gosnell brutalized women and murdered babies because it was easy and profitable. He did it because he could, and the pro-abortion culture told him he could, because it wasn’t actually a real “life” between the blades of his scissors. The only thing separating his actions from the stated positions of the abortion lobby is that the abortion lobby–and the president–thinks its okay to kill infants born alive as long as the facilities are sanitary. Sen. Barbara Boxer even seems to suggest that babies can be killed up until their parents take them home from the hospital.

The courts gave him a licence to kill, the politicians gave him the leeway to do it without supervision, and the activists and media tried to make sure no one observed his murders.

In other words, there are hundreds of unindicted co-conspirators involved in the crimes for which Gosnell is on trial, and they will never be brought to justice.

That doesn’t mitigate his culpability at all. The man preyed on the poor, the weak, the defenseless. The man is, in any reasonable definition of the word, a monster.

I know that, and yet…

The death penalty has two aspects: retribution and public safety. The state’s execution of Gosnell would not seem to be a matter of public safety. If found guilty, he is unlikely to ever get out of jail, and even if he did, it’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which he could return to his particular crimes.

It’s tempting to think that justice can only be satisfied by retribution: that the magnitude and outrageous cruelty and callousness of these crimes can only be served by the death of the perpetrator.

But Catholics have an opportunity for a more powerful witness: the witness of mercy. When you meet cruelty with cruelty, you just get more cruelty. As Professor George says:

Kermit Gosnell, like every human being, no matter how self-degraded, depraved, and sunk in widkedness, is our brother—a precious human being made in the very image and likeness of God. Our objective should not be his destruction, but the conversion of his heart. Is that impossible for a man who has corrupted his character so thoroughly by his unspeakably evil actions? If there is a God in heaven, then the answer to that question is “no.” There is no one who is beyond repentance and reform; there is no one beyond hope. We should give up on no one.

If our plea for mercy moves the heart of a man who cruelly murdered innocent babies, the angels in heaven will rejoice. But whether it produces that effect or not, we will have shown all who have eyes to see and ears to hear that our pro-life witness is truly a witness of love—love even of our enemies, even of those whose appalling crimes against innocent human beings we must oppose with all our hearts, minds, and strength. In a profoundly compelling way, we will have given testimony to our belief in the sanctity of all human life.

Do we really oppose the culture of death in all its manifestations, or do we harbor a little corner of our hearts that cries out for blood?

I can answer that one easily for myself: yes, I do have that desire for vengeance in my heart. I want blood. I hear of violence and I want it to be paid back with violence, because that would seem satisfy justice.

I know that desire exists me, but I don’t trust it. A powerful voice that calls for death–even the death of the guilty–is very rarely the voice of the Holy Spirit.

Everything we do–even unto sacrificing our own lives–must be done for the greater glory of God. As I’ve written before, God makes it pretty clear what he demands, and it is not sacrifice.

In a case that so clearly proves the pro-life position on the horror of abortion and the sanctity of life, we do well to reject death. Our nation is saturated in casual cruelty. Death is easy: flick of a switch, it’s over. Little is gained except abstract and outmoded notions of retributive justice. At some point, our most powerful witness to Christ will be to oppose cruelty with something far more powerful: the merciful love of God. The world could use that right now more than it could use another body in a case that already has far too many.

Attention New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware Youth!

The first New Jersey Fan the Fire Youth Rally with be at St. Isaac Jogues in Marlton on Saturday, April 27, from 9:30am to 8:30pm. The day will include speakers, music, adoration, confession, Rosary, and mass.

And pizza. Always pizza.

Check here for more information.

Did you take a group of teens on a mission trip or work camp this summer that excited them? Or perhaps you went to one of the inspiring Steubenville Youth Conferences? Or maybe you have a group of kids who were set ablaze by the Holy Spirit when they were Confirmed? Or maybe you are preparing for World Youth Day in Brazil? Whatever is happening with your teens, wouldn’t it be great to spend a day fanning the fire of love, peace, joy and service that only the Lord can place in their hearts? Well, here’s your chance!

I would like to personally invite you and the youth of your parish/school to attend St. Isaac Jogues’ Fan the Fire Youth Rally on Saturday, April 27, 2013 from 8:30 am—8:30 pm in Marlton, NJ.

Fan the Fire began 15 years ago at St. Joseph’s Parish in York, PA and has grown from an initial gathering of just over 200 students, to an annual gathering of between 500-700 participants. Fan the Fire has spread to Connecticut and will be coming to New Jersey this Spring. We are expecting youth groups from all over eastern and central Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey areas.

Pope Benedict XVI has declared this the “Year of Faith”. Inspired by this theme, our Parish family invites you and your teens to participate in this special day-long event.

Fan the Fire will feature time for praise and worship led by Sean Patrick Malloy from St. James Parish in Lititz, PA and a keynote address and workshop by nationally known youth speaker Chris Padgett. Chris is a convert to the Catholic faith with a powerful yet humorous message, and an extremely captivating witness and musician. He is a sought-after speaker for youth and adults and presents each year at youth rallies across the country.

In addition to the keynote talk, there will be an opportunity for teens to attend two of the several different workshops sessions available. These will be led by various speakers from throughout the diocese. The day will also include a pizza dinner, a Eucharistic Holy Hour, the Holy Rosary and a closing Mass that will fulfill one’s Sunday obligation. The Sacrament of Reconciliation will also be available at various times throughout the day. A dinner concert will be provided as well.

Please share this on your social media and pass it along to any pastors and parish youth groups in the area.