Sunday, November 29, 2015

A Defense Of Metal

As a Christian, parent, and fan of heavy metal, death metal, metal core, and similar subgenres, I feel like I should take some time to explain its nuances and explain my rationale for listening to (some of) it.

There are lots of sub-genres to metal music. Instead of attempting to explain them all, I'll present the process I use when categorizing metal:

To the untrained ear, it's easy to lump everything on the right side of this chart into one big, ugly, satan worshiping mess.  For those who enjoy metal, it's equally easy to get sucked in to how awesome a band sounds and forget to think about the message they're presenting.

For quite a few years, my favorite band was "Lamb of God".  This name is not a positive reference to Jesus. Their sound is phenomenal, but ultimately I had to take their albums (and those of a few other bands) off of my shelf. Since then, I've decided to maintain a focus on the question

Does this band or its music present an ideology which explicitly runs counter to my faith and worldview?

I imagine myself having a conversation with God. He asks

Why do you spend so much time listening to __________?

For a lot of secular music, I'd feel comfortable with my answers:

I like the high energy of their percussion
I think Norse mythology is really interesting

But for music which explicitly advocates an anti-Christian view, I feel like I'm insulting God by listening to it, which pushed it across the line.

I know I'd be insulted if my son listened to music about how awful I was.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


If force sensitivity is a dominant hereditary trait, strongly advantageous, widely spread between species, and very old, why are there so few Jedi?

We know it's hereditary because Anakin fathered Luke and Leia, both force sensitive. Leia and Han then had three kids, all force sensitive. Clearly it's a dominant trait, since both Anakin and Leia had non-force sensitive partners, and all of their children are force sensitive.

Episodes I, II, and III made it clear that force sensitivity is not exclusive to humans - there are quite a few non-human species which are force aware.

While we can't state definitively when force sensitivity first occurred, it has definitely been around for thousands of years.

When I first saw Episode I, I dismissed the concept of Midichlorians as nonsense. However, the more I think about it, the better it seems to fit Star Wars canon. As a symbiotic micro organism, midichlorians could easily be passed from parent to child. Similarly, they could easily exist amongst multiple species1.

This explains how multiple species share a similar, seemingly hereditary trait, but still doesn't explain why there are so few force sensitive individuals.

The midichlorian count referenced in Episode I is on a per-cell basis. This implies that midichlorians can replicate (either as part of cellular reproduction or separately).

If they're able to replicate freely, and provide significant advantages to those with high midichlorian counts, there must be some reason that high midichlorian counts are uncommon.

Force sensitivity doesn't seem to have a negative effect on reproductive capability (Luke and Leia both have children). It also doesn't seem to have any adverse effect on health or lifespan (the opposite, actually).

Wookiepedia states that midichlorians are sentient beings. Based on the evidence, I'm forced to go one step further:

Midichlorians are sentient beings engaged in communal, intergalactic communication and cooperation, intentionally governing and limiting their concentration in certain individuals. 

I can only guess as to what their objectives might be, but it's reasonable to assume that in addition to facilitating communication between force aware individuals through The Force, midichlorians themselves are also communicating through The Force.

1. Wookiepedia claims that they're isomorphic, implying that different species gained midichlorians through convergent evolution. This seems reasonable, but doesn't necessarily mean that the transmission of midichlorians is strictly governed by a genetic mechanism. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

A Visit to the Black Lives Matter Protest in North Minneapolis

After work today I stopped by the 4th Police Precinct.

Plymouth avenue was open to traffic and the scene was pretty relaxed. If I hadn't known better, I might have assumed this was a block party or fundraiser.

Perhaps 30 people milled about, talking, eating, and keeping warm. I wasn't sure what to expect as I approached, knowing that if I was in their shoes I'd be justifiably suspicious of a white guy walking up, dressed for office work and sporting a big camera.

A smile from a woman sitting by a fire reassured me that I was welcome, and I relaxed. For a while I stood on a corner, watching people walk by. Some just passed through, others were welcomed and joined those chatting and drinking coffee.

After a while I approached a friendly looking man sporting safety goggles.

His name was Trey. He said he'd been there for a week, and that the goggles were for smoke from the fires (in retrospect, this might have been a joke, since tear gas was probably a much more significant concern). 

Then a woman approached, asking if I knew what was going on. She'd just gotten off work, and was curious if there were any plans for the evening. 

I explained that I knew about a community gathering planned at a church later in the evening, but didn't know much else. 

She introduced herself as Ebony. When I asked if I could take her picture, she paused. She asked if I was a reporter, and explained that she was frustrated with the coverage they'd received from the Star Tribune. I assured her that I was just a curious blogger. 

She said was this was her third time at the precinct since the protests began. She was proud of the community response, and explained that she was glad her kids could see the peaceful reaction. 

As if to punctuate her point, a school bus drove by, packed with kids who cheered when they saw the protesters. 

She said some people didn't want white folks included in the protest, but that she wanted all of the help she could get. She said her kids were surprised at how many nationalities were present at the last big gathering.

As we spoke, I watched people talk together. Someone in a tent was handing out soup. A man walked around with a bucket full of hand warmers. He offered me one, but I declined. I had to head home, and wouldn't be around long enough to need it. 

Every few minutes, a car would drive by, its honking horn answered by cheers from the protesters.

Copyright 2016 Tyler Smith

Friday, November 13, 2015

A response to Kare 11's Team Ortho investigation

Kare 11 recently published an investigation into Team Ortho, the organization which puts on a variety of themed running events across the mid-west. Here's my response:

Kare 11 unfairly exaggerates claims made against the organization A detailed look at their financial documents showed many of their expenses to be reasonable and in line with my expectations as a runner.

Kare 11's big claim is that 1.5% of Team Ortho's gross revenue goes to charity. This sounds shocking, but fails to account for the major differences between Team Ortho and donation-oriented charities. The key term here is "Gross Revenue". Team Ortho takes in a lot of money, but it also puts on huge events.

Kare 11 doesn't cite any information regarding how much of their revenue goes to paying to run the organization, or to pay for the race itself. For example The financial documents cited by Kare 11 show that about 20% of their revenue goes to salaries (the docs report John Larson as having an $88,000 salary), and the bulk of the remainder goes to other expenses.

Kare 11 doesn't dig into them, but the cited documents provide a detailed list of where Team Ortho's money did go (page 10). Frankly, I'm not really surprised or angry. It takes a lot of work and money to put on a huge race.

If you're really concerned about charity spending, check out the list of top salaries at charities. Most of them are larger than the entire Team Ortho payroll.

Finally, Kare 11 cites a former employee's complaints about a corporate trip to China. While this admittedly does seem like a poor decision, very little context is given. Why were the orders late? Who had to go?

If it really was a scheme to get a free trip to China, that's one thing. But if I was a manager and I had to send employees on a long flight around the world because I screwed up an order, I'd probably consider letting them have a couple of fun days while they were there.

Finally - the dig about Larson's license plates is totally off topic. It's unrelated to the topic at hand and feels like a low blow meant to undermine Larson.

Don't forget to check out my book: The Siege of Abigail Beson! Available now on AmazonAmazon Kindle, and createspace!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Reflections on Anxiety

Earlier this year, my friend Andrew Thomas killed himself.

It's taken me quite a while to process this. Andrew always spent a lot of time processing things, so I think he'd understand.

Andrew and I hadn't been in frequent contact for a few years, but we were still on good terms. I don't know what led to his suicide, but it made me realize it was important for me to be more open about my own struggles with mental illness.

I take Sertraline (Generic Zoloft) daily for anxiety. 

It's important for me to state this up front because taking medication for mental illness has a frustrating stigma. For years I felt like taking medication for anxiety would be an admission of weakness. I felt like seeing a "professional" would make me one of those people who need "help".

I spent over ten years of my life struggling with anxiety without even knowing what I was facing.

My anxiety didn't often come in the form of the "attacks" that some people experience. It wasn't an elevated heart rate and difficulty breathing.

It was weeks, months, and years of nagging questions. Like a dog nipping at my heels, anxiety meant questions that wouldn't leave me alone. I couldn't focus. I felt like something was wrong, and I felt like there was nothing I could do about it. I'd fixate on a question, letting it eat at me relentlessly.

Here are some of the questions that have nagged me:

  • Is it OK that I heard about sex from a friend/tv show? (~5 years old)
  • What happens if I'm not explicitly forgiven for everything I do wrong? (~8 years old)
  • Am I gay? (~14 years old)
  • Am I dating the right person? (~17 years old)
  • Am I a Christian? (~24 years old)

These anxieties followed a consistent pattern:

I'd have a good week, able to focus on my friends and my work. Then I'd find a question creeping up again. Unable to let it go, I'd fixate on the question, and descend to a low point. I'd stay at that low point until something helped being me up - a good experience, a fun adventure, or a useful introspective realization.

At 24 years old, I decided to give medication a try. It had a pretty noticeably effect:

I didn't make the anxiety go away. It didn't answer my questions. It pulled me back from the peaks of anxiety. It smoothed the mountains into hills.

Anxiety's still a struggle for me, but asking for help goes a long way to making it manageable. 

Marrying a social worker is a good strategy too :)