Bizarro Star Wars 

October 31, 2015

One evening, while geeking out with my daughters I decided to share a theory I had with them about Star Wars — specifically Return of the Jedi: Luke Skywalker turned to the Dark Side at the end of the trilogy.

I shared this story with them because I think my theory is reinforced by trailer for the new movie:

It’s pretty exciting stuff, and to me, rather telling. Especially after you watch the first preview again. There’s been a lot of speculation on Kylo Ren and the bad guys in general — if you haven’t heard any of it you surely will. As my friend Mike Moore put it:
This, for me, is righting something that has never sat well with me: the oddball and underwhelming ending of Return of the Jedi.

Luke Turned

I’ve had this argument with friends so many times. Some think as I do; others remain convinced that Luke ended the original trilogy as a good guy.

I say he, in fact, had turned to the dark side and we watched it happen in blissful ignorance, choosing to believe that he would always be the good guy. Lucas wanted it this way so he could sell more toys. But there’s way more to this story.

Seeing these previews I think my theory might be correct: Luke gave in to the dark side to save his friends and defeat Vader and the emperor. We don’t know what will happen after that, and hopefully we’ll find out in December and we’ll see if I’m right.

Here are my arguments, in no particular order…

“The Cave… Remember Your Failure at the Cave…”

Yoda knew the whole time that Luke was on the same path as his Anakin. He was reluctant to train him and said flatly that Luke would give in to the dark side if he left Dagobah to save his friends. The most striking part of this whole sequence (Luke’s training with Yoda) is the cave.

Many people (my friends included) put it off as foreshadowing Luke’s discovery that Vader is his father. I think it’s foreshadowing that Luke will become his father. Of course, you don’t know Vader’s his dad at this point — but at the end of the film, when I thought back to the cave… it made perfect sense. It’s good, solid plot juice. Becoming your parents (or trying not to) is a huge motivator.

And Luke failed, according to Yoda. More than that – Yoda issued this warning which Luke completely ignored:

Only a fully trained Jedi Knight, with the Force as his ally, will conquer Vader and his emperor. If you end your training now… if you choose the quick and easy path as Vader did… you will become an agent of evil.

There it is: Yoda said it point blank. How many times has Yoda been wrong in the first six films? It’s almost like he can see the future sometimes! He knew Luke was on a path to become his father and, by leaving, he failed at preventing it.

Told you I did, reckless is he… now… matters are worse.

This is the start of Luke’s slide.

The Original Ending

The original ending of Return of the Jedi is incredibly hokey, but there is a poignant scene where Luke burns his dad’s body and you could feel his tension and anger. None of this was supposed to happen according to this 2010 LA Times article (emphasis mine):

“We had an outline and George changed everything in it,” Kurtz said. “Instead of bittersweet and poignant he wanted a euphoric ending with everybody happy…

The discussed ending of the film that Kurtz favored presented the rebel forces in tatters, Leia grappling with her new duties as queen and Luke walking off alone “like Clint Eastwood in the spaghetti westerns,” as Kurtz put it.

This is where story and solid plot development separate from building a franchise designed to sell toys. It’s widely known that Lucas favored toy sales over character and storyline. Again, from Kurtz:

I could see where things were headed,” Kurtz said. “The toy business began to drive the [Lucasfilm] empire. It’s a shame. They make three times as much on toys as they do on films. It’s natural to make decisions that protect the toy business, but that’s not the best thing for making quality films.

The first film and Empire were about story and character, but I could see that George’s priorities were changing.

I so wish I saw the Return of the Jedi that Kurtz wanted. It would have made so much more sense. Empire built on the mythological core of Star Wars and worked on the natural tension that exists in the way we perceive good and evil. Luke thought he was doing good by racing to rescue his friends. Anakin thought he was doing good by confronting the Jedi Council and destroying the Order itself. A very blurred matter of perspective: trying to do good can be incredibly destructive.

Mark Hamill himself thought that Luke as a dark jedi was the natural turn of events:

As an actor that would be more fun to play. I just thought that’s the way it was going from when we finished [Empire]. I figured that’s what will be the pivotal moment. I’ll have to come back, but it will be I have Han Solo in my crosshairs and I’ll be about to kill him or about to kill the Princess or about to kill somebody that we care about. It’s an old cornball movie, like World War II movies.

Again: solid plot juice. One has to wonder if Hamill played Luke this way despite what Lucas wanted, recognizing the need for Luke to have a clearer bit of motivation. I think he did just that.

Indeed, there is a clear change of character as we move from Empire to Return of the Jedi. Luke becomes more serious, a little more sinister, and rocks the uniform pretty well:

2015-10-26-1445884845-7695204-more_dark_luke.png Photo credit: Lucas Films

Nevertheless, I’m taking Captain Solo and his friends. You can either profit by this or be destroyed. It’s your choice, but I warn you not to underestimate my power.

Was that a threat? A touch of arrogance perhaps? No — Luke would never!

As a token of my gratitude, I present to you these two droids. Both are hard working, and will serve you well…

One second. Hold on here — was that a lie? Why yes, it was. Luke is giving in, he’s drawn to the dark side. Wow… Luke lies. Keep that in mind.

You might be thinking nah, no way. Why would he do that? The answer is that he is destructively trying to do good and his training is not enough to allow him to see this. As Yoda warned, he is becoming an agent of evil.

Which actually comes in handy later on, because the only way he could beat his dad in a fight is …

Luke Turned, We All Watched It

The emperor was working Luke pretty hard, and croaked in his guttural monotone

Take your weapon. Strike me down with all of your hatred and your journey towards the dark side will be complete.

And guess what? Luke tried.

2015-10-26-1445885019-4142477-journey_complete.png Photo credit: Lucas Films

Later in the sequence Luke loses it completely when Vader finds his soft spot (caring about his friends) and squeezes hard…

2015-10-26-1445885103-9236094-sister.png Photo credit: Lucas Films

Saving friends, and now family. Vader has just threatened his sister and Luke gives in. This doesn’t make sense if Luke has been a good guy the whole time. It makes perfect sense if he has indeed failed his training (which he did) and doesn’t have the ability to withstand his dad. Whom he idolized and wanted to be just like, all of his life.

Easy to see. Easy to believe.

When I first saw this scene as a kid I remember being completely confused. I thought that of course Luke turned — but only a little bit. After all, he needed the power from the dark side to beat his dad… right? And he acted like a complete maniac but it was only temporary and phew! he came back from the edge!

This, people, is a plot hole. It doesn’t make any sense in terms of the story and also Luke’s character. It doesn’t follow Luke’s motivation at all because he quite clearly doesn’t have any motivation to stay a good guy. He’s just seen what he could do with his dark powers (defeat the bad guys, save people).

“Your Hate Has Made You Powerful”

Luke confronted and defeated his father only by giving in to his fear and hatred — driven by a desire to protect his sister, whom he loved dearly and who (basically) set him on this whole damn deal to begin with (help me Obi Wan Kenobi…). You can see this clearly as he swings away at Vader violently, beating on him with all the fear and rage that is swelling up in him… fired by a desire to protect his sister and friends.

This next scene is one of the most telling. When I first saw it I thought that Luke was realizing that he gave in and that’s bad. What I think really happened was that Luke was filled with blood lust and a surge of satisfaction at his victory. Staring at his fist… marveling at his power. And why wouldn’t he be? He just kicked Vader’s ass. Come on, tell me you wouldn’t feel that too!

The emperor sees this as well. He thinks he has won Luke over — he even gloats a bit:

Good…. Now, fulfill your destiny… and take your father’s place at my side.

From the emperor’s perspective it seems like this is all wrapped up, no? Vader is lying there on the floor, Luke just turned, let’s close the deal! But…

2015-10-26-1445885264-4320000-the_fist.png Photo credit: Lucas Films

You can watch what happens next in two very different ways. The first, most obvious, is that Luke looks at his mechanical fist and then at his dad’s severed hand and realizes what could happen — oh no! Let’s make sure we come back from this ledge and stay on the Good side. This makes no sense in terms of Luke’s motivations.

Or, what I think, is that Luke looked at his fist and realized the effectiveness of his new power. Soaked in the revenge (the movie was entitled Revenge of the Jedi originally, I think this is why) and let the hatred indeed fill him… indeed make him powerful.

Now, watch as he turns, rises, and faces the emperor full of arrogance and brimming with dark power. I think Hamill played this scene brilliantly:

Never. I’ll never turn to the dark side. You’ve failed your highness, I am a Jedi, like my father before me…

This would seemingly blow a hole in my story. Luke just flatly said he would never turn. He monologs for a bit about why he’ll be a Good Guy, always. He’s also lying through his teeth (like he did to Jabba, above). But why would he lie? Because he has to take out the emperor, and he knows his dad (Vader) is weak and vulnerable.

What happens next is a bit of deja vu. The emperor has realized that he has created just a little bit more than an apprentice — he’s created a rival. Why else would the emperor stop with the taunts right then? The emperor has Luke exactly where he wants him —  it doesn’t make any sense to stop now!

Unless the emperor fears Luke. As he should — he just took Vader out of the equation.

The emperor tries to destroy him with the old shock treatment in the same way we saw in Revenge of the Sith (facing off against Mace Windu). In that scene, Palpatine played on the sympathies of Anakin to cut Windu’s hands off so he could toss Windu out the window.

In this scene, Luke plays his dad in the exact same way to toss the emperor into the abyss. Ahh symbolism.

That shock treatment? He basically brushed it off. Luke is a badass. It’s the only way this whole scene makes any sense at all.

Watch Those Scenes Again

Watch Luke’s eyes as he watches Vader die. Now, rather than the obvious thing (that Luke is thinking about a lost relationship with his dad) — consider that Luke is upset about not being able to rule the galaxy as father and son.

It might not seem plausible, but it’s the only thing that ties up this gaping plot hole.

Consider Luke’s primary motivation at the very beginning: to find out more about his father, and to be a great pilot and jedi just like him. Is it so unreasonable to think he did just that? He was betrayed by the person he trusted most (Obiwan not telling him about his dad) and Yoda warned him about his failure. The motivation is clear.

Watch Return of the Jedi again, but this time with the idea that Luke is actually drawn to his dad’s power and doesn’t have the ability/training to resist using it to destructively do Good. His demeanor is a little more serious throughout and he has a very palpable dark edge.

Jabba the Hutt found out what happens when you cross Luke… which reminds me of something…

2015-10-26-1445885414-2307614-annakin_sand_people.jpg Photo credit: Lucas Films

I…I killed them. I killed them all. They’re dead, every single one of them. And not just the men, but the women and the children, too.

This post originally appeared on Medium.

Dark or Light

October 31, 2015

The Daily Beast’s Asawin Suebsaeng recently noted that “neoconservative Twitter” loves the Intergalactic Empire, the putative villains of the “Star Wars” universe, prompting much harrumphing from people who think this is nothing but petty trolling. As I always say, it’s not trolling if it’s true. Honestly, I have a hard time understanding why more people haven’t seen the light, so to speak, about the dark side of the Force.
My friend Jonathan V. Last ably laid out the pros of the Empire and the cons of the Galactic Republic more than a decade ago for the Weekly Standard in a piece entitled “The Case for the Empire.” As Last notes, on one side of the ledger you have a meritocratic force for order and stability led by a more-or-less benevolent dictatorship that seeks to maintain galactic unity, facilitate trade and head off a nasty intergalactic conflict before too many people can die. On the other, you have a band of religious terrorists whose leaders include a drug smuggler in the pocket of slavers and a pair of incestuous twins working to restore a broken republic held hostage by special interests that tolerated its citizens being treated as chattel.
I don’t know about you, but the good guys and bad guys here seem pretty obvious to me.
Trailer: ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’

Play Video2:18

The latest trailer for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” was unveiled Monday night during halftime of ESPN’s Monday Night Football. The film, directed by J.J. Abrams, is the seventh film in the main Star Wars series. (The Walt Disney Company, Lucasfilm)

The sticky wicket, of course, is Alderaan. The Death Star destroyed Princess Leia’s adopted home world early on in “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.” Pro-New Republic propagandists frequently point to this military action as unconscionably evil — ipso facto proof that The Empire was in the wrong. As Dylan Matthews bluntly put it when Bill Kristol (correctly) pointed out that there’s no real evidence that the Empire is evil, “They destroyed a f—— planet.”
Well, sure. But that was really the least bad of all the available options, if you take a moment to think about it.
First off, let’s dispense with the childish notion that Alderaan was, as rebel spy and intergalactic insurrectionist Princess Leia has argued, a purely civilian target. There is literally no reason to believe her claim that “Alderaan is peaceful, we have no weapons.” She had previously lied about not only the diplomatic nature of the mission she was on when she was captured but also about the location of the stolen Death Star plans. It’s also worth noting that she would go on to lie about the location of a military target for the Death Star to target moments before Alderaan was destroyed.
We have further reason to disbelieve Princess Liar when we consider that her adopted father, Bail Organa, was one of the original members of the rebellion, conferring with Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda in an effort to undermine the democratically elected Chancellor Palpatine shortly after his ascension. Alderaan was less likely a peaceful planet than a financial and intellectual hub of the rebellion, whose leaders, as we’ve seen, are totally untrustworthy negotiating partners — a hive of scum and villainy no less wretched than Mos Eisley, but on a planetary scale.
So, Alderaan was a legitimate military target. Was the level of force used against it justified? It’s a tricky question, but it seems the least bad of all the alternatives. Consider another option the Empire could have taken: invading Alderaan, removing its leaders and installing a pro-Empire regime. However, putting boots on the ground in this manner would likely have destabilized not only the planet but also the entire region, creating a breeding ground for religious terrorists and draining blood and treasure for decades. It’s not hard to imagine a Jedi State of the Alderaan System (JSAS, for short, though they’d likely prefer the simpler Jedi State (JS)) arising from the ashes of some ill-conceived invasion and occupation.

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This was probably just the sort of catastrophe that Grand Moff Tarkin was trying to avoid when he devised his Death Star-centered defensive strategy. The Tarkin Doctrine, discussed here, is one based on deterrence and the threat of force rather than the use of force. Granted, you have to use force once for the threat to be useful, but it’s easy to see the appeal of such a tactic, which is designed to save lives in the long run. Imagine the human toll — not to mention the enormous fiscal cost — of launching invasion after invasion of breakaway systems. The utilitarian calculation is complicated, but it’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which fewer people died as a result of the destruction of Alderaan than would have died in a series of costly invasions.
The destruction of Alderaan, then, is more analogous to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki than it is to a “genocide.”* Yes, it was horrible, and yes, it would be nice if it didn’t happen. But it was an attack on a legitimate military target and defensible under Just War Theory, an attack intended to save lives by deterring other major powers from beginning conflicts of their own. The Imperial Grand Moff Tarkin is no worse than Democratic President Harry S. Truman — and no one worth listening to considers Truman to be a monster.
Obviously, this piece will not convince those who have been duped by the propagandists for the New Republic; after all, these are people who go to bed dreaming of attending a Nuremberg-style rally in support of an Aryan aristocracy. But I implore you open-minded few to reconsider what you’ve been taught. As “Star Wars: Episode VII” approaches, keep in mind that the Empire was, in all likelihood, the good guy this whole time.
* I always get vaguely annoyed when people describe the destruction of Alderaan as a “genocide.” It’s not like they blew up Kashyyyk and wiped out the Wookies, folks. There are plenty of other human settlements in the galaxy. This is more akin to the Roman sacking of Palmyra, and no one considers that a genocide.


October 31, 2015

On Oct. 31, 1517, an Augustinian monk named Martin Luther posted 95 debate questions on the door of Wittenberg Church, which began the movement known as “the Reformation.”
In 1521, 34-year-old Martin Luther was summoned to stand trial before the most powerful man in the world, 21-year-old Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Charles V of Spain’s empire spanned nearly 2 million square miles across Europe, the Netherlands, the Far East, Philippines, North and South America, and the Caribbean.
At the Diet of Worms, Charles V initially dismissed Luther’s theses as “an argument between monks” and simply declared Martin Luther an outlaw. Martin Luther was hid by Frederick of Saxony in the Wartburg Castle, where he translated the New Testament into German.
Charles V’s unruly troops sacked Rome and imprisoned Pope Clement VII for six months. He oversaw the Spanish colonization of the Americas, and began the Counter-Reformation. He eventually responded to the pleadings of the priest Bartolome’ de Las Casas and outlawed the enslavement of native Americans.
During this time, Muslim Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent invaded Europe on land and sea. In 1529, 35-year-old Suleiman the Magnificent sent 100,000 Muslim Turks to surround Vienna, Austria.
Martin Luther wrote: “The Turk is the rod of the wrath of the Lord our God. … If the Turk’s god, the devil, is not beaten first, there is reason to fear that the Turk will not be so easy to beat. … Christian weapons and power must do it…”
Martin Luther continued: “(The fight against the Turks) must begin with repentance, and we must reform our lives, or we shall fight in vain. (The Church should) drive men to repentance by showing our great and numberless sins and our ingratitude, by which we have earned God’s wrath and disfavor, so that He justly gives us into the hands of the devil and the Turk.”
Discover more of Bill Federer’s eye-opening books and videos in the WND Superstore!

In an attempt to unite the Holy Roman Empire against the Ottoman Muslims, Charles V agreed to a truce recognizing the Protestants, as Eric W. Gritisch wrote in “Martin – God’s Court Jester: Luther in Retrospect” (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983, p. 69-70): “Afraid of losing the much-needed support of the German princes for the struggle against the Turkish threat from the south, Emperor Charles V agreed to a truce between Protestant and Catholic territories in Nuremberg in 1532. … Thus the Lutheran movement was, for the first time, officially tolerated and could enjoy a place in the political sun of the Holy Roman Empire.”
As the Islamic threat intensified, reformer John Calvin wrote to Philip Melanthon in 1543 (“Selected Works of John Calvin: Tracts & Letters,” I: 373): “I hear of the sad condition of your Germany! … The Turk again prepares to wage war with a larger force. Who will stand up to oppose his marching throughout the length and breadth of the land, at his mere will and pleasure?”
Followers of the reformers, who “protested” certain doctrines, were generally referred to as “Protestants.” Some Protestants refused to help Charles V who was defending Europe from the Muslim invasion. Finally, Charles V made a treaty with the German Lutheran princes by signing the Peace of Augsburg, Sept. 25, 1555, ceasing the religious struggle between Lutherans and Catholics. A line in the treaty, “cuius regio, eius religio,” allowed each king to decide what was to be believed in his kingdom.
A month later, Oct. 25, 1555, suffering from severe gout, Charles V abdicated his throne and lived the rest of his life secluded in the monastery of Yuste, leaving his son Philipe II to rule.
As different kings in Europe chose different denominations for their kingdoms, millions migrated from one country to another simply for conscience sake, and eventually spilled over into the colonies in America.
New York University Professor Emeritus Patricia Bonomi, in her article “The Middle Colonies as the Birthplace of American Religious Pluralism” wrote: “The colonists were about 98 percent Protestant.”
Of the 56 signers of the Declaration, most were Protestant, with the notable exception of Catholic Charles Carroll of Maryland.
British statesman Edmund Burke addressed Parliament, 1775: “All Protestantism … is a sort of dissent. But the religion most prevalent in our Northern Colonies is a refinement on the principle of resistance; it is the dissidence of dissent, and the protestantism of the Protestant religion.”
Samuel Adams stated when he signed the Declaration of Independence: “This day, I trust, the reign of political protestantism will commence.”
Martin Luther, who died in 1546, wrote: “I am much afraid that schools will prove to be the great gates of hell unless they diligently labor in explaining the Holy Scriptures, engraving them in the hearts of youth.”

Quote of the Day

October 21, 2015

Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.”

– John Quincy Adams

He’s only a kid

October 18, 2015

Lay off. 

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan interim athletic director Jim Hackett issued a public letter Sunday afternoon urging Wolverines fans to support their team after Saturday’s last-second loss.
Fifth-year punter Blake O’Neill received a number of hate-filled mentions on social media Saturday night after making a mistake that led to a touchdown on the final play of a 27-23 loss to rival Michigan State.
“I’m asking that our community not lose this game twice by condoning thoughtless comments,” Hackett said in the letter. “… Today I awake to the shocking reality that our community who care so much about this program would send hurtful, spiteful and vicious comments to one of our students. To be clear, such comments come from a small minority, none of whom are reflective of our institution.”

Fans lashed out at Michigan punter Blake O’Neill on social media after Saturday’s finish against Michigan State. “I’m asking that our community not lose this game twice by condoning thoughtless comments,” Michigan interim AD Jim Hackett said. Lon Horwedel/Icon Sportswire

The overwhelming majority of Michigan fans, former players and teammates supported O’Neill and expressed empathy for him and understanding regarding the way the final play unfolded, and they combined to shout down his detractors.
“I just told him that we’re behind him,” Michigan kicker and backup punter Kenny Allen said shortly after the game. “We’re going to look at film and stuff, and we support Blake through everything. That’s the type of team we’re going to be.”
O’Neill bobbled a low snap on a punt attempt with 10 seconds left on the clock, then fumbled the ball as he attempted to salvage a kick. Michigan State sophomore Jalen Watts-Jackson picked up the loose ball and carried it 38 yards for a touchdown as the clock expired.
O’Neill averaged 44.6 yards per attempt on his previous seven punts Saturday, including an 80-yard kick that was down at the Michigan State 2-yard line.
The final play helped hand Michigan (5-2) its first Big Ten loss under coach Jim Harbaugh and helped the Spartans stay unbeaten (7-0) on the season.
But, I am a PSU fan. Great seeing the Blue lose like that. 

Thought of the Day

October 13, 2015

“Freedom makes us prosperous. Prosperity makes us lazy. Laziness destroys freedom and prosperity.”

Keep Working

October 9, 2015

shutterstock_311474627With a title like this there is little room for dilly-dallying along the way to the answer. So without much introduction, here is the tip that could save your marriage: Get a part-time job.
There. That’s it. Husbands, if you want to save or strengthen your marriage, get a part-time job.
I should say right off the bat that I am not talking about a literal job that will pull you away from the home for more hours. Instead I’m arguing for the husband to approach his time at home with his family with the same thoughtful intentionality and engagement that he would if he were to go to work.
Far too many marriages are suffering because the husband comes home mentally, physically and emotionally zapped from his work day. He has done well as the provider for the home and now he is going to come home and collapse into a lazy-boy (aptly named) or in front of a computer or some other process of decompression and relaxation from a tough day at work. This type of thing may be ok occasionally but if practiced regularly it will lead to major problems.
Years ago after starting a new job I came home mentally and emotionally drained several days in a row. Laying on the floor “resting” became my default posture. One day my wife walked over and said, “Hey, we don’t want your left-overs. Don’t give everyone else your best only to serve us left-overs.”
This hit me like a ton of bricks. My wife and family were grateful that I was providing, but they were not content with a mere provider. They wanted a dad and a husband. In other words, there is more to the job of being a husband than just making money. He needs to be thoughtfully, intentionally, and continually engaged in the home.
This is why the illustration of having a second job in the evenings works so well. As husbands we must come home with at least, if not more engagement than we would have at work. Husbands come home to lovingly lead their families. They need to be serving their wives by listening, learning, nourishing, and shepherding them. We can’t do that when we are “recovering” from work or checking out for some much needed “me” time. The job description for a husband entails thoughtful intentionality. We have got to be in the game and doing our job.
It would not be a stretch to say that over 90% of the marital counseling I have done as a pastor involves the husband sleeping at his post in one way or another. He hangs his hat on being the provider while neglecting his role as shepherd-leader of the home. Fixing this will not solve everything but it will drastically improve a lot of things.
So husbands, let me challenge you to come home from work like you are going to work at a job you love in a place you love. Come alongside your wife to talk, listen, and learn her. Play with the kids. Do some chores. Make some jokes. Read the Bible. Pray together. Play a game. Make some dessert. Fix something that broke. Flirt with your wife. Sit and talk. Whatever you do, do it heartily and intentionally like a guy who is there, engaged with his family not escaping from his family.

Democrats are the Enemy

October 8, 2015

“Democrats will not support a conservative Christian president, but will in fact support a sharia muslim president.”

The New Addiction 

October 7, 2015

The dark secret about fantasy football no one is talking aboutBy Ramon Ramirez on August 30th, 2015


Davis Mattek was “irrationally confident” when the Cincinnati Bengals played the Cleveland Browns last December—enough to let thousands of dollars ride on the outcome. He started enigmatic quarterback Johnny Manziel.
The Browns lost 30-0 on Dec. 14, 2014, and Manziel was dismal in action. Mattek’s botched hunch killed his daily fantasy football team and put the clamp on his finances. With little other recourse, he felt he had no alternative than to bet his way of the hole, doubling down at the earliest possible opportunity.
“I don’t know how I’m going to come back from this,” Mattek recalls thinking. “I went over my prescribed limit.”
He’s far from the only one to make such a casual but drastic mistake. An estimated 56 million people will play fantasy sports this year—up from 12 million a decade ago—and increasingly, those users are flocking to sites that offer the high-stakes thrill of a fantasy football playoff game on a daily basis. FanDuel alone boasts more than 1 million paying members. Its chief competitor, DraftKings, raised $300 million with help from Fox Sports, while Web giant Yahoo entered the daily fantasy market in July. It’s a wide-open frontier—one that’s swiftly become a billion-dollar industry.
But the evolution of fantasy football from a season-long endeavor with friends and co-workers to a daily competition with random strangers has brought with it potentially serious side effects. It amplifies the most obsessive qualities of the game—the opportunities (and spoils) are instant—without providing much in the way of oversight or customer support in return. Critics argue that combination makes users more susceptible to addiction and serious losses—a risk the industry itself has done its best to ignore.
Legal limbo

Fantasy sports don’t qualify as online gambling—thanks to a loophole in the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act (UIGEA). That 2006 law essentially killed online gambling—then a $200 million industry, driven primarily by poker and sports betting—and shuttered the three biggest offshore gambling sites of the era.
“Very simply, it’s gambling. [It’s putting] money on an event with a certain outcome in the hopes of winning more money.”

Even then, the NFL had an active interest in fantasy football, and it successfully lobbied Congress to exempt fantasy sports from the legislation. The league made the case that fantasy sports aren’t games of chance—like poker, slot machines, or roulette—but one of skill. That’s a crucial distinction: It’s allowed fantasy football to flourish without any of the red tape or legal oversight that’s dogged online gambling for the past decade.
Dr. Timothy Fong, associate clinical professor at the UCLA Gambling Studies Program, is one of America’s leading researchers on the effects of fantasy sports. He’s quick to attack the notion that fantasy football is a skill-based game and thus exempt from larger gambling concerns.
“Very simply, it’s gambling,” Dr. Fong says. “[It’s putting] money on an event with a certain outcome in the hopes of winning more money.
“To call it anything else is really just not accurate,” he continues. “That link hasn’t really been made by the players and the public—that what I’m doing is no different than playing blackjack or craps or betting on sports in Vegas casinos.”
To those unfamiliar, in fantasy football you build a team of unrelated players and win in weekly head-to-head bouts by garnering points from the real-life stats of your opponent’s team. Teams are situated within leagues—which vary endlessly in terms of size, scoring, and format—and the process plays out from September to December. Daily fantasy offers you a new team every game day. Your opponent is the house, particularly daily fantasy sports go-tos FanDuel and DraftKings.
Anyone 18 or older with a credit card can sign up for a daily fantasy football league. Creating an account on FanDuel is as simple as selecting a username and clicking Try It Now. You’ll then be immediately encouraged to bet $200 on the welcome screen—a tempting offer given that the company will typically match between $150 and $175 in house money as a “deposit bonus.” You’ll also be asked to sync up your PayPal account and to identify what state you live in; five states prohibit betting on fantasy sports: Arizona, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana, and Washington.

Getting to the lobby on FanDuel drives home Dr. Fong’s comparison to traditional gambling. It’s like being on a casino floor, where the tables are open and all that’s missing is a cocktail waitress. You can toss your hat into dozens of immediate bets with an entry fee. The Deposits sections doesn’t specify how much one can bet in total, but a FanDuel support representative says individual transactions top out at $10,000. For only $25, you can fill out a quick fantasy football team and enter to win $5 million on Week 1’s Sunday action. You could go to bed Sunday night a multimillionaire. (More than likely, you just gave FanDuel $25 less than five minutes before you pondered signing up.)
The appeal of both FanDuel and DraftKings is akin to slot machines or scratch-off lottery tickets. Both bank on people wanting to turn small sums into giant gains, and the two sites are in an arms race right now for market share, doing everything they can to encourage new users to sign up. You can’t spend 15 minutes on Facebook or watch ESPN without seeing one of their ads. Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade, for example, is hosting a $1,000,000 one-week fantasy football league at FanDuel that costs a mere $5 to enter. Meanwhile, DraftKings runs flash specials, like the baseball pitch below, that promise to “turn $5 into $100K!” just by drafting 10 players.
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The Kernel interviewed 10 writers who covered fantasy football, and all but two of them considered daily fantasy sports to be gambling.
“The consistent winners win through skill, but they are taking that money off of a lot people who are just there to gamble,” writer Mike Beers said. “The quickness with which you find out if you won or lost (relative to a season-long managed team) attracts even more gamblers.”
The appeal of both FanDuel and DraftKings is akin to slot machines or scratch-off lottery tickets. Both bank on people wanting to turn small sums into giant gains.

“You can only profit from someone else’s loss,” added Kevin Cole. “Therefore, DFS (or daily fantasy sports) fits my definition of gambling.”
“I have no idea how someone can seriously say DFS isn’t gambling,” conceded Tim, a semi-pro fantasy football analyst with more than 1,000 Twitter followers, who requested that we not use his last name. “Anything is addictive if you’re a compulsive person. … If DFS wasn’t there, people would just be betting on point spreads, I imagine.”
You can’t ignore the element of chance in fantasy football. Advance research won’t predict random injuries, like a pulled hamstring or a concussion. Or if secretive coaches like Bill Belichick will abruptly bench Jonas Gray a week after he scored four touchdowns because he overslept and missed practice. But the analysts the Kernel spoke with were adamant that there’s an element of skill involved, too—an ability to make smart bets based on predictive analytics. The comparison to professional poker came up time and again.
“They do research, they learn new lines, they learn to balance their ranges if necessary, they approach the game from a puzzle-solving point of view. While they are playing a game of chance, they are not trying to profit from chance,” stressed writer Heith Krueger. “The gambler is different. They are not considering strategy, analyzing their opponents, or putting in any work to improve their percentage chance to win in the long run.
“The gambler is looking to win and win now. It’s all about trying to walk away with as much money as possible in a brief period of time. I feel this outlook is very similar to daily fantasy sports.”
Can’t stop. Won’t stop.

If fantasy sports aren’t considered gambling from a legal perspective, then it’s theoretically not possible for someone to become addicted to it. In fact, the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published in 2013, does not formally recognize Internet addiction or, by proxy, any sort of fantasy football-induced disorder. Gambling disorder, however, is listed, and Internet gaming disorder is a literal footnote—flagged in Section III as a trend that warrants “further study.”
In practical terms, that means that fantasy service providers don’t have to provide disclaimers about engaging responsibly or promote resources like hotlines for those who may need help. For its part, FanDuel says it has a point person who handles “responsible gaming issues” via email for members in its customer service department, but that’s not apparent to the average user and wouldn’t be much use in a crisis scenario, especially considering a FanDuel rep told the Kernel there’s no cut-off point for how much users can deposit, so long as individual transactions are kept under $10,000. (Our support ticket to FanDuel went unanswered at press time. DraftKings could not be reached for comment.)
“It’s very different when you’re playing against a virtual community and you’re going up against… some avatar? How fun is that? How enriching is that?”

“This is not regulated on any level: local, state, national.” Dr. Fong says about daily fantasy sports. ”You comb through the website, you will not see any help for gambling problems because, again, they don’t want to admit that they’re gambling.”
Dr. Fong has played fantasy football since he was a teenager and uses it as a way to stay connected with old friends. His mounting concern stems from how the game has evolved across the Web from its core purpose.
“It’s very different when you’re playing against a virtual community and you’re going up against… some avatar? How fun is that? How enriching is that?” Dr. Fong says. “At its core, fantasy sports is meant to be a social interaction, meant to bring people closer.”
Of greater concern to Dr. Fong is the growing trend of daily fantasy football. Dr. Fong maintains that this sector is dutifully blind to the dangers of addiction because it needs to lean on its “skill-based” definition to exist apart from heavily controlled, traditional Internet gambling. In traditional fantasy football, the registration fee is paid up front and money is not exchanged until the season ends and a winner claims the pool of cash. Daily fantasy hits you up every weekend for bank account transfers, and Dr. Fong says he’s seen patients lose $50,000 in one season.
Moreover, Dr. Fong says that some of his patients—already making appointments for gambling addiction—will cop to fantasy football as a problem in their lives. While screening patients, Dr. Fong says he often finds people struggling with the game’s residual effects. Suddenly a sit-down with a patient yields buzz phrases like: “I can get just as much action from [daily fantasy football] as I can from a casino.”
“[It’s the] same kind of flavor,” Dr. Fong says. “Same kind of addictive process… Same sense of thrill, the same dopamine rush.”
Tim, the part-time fantasy writer, says he personally wins or loses only $600 or so every autumn on fantasy football. Despite the fixed figure, he admits that his fantasy habits are “obsessive” and at an “unhealthy level.”
“I worry about the way that it affects my personal relationships with people,” he said.
As daily fantasy sports have snowballed in the past two years, the number of people seeking out the UCLA Gambling Studies Program for fantasy counseling remains minimal. How can that be?
“We’re still a little bit puzzled as to why not, because daily fantasy sports have all the elements that would predispose somebody to become addicted,” Dr. Fong says. “It’s available, it’s fast, it’s affordable, it’s high-stakes, there’s no regulation, you can lose enormous sums of money—quickly.”
Dr. Fong’s Gambling Studies Program at UCLA outlines gambling addiction clearly: “Four phases have been described: winning, losing, desperation, and hopelessness. As the disorder progresses, there is not only an increase in amounts wagered and time devoted to gambling, but an increase in feelings of shame, guilt, helplessness, and depression. Some gamblers will turn to illegal activities and do things that were previously thought inconceivable; twenty percent will attempt suicide. There may be the development or exacerbation of other mental disorders, notably anxiety and depressive disorders and other addictive disorders. Stress-related physical illnesses are also common.”
To Dr. Fong, the line between recreation and addiction is clear: If playing fantasy football improves the quality of your life, it’s a fine hobby. If playing involves lying, stealing, and disassociating from loved ones, well, you have a problem.
A thin line

Davis Mattek’s gamble on Johnny Manziel worked out in the end. He earned the money back the next week. He’s grown uncomfortably numb to that cycle. He says he can lose thousands on any given Sunday and not let it affect his emotional stability and health. It’s all part of the process, and for him, it’s a necessity. Mattek’s become a fantasy analyst at
“If I wasn’t doing it every single day,” he says, “I don’t know how I could help someone else.”
If playing fantasy football improves the quality of your life, it’s a fine hobby. If playing involves lying, stealing, and disassociating from loved ones, well, you have a problem.

Mattek is an outlier in fantasy sports. Most don’t have his professional knowledge—or his background. As a high school student he got hooked on “gnarly drugs.” A semi-pro, traveling skateboarder, he says he weighed 105 pounds when junior year started. “I got arrested for possession a couple of times,” Mattek says. “I was all strung out on coke.”
At 16, he was arrested—while already on probation—for stealing a glass pipe from a gas station. To avoid getting in “real trouble,” Mattek went to rehab after spending three weeks in jail. As of Aug. 19, he’s been sober for seven years. But the daily payouts from fantasy football provide a familiar rush, and he’s absolutely hooked.
“I can literally do nothing but fantasy sports for days and days and days on end,” Mattek says. “It can completely consume everything about my being.”
Mattek knows to route around his edges, what vices make him go. Doesn’t harboring a predisposition for addiction mean that he needs to be extra careful around his fantasy football endeavors?
“There’s a line that I know that once I cross it there’s no going back,” Mattek says. He adds in a follow-up email: “Literally no question about it, it’s 100% addictive.”
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Quote of the Day

October 7, 2015

From Richard Baxter:
“The life of religion, and the welfare and glory of both the Church and the State, depend much on family government and duty. If we suffer the neglect of this, we shall undo all.”
taken from Family Shepherds (calling and equipping men to lead their homes)
by Voddie Baucham Jr.