Friday, May 30, 2008

If you prick us, do we not bleed?

When I first started teaching, I had noticed that The Merchant of Venice was on the approved reading list for sophomores (which I taught at the time). I had rememberd it from when I was in college, and I remembered liking it. I especially remember liking the character Shylock, as it's difficult to not feel for the guy. Also, I thought that it had one of the most tension-filled scenes that I had ever read with the trial and Shylock's insistence on his pound of flesh from Antonio.

While discussing the play with a senior member of the department, he told me that he'd never teach it because he just couldn't get past the anti-Semitism in it. I could see where he was coming from, but that didn't sway me. After all, is it anti-Semitic? Certainly by today's standards, it would be pretty hard to deny that it is. There are many moments where Shylock acts like the stereotypical Jews, bemoaning the loss of his money. And the resolution at the end is that he has to become a Christian - and this is seen as mercy by the main characters.

For me though, this only made me more eager to teach it, as there certainly were lessons about prejudice that could be learned from this play. After all, Shakespeare probably hadn't met a Jew in his life (as I believe it was King Edward who had kicked them out of the country a few hundred years before). But more importantly, and this speaks to the brilliance of Shakespeare as a writer, he just can't seem to have a major character be a tw0-dimensional villain - which is what the audience would expect from a Jewish character back then. I'm sure that his audience must have been surprised to have a Jew, who were basically seen as boogeymen back then, have actual human emotions, and at many times run counter to the stereotype.

I haven't taught this play in years, but every so often I'll rewatch the movie version that came out a few years ago with Al Pacino as Shylock. Oddly enough, he isn't my favorite part of the film. I think that Jeremy Irons does a great job playing Antonio. Most people interpret his reason for being sad at the beginning of the play is that he is in love with his friend, Bassanio, who is off to marry a woman named Portia. I have no problem with this interpretation, and it certainly does make sense. However, in a couple of versions that I've seen, the actor who'll play Antonio really, for the lack of a better expression, gays it up. There was a PBS version where the guy was an almost over-the-top fop, and his performance was quite annoying to say the least. With Irons though, the love for his friend is understated. It's definitely there, but they don't beat you over the head with it.

Lynn Collins, the actress who plays Portia, does a great job as well. She's beautiful enough to fit the part, and she's a good enough of an actress to really make you believe that she's probably the smartest character in the entire play. Of course, Pacino does a great job, and Joseph Fiennes does a solid job as Bassanio. There are a lot of other great parts in the play (especially Gratiano) but the movie has to cut a lot of their lines.

Anyway, I think that I did a good job of teaching it, as I went into the history of anti-Semitism and gave the play some context. I know that a lot of students really got into it (of course, some of them didn't - but you get that with everything). An essay topic that I assigned asked them to determine whether the play was anti-Semitic or not, and I remember being quite impressed with how nuanced I got my sophomores to be with their responses. Many of them concluded that while there certainly is anti-Semitism in it, to simply label it thusly is to oversimplify the issue. I also think that a lot of students can relate to Shylock, especially those who feel as though they don't belong amongst their peers.

Man, I just realized that I've already rambled on for quite a bit, and there are still a million more reasons why I love this play. Let me just try and wrap it up though. Other stuff that I like include the dual worlds of Venice and Belmont. Venice is a place of real-world problems, whereas Belmont is like a fairy-tale kingdom, and Portia even has a fairy-tale problem. I also think that his has, hands-down, some of Shakespeare's best poetry, including Shylock's famous speech:

and Portia's speech about mercy (note: she's dressed like a dude here):

Basically, like all of my favorite Shakespeare plays, I can't get the damned thing out of my head. Even after having not taught it for years, I still find myself mulling it over in my brain. It has so many layers to it, and it addresses so many timeless issues that it almost makes me want to teach sophomores again.

Praise Jeebus for Michelle Malkin

Michelle Malkin, who is apparently trying to win the "most reasonable conservative" award from Ann Coulter, has recently pointed out the truth about Rachel Ray - she is a terrorist sympathizer. Oh, and you thought she was just a cute, perky, kinda annoying, slightly ubiquitous talk show host/chef. If you thought that, you probably love Osama bin Laden.

In her blog, Malkin points out (quite correctly!) that Rachel Ray's scarf in a recent Dunkin' Donuts ad is, in fact, a keffiyeh, which is a symbol for the Palestinian people. Therefore, this proves that Ray is part of a conspiracy to show support toward Palestinian terrorists. Obviously. Why would Dunkin' Donuts do such a thing? Probably because Jews hate donuts, as they feel that they're an abomination of the bagel, non doubt. I don't know about you, but seeing Rachel Ray in that ad makes me want to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth. Luckily, people like Malkin are around to point these things out, and now I see the light.

So, thank you, Michelle Malkin. However, you don't go far enough. There are several teachers on my campus who have mustaches! You know who else had a mustache, right? Hitler! Stalin! Geraldo! There are also some teachers who are completely bald - just like Mussolini! It's also a fact that we have immigrants from Mongolia in our school. You haven't forgotten about Genghis Khan, have you?

Won't somebody please think of the children!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Always on the cutting edge...

Okay, I realize that this "controversy" has been beaten into the ground , and everybody was really interested in it about three weeks ago, but what's up with the whole Miley Cyrus photo hysteria?

I'm not sure where I first saw it, but it might have been in the paper, on TV, or online - who knows - maybe all three? Anyway, I was just checking out some blogs and this one fundamentalist Christian guy was all in an uproar about it.

Is it me, or are those pictures not a big deal? Yeah, I know, she's a minor (I think, anyway). Yeah, she's not wearing a shirt. Still, I don't find anything titillating or particularly sexual about these photos. She is holding a towel over her - but hardly in a suggestive sort of a way. I remember years ago there was a photo spread of Britney Spears, when she was still a minior, in Rolling Stone. That one made me feel pretty uneasy, because even though she had more clothes on, she was in a suggestive position and her clothes were rather tight on her. (I'm going from memory here, and I don't feel like looking them up.) Now, I could see people getting offended at that (allthough the uproar over these things is usually disproportionate to the problem). But the Miley Cyrus thing? I don't think that there's anything suggestive about it. I mean, you'd see a lot more if you saw her at the beach, wouldn't you?

I have to wonder about this, as I think it says more about the people who got all up in a fuss about it than it does about her or the photographer, Annie Liebowitz. Also, I wouldn't have ever seen this in the first place if there wasn't such an uproar about it. I mean, I realize that she's popular with the kids nowadays, so it's probably safe to say that there are several magazines on the stands right now that have her picture in them, and I have no idea what those look like.

I mean, don't get me wrong. If I had a teenage daughter, that wouldn't be my idea of how she should pose for a photo. Still, I couldn't see myself getting mad about it - just so long as she had agreed to it without being coerced in any way.

I don't know, maybe I'm just being naive. I was going to post the photo myself, but just google Miley Cyrus and Annie Liebowitz and I'm sure you'll find it - assuming that you've been living in a cave on Mars the past month.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Wow...this is shocking

According to this story, former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan has written a new book, where he accuses the Bush Administration of using a "political propaganda campaign" to sell the Iraq War. He also claims that the media acted as "enablers."

Wow...who would have thought?

I also recently learned that snow is cold. Man...go figure.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

She was a girl from Birmingham, she just had an abortion...

If you gave me one wish right now, I'd probably make abortions nonexistent. That's probably because I watched the movie Lake of Fire last night, which is about the abortion issue. It's a tough movie to sit through, as there are a couple of scenes where you actually see the aborted baby - little hands, little feet in a tray.

You also see the body of a woman who attempted a forced abortion with a coat hanger. I'm not quite sure which image is haunting me more.

Personally, I think that this is a movie that everybody should see, no matter what side of the issue you're on. Roger Ebert, in his review of the film, writes, "This is a brave, unflinching, sometimes virtually unwatchable documentary that makes such an effective case for both pro-choice and pro-life that it is impossible to determine which side the filmmaker, Tony Kaye, stands on." He's right, and I don't think that this movie is going to change anybody's position on the issue. If anything, and I think this is the point, people will have a better feel for just how complex of an issue this is.

The film shows some convincing arguments for both sides of the issue, and after all, what could possibly be more convincing for the pro-life side than baby parts in a tray? It also shows that there are some nutjobs on both sides of the issue. Now, it may be my own bias, but the pro-life side seems to be quite a bit nuttier. One guy says that not only abortion doctors should be executed, but blasphemers should be as well. God dammit, but I hope that never happens. There was also some priest who was talking in front of his children about how at the abortion clinics the people will take the aborted fetuses and grill them up on a barbecue right there in front of the protestors. Now, I know that some crazy things happen sometimes, but I'm going to guess that that hasn't ever actually happened.

On the pro-choice side, there was this one all-girl band where the lead singer was wearing nothing but leather panties and black tape over her nipples. She was singing something about the days of women dying over coathanger abortions, and she was pushing the coathanger through her panties and up inside her (the bent part - not like that's somehow more sensible though.) Now, I realize that some people (Andrew) might think that sounds erotic, but it really wasn't. It was just kinda stupid - not to mention the fact that their music sucked. When they were interviewed afterwards, they sounded like they were reading from the standard pro-choice script about how pro-lifers should adopt all of the unwanted children. (This isn't to say that's not a good point -but they were obviously just parroting somebody else.)

The film also follows a woman as she goes into an abortion clinic and everything (and including) that happens before the procedure. Despite what the clips of Pat Buchanan would have people believe, she was most definitely not coerced into having the abortion, and she was asked several times if she felt like she was making the right decision. Afterwards, they interviewed her and even though she tried to put up a brave face as she explained that she felt that she made the right decision, she broke down crying. It was hard to watch, and I'd never wish that on anybody.

I haven't changed my mind, and if you haven't figured it out by now, I suppose that I definitely fall on the pro-choice side of things. Still, I'd like to see a world where women no longer feel that it's necessary to have one. I think that this should be done through comprehensive sexual education. I realize that there are some people who are against this, and there seems to be some uproar over showing kids how to use condoms. Personally, I'd rather err on the side of telling the kids too much rather than telling them too little. Because let's face it, "abstinence only" is a joke, and kids are going to (and already do) have sex whether people want to admit it or not.

I think that if the film had any point, it's that this is a complex issue without any easy answers. Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard Law Professor, has a story that illustrates the whole thing, and Ebert's review quotes it, as will I: "A rabbi is asked to settle a marital dispute. He hears the husband's view. 'You're right,' he tells him. He hears the wife's view. 'You're right,' he tells her. One of his students protests: 'Rabbi, they both can't be right.' The rabbi nods. 'You're right," he says.'

Oh, and if you're wondering about the title of my blog, I'm quoting the Sex Pistols.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Factual indoctrination

I recently got into an online conversation regarding Intelligent Design and evolution. At the end, we both agreed that there isn't necessarily anything wrong with ID as a way of interpreting how the universe came to be, but this is not an idea that has any place in a science class. We also agreed that science teachers shouldn't tell their kids that evolution disproves the existence of God. (I wonder how often this actually happens, since the theory of evolution doesn't even address a supernatural power in one way or another.)

There seems to be some concern, mostly from conservatives from what I can tell, that teachers are "indoctrinating" their students with ideas that run counter to what their parents want them to believe. I personally don't think that my job is to convert my students to my system of beliefs, but is it possible to be completely neutral about everything?

For instance, with books like To Kill a Mockingbird and The Autobiography of Malcolm X, we deal with issues like racism. And while discussing these books, I take it from the standpoint that judging people based on their race is the wrong thing to do. Am I indoctrinating? After all, it's a person's right if they want to be a racial supremecist. Is it okay for me to insult their beliefs? I once had a student who believed in "Aryan" superiority - a concept that I openly mocked. Guess what? I don't feel bad about doing this. I suppose you could accuse me of indoctrination with this issue, and I'll say that I'm guilty as charged.

A coworker of mine recently made a comment regarding people who deny the Holocaust and how they are just as out of touch with reality as people who deny evolution. He worried that he'd get some angry phone calls. (And I should point out, he did say that denying evolution wasn't as morally repugnant - but it was just as out of touch with the facts.) From what I understand, he didn't get any - but what of it? I mean, he's right! The thing is, when you have an argument with two opposing sides, sometimes there is one side that is simply wrong! And even though 50% of Americans have their heads in their asses when it comes to evolution, that doesn't somehow legitimize their opinion on the subject. And what about Holocaust deniers? Should he have respected their right to believe that Hitler didn't kill 12 million people?

What about Mormons? They believe that the Native Americans are a lost tribe of Jews. DNA evidence shows that they clearly are not. I don't know if there are any high school level classes that cover this sort of a thing, but what if an Advanced Biology class was covering genetics and this sort of a thing come up? Should the teacher, afraid of offending anybody, pretend that believing that Native Americans are Jews is a legitimate opinion? Let's also not forget history teachers - are they being offensive when they say that there isn't any evidence of ancient kingdoms in the Americas?

I covered a little bit of linguistics with my seniors. I gave them notes on the Indo-European languages and talked a little bit about how different languages developed. If a student asked me about all languages beginning when God wanted to stop the building of the Tower of Babel, how should I have handled that? I mean, my reaction is, "C'mon, that's stupid!" I wouldn't put it that way though, but I wouldn't feel right if I gave that idea any legitimacy. I suppose that I'd tell him or her that it's their right to believe that, but the evidence runs contrary to that idea. Am I indoctrinating? Is telling the truth the same as brainwashing?

After all, if we want to play this game, should we also give legitimacy to the ideas of Scientologists in Psychology classes? I'm sure most people would immediately bristle at that idea, but then they'd get all up in arms if the facts ran counter to their precious beliefs.

So, I'm not so sure that it's entirely possible to never indoctrinate students, but I'm also not sure that's such a bad thing. Let's be biased towards facts in a place of learning.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Indy Jones IV

I saw Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull on Thursday, and it's taken a few days for it all to sink in. I'll try my best not to spoil the plot, but if you want to go into it knowing absolutely nothing, then skip this. Overall, I'd have to say that I liked it. I'd probably give it about a B-.

Just like the Star Wars movies though, it's tough to give an objective review of this one. I remember seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark in the theaters and being blown away by it. And much to my eternal embarassment, I didn't see Temple of Doom in the theaters because when I heard about the guy who got his heart ripped out of his chest, I became too afraid to see it. (Yeah, I know - how lame. Unlike a lot of boys, I avoided scary movies and gore, and looking back at it, I think that much of it was due to my sister's influence. Obviously, I've long since gotten over it.) Still, I remember seeing that one as it was the first video that my dad and I rented when we finally got a VCR (my family was always a little behind the times.) I also remember seeing The Last Crusade when I was a freshman in high school, as I got a cute girl to go along to the movie with me. So, these movies have a special place for me, and I probably wind up watching all of them at least once a year.

As I left the theater for the latest one, I remember feeling like it was just okay. Now that a few days have past, there are a lot of scenes that really stick in my mind, and I'm looking forward to seeing it again (although I'll probably wait for the DVD). I have to admit though, half the fun of the movie was simply seeing Indiana Jones again (and Marion Ravenwood too, I suppose). It was like seeing old friends, and it was good to see that things hadn't slown down for Dr. Jones. I also like the fact that it reflected what was going on in the 50s, just as the originals reflected what was going on in the 30s.

There was only one really lame part, but overall I think that the major weakness of this story involves the treasure that he was looking for. It reminded me of the sort of thing that he'd go after in the comic books - kinda interesting but without the deeper mythological weight of the Ark and the Holy Grail. And even though the Shankara Stones don't have as much resonance, they worked well as it was basically a Golden Fleece type of a treasure, as they restored a barren land to its former glory. (Interestingly enough, Indy went after the Golden Fleece in one of the better comic book stories.)

I've read that George Lucas wanted to go full-on 50s style sci-fi and have it be Indiana Jones and the Saucer Men from Mars (or something like that). While I think that would have turned off a lot of people, I almost wish that they went that far with it. Instead what this movie had was a mish-mash of 50s sci-fi with 30s treasure-hunting, and it felt like a watered down version of both. One thing that was great about all three of the original endings were how memorable they were:

"It's beautiful!"
"You betrayed Shiva!"
"He chose...poorly."

This one though, I really wasn't feeling the moral here.

Still, it was good to see Dr. Jones, and his successor, Mutt Williams, wasn't half bad. If they make a movie with him, I'll probably check it out.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Do me a favor - don't be on my side

A few years ago, a student was doing the morning announcements. It was April, and there was some activities going on for Earth Day. He made a mention about global warming, and how we can tell it's happening because the weather was getting warmer.

I slapped my forehead.

I've written on global warming before but not quite with the same passion and certainty that I have on the evolution/ID debate. I believe that I said last time that I was about 85% certain that what was being said was accurate. A friend of mine talked me down to about 75% though. It's not so much that I deny that things are getting warmer, or that humanity is having an impact on it. I think what's still up for a bit of debate is just how much we're impacting it and exactly what the consequences will be. Still, people who are just completely dismissive of it seem to be on the wrong side of the current War on Reality.

Anyway, back to this kid. So, I'm on board with humans trying to limit their carbon emissions. Still, to make a comment like that? I don't profess to be an expert, but anybody who doesn't seem to realize that it ALWAYS warms up in April knows less than I do. I'll cut him some slack though. After all, I'd be pretty embarrassed if you listed all the the stuff that I used to say in high school. Still, there are plenty of adults who are saying some downright ignorant things on both sides of that issue.

Sometimes I just wish that certain people weren't on my side. One thing that comes up sometimes is when atheists talk about evolution as a way to disprove the existence of God. Now, while I don't believe in God either, and the fact of evolution contributes to my lack of belief, evolution hardly disproves the existence of a supreme being. After all, I'm fairly certain that most people who do accept evolution also believe in God. The only thing it does prove is that you can't take the book of Genesis literally and that you can't read The Bible as a science book. But you don't need evolution for that - a heliocentric solar system takes care of that as well. (As does the fact that there's no link between hair length and superhuman strength.)

This is why I won't ever get a "Darwin fish" for my car, and why I think that putting one on your car is lame. Darwin is not the opposite of Jesus, and his observations weren't intended to be.

I also get frustrated at some atheists who don't seem to think that there's any value in having some basic religious literacy. I mean, you should at least have some idea what it is that you're not believing. You don't have to be an expert - but learn a few things, okay? I have about as much respect for those sorts of atheists as I do Christians who can't name an Old Testament prophet (and according to the book, Religious Literacy, there are quite a few of them!)

So, please, if you're going to be on my side, get your facts straight. I don't want you to make me look bad. Take off that damn Darwin fish already. Replace it with a Flying Spaghetti Monster plaque instead, if you gotta have something.

Monday, May 19, 2008

More hops, dammit!

Some discussion that goes on around the beer forums and beer blogs is the subject of "extreme" beers. These are the types of beers that usually assault your senses with hops and/or alcohol. I've had a few in my day, and generally speaking, I like a more straighforward beer that goes down smoothly but still has some character to it. Still, there are some that certain people might label "extreme" that I'm pretty fond of drinking.

One style that gets a lot of discussion is the IPA, or even the Double IPA. The IPA, or India Pale Ale, dates back to when the British had to ship beer to their soldiers who were stationed in India. Of course, this was before refrigeration, and there was the major problem of keeping it drinkable during the voyage. The solution was to increase the alchohol content (basically by adding more malt which creates more fermentable sugars) and the amount of hops used in the beer. The result was a distinctly strong-tasting beer, but it eventually became quite popular, and people could get it at the pub in England.

With the craft beer movement in the United States (particularly on the West Coast), the IPA has evolved into something else. Basically, the same concept of higher alchohol and more hops is the starting point, but the American styles are even stronger and hoppier than their English forebearers. In fact, the term "hop-head" has been used to describe fans of these styles.

The point of criticism amongst many brewers and beer fans is that adding more hops doesn't necessarily make for a good beer. One take on it is that it's like saying, "This is the saltiest soup you'll ever try!" I mean, who would be interested in trying that? And of course, a beer that tastes like nothing but hops wouldn't be very appealing either.

So, I'm with them. More hops do not create a better beer. However, some of the better brewers out there don't just make it about the hops. True, their beers might be quite hoppy, but the goal that they strive to attain is balance. In other words, the malt flavor compliments the hops, and no single flavor overpowers the other. (Many of them are aged in oak barrels, and that adds to both the flavor and the overall balance.)

So, the salty soup analogy only goes so far. After all, a really good soup might also be pretty salty, but it's not all the additional salt that makes it good. Still, take the salt out and you'd be stuck with something less than stellar. A better analogy might be, "This is the spiciest chili you'll ever try!" The spiciness doesn't necessarily make it good, but if you like it hot, then it'll have some appeal. Same goes for hoppy beers.

I've made an IPA myself once, and it turned out quite good. My friends also raved about it. It's a clone of Russian River's Blind Pig IPA. I only have about three bottles left, and I'll probably buy the same kit later on this summer to make another batch. (It uses oak chips which recreates the flavor that you get when the beer is stored in oak barrels.)

But what if you're not a homebrewer, but you're interested in trying something that's a bit stronger than your average brew? (I personally recommend any of these with some really spicy food - the two tastes go really well together, as only something really strong can stand up to a spicy meal.) Try out the following:

Lagunitas IPA
Lagunitas Maximus (their Double IPA, which I find to actually be a bit smoother than their regular IPA)
ACME IPA (From North Coast Brewing)
Full Sail IPA
Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale (seasonal)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Activist Judges

I've been mulling this one in my mind a bit lately, and I shall now make what's probably going to be a feeble attempt to express my views on this topic.

Lately, there's a lot of talk amongst conservatives about "activist" judges. This seems to be a buzz-word for "judges who do things that conservatives don't like." In particular, the accusation is coming at the California Supreme Court for declaring that the ban on same sex marriage is unconstitutional.

My friend, Scott, put it pretty well on his blog when he wrote, "If they aren't being activists, then they aren't doing their jobs. The Supreme Court made a correct, though not popular, decision in 1954, and now the California Superior Court made a correct decision in 2008." This is exactly how I feel.

Conservatives are very fond of attaching labels to everything in order to immediately discredit the other side. Instead of really getting into the nitty-gritty over how one can reconcile the concept of equal protection under the law with discrimination based on sexual orientation, they just slap the "activist" label on the judge and leave it at that. Personally, I'm willing to see a constitutional ammendment where if anybody says the phrase, "activist judge", they get a kick in the groin. Second offense, the kick is administered with steel-tipped shoes. Third offense and they are tied to a groin-kicking machine.

Here's the thing, the argument is that these judges have gone against the popular opinion amongst the people. Well, that's exactly what the courts did in 1954 when segregation in schools was made illegal. They were most certainly going against public opinion on that one. If the people could have voted on it, then there would still be segregation (maybe even to this day - who's to say?)

Is this issue as serious as that one? Is not allowing gay people the right to get married as egregious as segregating schools? Well, I'm neither gay nor an ethnic minority, so I'm not even going to touch that one. What I do know is that I've yet to hear an explanation how not allowing gay people to get married is somehow not discriminatory. Every argument I hear relies on some sort of logical fallacy, whether it's the argument-from-tradition (and if we used tradition as our benchmark for what's right, we'd still have slavery!) or the slippery-slope of "now polygamy and marrying badgers will become legal!"

The thing is, if you're able to believe that everybody deserves equality, but gay people do not deserve to get married, then you are engaging in double-think. These are two contradictory statements.

Scott also mentioned that he hopes that it does come down to having the public vote on a constitutional ammendment, as he feels that the public opinion on this one has changed enough that it wouldn't get the support that it needs. I'm not sure that I have his confidence, but I think that there are a lot of people out there who have an "enough of this, already!" kind of an attitude about it that it won't get the votes that it needs. Also, there are a lot of younger people who are able to vote now who couldn't the last time this came up. Trends show that the younger generation is more open to the idea of marriage equality.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Moby Dick - 100 Pages Down

My copy of Moby Dick is a really nice looking, leather (or faux-leather) edition with large print and many illustrations (probably about one every 20 pages or so). The total page count is 600, and I'm now through with the first 100. Besides being a slow reader, (But you're an English teacher! Yeah, I know. Shut up.) there have been a few other things slowing me down. One is that I'm still working, and I tend to get most of my reading done during the summer. The other is that I recently purchased Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus along with my usual weekly load of comics that have taken a bit of a priority. (I'm talking about serious literature all day long - I need some lighter reading on my time off.)

I've decided to write a blog for every 100 pages that I get through - perhaps this will be the motivation that I need to complete it. I'm going to take my time with this one, as there is a lot of other reading that I want to do over the summer, and if I wait until I finish Moby Dick, I might never get around to them. That's okay though, as I know the basic story, and it's not your typical novel. It reads just as well in fragments as it does in a few sittings - perhaps even better if you have a short attention span like mine.

So, how's the first 1/6 of the book? Pretty damned good, actually. There's a lot to admire about it. One of my favorite things about the book is how thorough Melville creates his world. It's like you're there in Nantucket, eating a bowl of clam (or cod!) chowder with Ishmael and Queequeg as you get ready to get employment on a whaling ship. He really knows how to set the stage for his story - which isn't too surprising considering that he lived the life that he describes. (Which is also one of the great things about Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men.)

What really stands out even moreso is the relationship between Ishmael and Queequeg. I remember liking that when I read the book (you know, the parts that I actually read) when I was in college. I was really going through a bit of a spiritual dilemma at the time, and the book reminds me of that. Ishmael has become good friends, creating a near-fraternal bond, with the pagan cannibal Queequeg. Throughout it, he tries to reconcile his Christianity with his associating with such a person. He even takes part in a bit of idol worship, justifying it as an acting out of the Golden Rule that Jesus preached. (After all, Ishmael figures, he'd want Queequeg to take part in his religious ceremonies, so shouldn't he do the same for his friend?) I also love it how Ishmael explains to the owners of The Pequod that Queequeg is a member of the same "church" as they are by the very fact that he is a human being. Great stuff.

When I originally read that, I was struggling with the whole notion that the Jesus story was the "right" story, whereas all the other religious mythologies in the world were just that - myths. I didn't like the idea of my god being the "right" one and others believing in the "wrong" one. Of course, I eventually wound up thinking that they were all wrong (at least, in the literal sense), but it's cool to be reminded of another stage in my spiritual thought process.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Gay marriage - now what?

Like most of my friends, I was elated to hear that the California Supreme Court voted that the ban on same sex marriage was unconstitutional. While I realize that we still have a long way to go, this is an important step in the battle for equality. I also realize that the battle isn't over yet in California, as some people are trying to move forward on creating a constitutional ban on gay marriage.

Now, I'll admit that I do see the point of certain people on the opposite side of the debate when they say that they don't think it's right that the judges have overturned the will of the people. However, in this country, we have the rule of law, and if the will of the people tramples on the rights of others, then it's up to our courts to make things right. Obviously, I see this as a case of that. However, while I disagree with the opposing viewpoint, I don't think that it's totally without merit (just mostly).

The people that I do have a real problem with are people like Focus on the Family's James Dobson (Focus on the Family is Latin for "We hate homos"). What did he have to say about this? If you have the feeling that it's douchebagesque, then you'd be right. He said, "It will be up to the people of California to preserve traditional marriage by passing a constitutional amendment. ... Only then can they protect themselves from this latest example of judicial tyranny."

Are you flippin' kidding me, Dobson? Tyranny? Really now? Tyranny? I'm sorry, but tyrants oppress people - this has given freedom to people, whether you think that they deserve this freedom or not. And goddammit, if I hear one more person talk about this being about "preserving traditional marriage" I am going to burst into a gamma-radiated rage and SMASH! them, Hulk-style.

Okay, one last time, get ready for it and situate yourself real close to the screen: GAY PEOPLE GETTING MARRIED WILL NOT HURT YOUR MARRIAGE!!!

Holy crap, but is this really what they're worried about? My wife and I could be the only straight couple in the country, and that wouldn't change a thing. And please, can we stop pretending like marriage is a "sacred institution"? Don't get me wrong, I consider my vows to my wife sacred, but it has nothing to do with the "institution" of marriage. I really don't think of my relationship with my wife as being the same sort of a thing that Elizabeth Taylor did eight times. (It was eight, right? I don't feel like looking it up.) I mean, the only logical way to "preserve" marriage would be to outlaw divorce, but these hypocritical evangelicals have far too high of a divorce rate.

The thing is, I feel as though I have too much stuff to do as it is. I imagine that other people must be in a similar situation. If you're against gay marriage, is it really so important to you that you're going to work toward changing the constitution? And to amend it in order to take a right away from people? Is that really what you want?

I'm still waiting to hear just who is going to be hurt by all of this. If anything, the children of gay parents will have the most to gain, I think. So much for family values though, huh?

What would Captain America do? (This really has nothing to do with anything, just like the Hulk video, but I like the song.)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Gotta tell the wife

The California Supreme Court just ruled that not allowing same-sex couples to get married is unconstitutional. That means that gay marriage is now legal in California.

I'm using this forum to tell my wife that I shall be leaving her in order to marry my friend and coworker Andrew Nolan (we even announced it to my 5th period class!) Andrew shall be leaving his wife as well.

After all, the anti-gay marriage crowd is right - this is destroying traditional marriage in this country. Andrew and I shall be the first to prove their point.

Oh, and Kirsti, if you read this before I get a chance to tell you...sorry! Now you know, but at least you're now free to marry one of your girl friends.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

From hell's heart, I stab at thee!

I have made a decision. Don't try to talk me out of it. I have been thinking about it for a long time now, and I'm finally going to do it. Many people have made the same choice as I have, and it has only ended in disaster for them. With that in mind, I'm still going to go forward with my plans.

I'm going to read Moby Dick. Call me a madman, but I finally want to be able to answer the following question: "Hey, have you ever read Moby Dick?" with a: "Yes. Yes I have."

My first encounter with the white whale was when he bit my leg off while I, wait, that's Ahab's first encounter. My first encounter was the movie version when it was playing on TV. I was just a kid, and I had recently seen the Jaws movies, so I figured that it would be pretty much the same sort of a thing, except of course with a whale instead of a shark. The only two things I remember from that was seeing Ahab nail the golden dubloon to the ship's mast and the final scene where he's strapped to Moby Dick by the harpoon rope. Those were both pretty powerful images, and I think that on some level I was able to understand that the real villain of the story was not the whale but Captain Ahab.

My next encounter would come while I was attending San Francisco State University, in my American Literature class. We had just read The Scarlett Letter which I didn't really get into. When I heard that Moby Dick would be the next book, I got pretty excited. It's one of those stories where so many images and references to it permeate so many aspects of our society that I was extremely curious to read it for myself.

Then something happened. I actually tried to read the damned thing. I don't think I finished it. I think I read quite a bit of the Cliff's Notes and a lot of the chapters at the beginning and a lot of the chapters at the end.

Don't get me wrong. There are wonderful passages. The first chapter is sublime, and practically stands on its own. There are also a lot of great parts, like when Ishmael finds himself sharing a bed with the cannibal Queequeg. There are some great speeches given by Ahab (not to mention Father Mapple's analysis of the Jonah story). There are wonderful philosophical and spiritual debates. It also has probably one of the best endings of any story ever. You can analyze and discuss the story endlessly. (A friend of mine, who teaches part of the story, shows the movie Grizzly Man after the class reads it. I was skeptical of it, but it basically deals with one of the major things - the danger of anthropomorphizing animals.)

Still, you gotta actually read the damned thing. When you're not reading all of the great stuff, you're reading some of the most tedious, torturous, ponderous prose ever composed by humans. I often joke that it's simultaneously the best book and the worst book of all time. Damn you, Melville! Why must you wrap this diamond in a turd?

But I won't let it beat me this time. I will actually read the damned thing from beginning to end. Why? Don't ask why! 'Cause it's there, and I own a copy!

Aye, aye! and I'll read it round Good Hope, and round the Horn, and round the Norway Maelstrom, and round perdition's flames before I give it up!

Or maybe I'll just listen to the song by Led Zeppelin. That's pretty much the same thing, right?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Are you a good person?

Okay, before I get started here, I want to point out that there are a lot of Christians who do not subcribe to the beliefs that I'm about to criticize. In fact, many of them feel as offended, if not more offended by them than I do. So please, don't sit there in protest saying to yourself, "Hey! I'm a Christian and I don't believe in any of that stuff!" I'm not referring to you (you know, the kind of Christian with a brain in his or her head).

There's a thing that fundamentalists like to use called the "Good Person Test" in order to win over new converts. It starts by asking, "Are you a good person?" Of course, most people would say, "Yeah, I think that I am." (Unless they're like, The Joker, or something, ya know.)

Then the test begins. The first question is, "Have you ever told a lie?" Well, who hasn't? Of course, the person says that they have, and the response is, "That makes you a what?" Then the person is prompted to respond, "a liar".

The questions continue, but I want to stop right there. Telling lies makes me a liar? That's absurd. Now, if lying was a regular habit of mine and I deceived people on a massive scale (say, if I was Bill O'Reilly or Ben Stein) then that would be one thing. But I don't think that any of my friends or family would think of the word "liar" when asked about me. In fact, sometimes I wind up telling the truth at innoportune moments. (Like when my wife's aunt pointed out that I wasn't talking much, to which I responded, "I'll talk when I have something to say." It was the truth!) So, does this make me a truth teller? I don't think that's quite accurate either, but it's more accurate then labeling me a liar. (And let's not even get into the fact that you could argue that sometimes lying is the morally correct thing to do! I mean, what if a guy who was beating his wife wanted to know where she was and she was in hiding? Would it be better to tell the truth? Ooops...looks like I just got into it.)

So, this whole notion is lame. Next question is about stealing. Now, I can't make many justifiable excuses for stealing, but I still don't think that it's right for me to carry the label "thief" because of a 25 cent bag of pop rocks that I took when I was twelve. If I was still stealing on a regular basis, then you'd have me on that one.

The stealing thing is not as lame as the lying one, but it's still fairly lame. What takes the cake is the question, "Have you ever looked at a person with lust or desire?" Now, for those of you who are Biblically illiterate, the first two are from the 10 Commandments, but this one is from something that Jesus said. When asked about adultery, Jesus said that anybody who looks at another person with lust has committed adultery in his or her heart.

Okay, look, I genuinely like a lot of what Jesus says. However, this is where I part with him. This is something that proves to me that he was a person from a more primitive time when people had less understanding of the world around them. Of course everybody looks lustfully at others. It's a simple, biological reaction. There's no way to not do it. If we didn't have that sort of a reaction to the opposite sex then we'd never survive as a species (no offense, gay people - but you know what I mean). I'm sorry, but I don't see myself as being "guilty" of anything here. For me to feel bad about this is to feel bad about being human, and to me, that's just hateful. If I acted upon these feelings, that would be something else. If I could press a button that made me not have feelings of lust for women other than my wife, then I'd gladly press it. Shoot, it would make life much easier! But gosh dangit, I will not feel bad about it!

After that, the test asks if you've ever been angry at somebody without a good reason. Apparently, this makes one a murderer according to what Jesus says. Now, I have a hard time believing that Jesus was being literal here. But let's play along and say that he was. If so, that's ridiculous as well. While I don't think it's good to be angry at people without cause (who would?) it's not even in the same ballpark as muder, fer Pete's sakes!

Lastly, it asks if you've ever taken God's name in vain. Well, this is only a bad thing if you believe in God in the first place. (And God isn't his name, God damn it!) Okay, okay, I try not to do that when I'm around people who I know would take offense.

Of course, the conclusion to all of this is that we are all guilty in the eyes of God, and therefore deserving of hell. So, in the eyes of God, I'm just as bad and deserving of the same punishment as Hitler. Seriously. That's what these people think. And they say this shit with a straight face. The very notion of this is so repellent to me that I don't even know where to begin. I mean, I don't believe in a god, but if there was one, how ridiculous would he be if he saw absolutely no shades of gray? Of course, the response of these fundamentalist types is, "Who are you to question God?" I don't question God any more than I question Zeus. I question the people who say this shit.

From there, they go on to say that the only way out is to accept Jesus Christ as your blah blah blah etcetera. Apparently, Jesus is willing to forgive a Nazi necropheliac who lies to old people in order to cheat them out of their life savings, but he just won't forgive you for not believing in him. That one's just too tall an order for an omnipotent being. What a fragile ego these people assign to their deity. (And ya know something, I recently read the Book of Revelation - twice in it it talks about how people are going to be judged for their works. Not only is this whole thing nonsensical, but it seems to be plain old bad theology on top of it all.)

Ugh. I've never heard of a more misanthropic religion. While I realize that these fundamentalists would accuse me of being arrogant and having too much pride, but I don't think that I'm being too full of myself when I say that I don't deserve to be tortured forever because of the bad things that I've done.

But now that I know how they think, I'm going to go out and tell a bunch of lies and then ask Jesus for forgiveness. Apparently, that will make it all okay. Shoot, I can even continue with it after that, apparently!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Dumber than I realized

Okay, just when I thought that I had said all that I could about Ben Stein's documentary, it seems as though the guy is an even bigger idiot than I had previously surmised. "But Lance, how can he be an idiot? He knows all sorts of stuff! I know, 'cause I saw him answer all sorts of trivia questions on 'Win Ben Stein's Money'!" This might be true. He actually is smart in some ways, as he definitely has a head for facts, but he is willfully ignorant when it comes to some basic facts.

I've been doing a bit of browsing on YouTube lately, and I've been watching a series by a guy who calls himself Thunderf00t. He has a 24 (and growing, no doubt) part series entitled, "Why Do People Laugh at Creationists?" It can be pretty dry, as he goes into a lot of real specific detail on all sorts of scientific issues, but he does a pretty good job of countering the various creationist arguments with actual facts (as opposed to the made up ones that creationists like so much). One of his better ones is the following:

If you don't want to take the time to watch it, the main problem is that he makes assertions how scientists use Darwinian theory for every kind of science including gravity, astronomy, etc.

Where do you even begin with a guy like that? Here's a person who made a documentary that critiques the theory of evolution, yet he has absolutely no clue as to what it is. Shoot, I think I knew more about it when I was in eighth grade than he apparently does. He also makes assertions about how evolution talks about life starting by lightning hitting a puddle of mud. (That could be another one of the videos - I watched a few of them, and he's the subject of a few of them.) Lightning hitting mud? Really? Admittedly, I haven't read Origin of Species in its entirety, but I bet that I can read it forwards and backwards and not find a single reference to mud and lightning.

So, what am I supposed to conclude here? Yeah, I'm resorting to an ad hominem attack by calling him an idiot - but what kind of a person makes a movie about a subject and the result is that he knows less about it than I do?

Of course, we are left with an alternative. He could be a deliberate liar. That's not exactly better though, is it? And of course, I don't just blame Ben Stein. I blame this entire Intelligent Design movement for deliberately trying to mislead the public. What's really galling is he also talks about how the universities teach all sorts of foolishness (again, that could be another one of the videos). Now, I don't think that we should just take the information coming out of universities on blind faith - let it stand or fall on its own merits - but for him to talk this utter horse shit and then accuse the universities of being stupid?

What's worse is that I imagine many uneducated people sitting around watching him and nodding their heads, thinking, "Yeah, I don't need an education. I'm smarter than people who learn things and use evidence." (Okay, probably not the actual thoughts.)

I'm certainly not the first person to bemoan the movement towards anti-intellectualism in our society, but nothing illustrates it better than that. "Oh, the people who actually spend time researching things don't know as much about it as I do." I mean, that's pretty much the attitude, isn't it? Again, we shouldn't automatically believe somebody because of his or her credentials, but shouldn't their opinions be given a little bit more weight on their field of expertise than the average layman?

What's really galling is that you see Stein on all sorts of shows like The O'Reilly Factor and Hannity & Colmes and he just goes on and spews his crap with abandon. Absolutely nobody seems to be challenging him. Yeah, Colmes takes him to task for saying that Darwinism brought about the Holocaust (which is stupid on many levels - don't you think Hilter might have at least mentioned Darwin once or twice if he was such a big influence?) but that's about it. Why is there nobody saying, "Ummm...lightning in a mud puddle? Are you fucking stupid?" (Or words to that effect, of course.) My guess is that Hannity and O'Reilly are just as willfully ignorant as Stein. Shoot, O'Reilly (see the video below) talks about how he can poke holes in the Big Bang Theory. Yeah, Bill, sure. You're the one who's going to pull that one apart. Does anybody really believe that O'Reilly has any clue what he's talking about? (Okay, millions of people seem to.)

I've been in discussions with people about the media and whether it has a liberal bias or not. Of course, there's Fox News which has a definite conservative bias. The thing is, I really don't even care about a bias, so long as it's transparent. What's really galling, and Fox seems to be the bigger offender, but I don't let any of the rest of them off the hook, is that they're not biased towards FACTS. Apparently, you can say any crazy thing you want, and if it's going to get ratings, that's all they care about.

Do people like Ben Stein have free speech? Of course. Should they be allowed to say them in a public forum? Of course.

I just wish that there was somebody there to tell them how full of shit they are (and why).

Friday, May 9, 2008

Dance like a monkey!

Perhaps it's because I've got the Intelligent Design "controvery" on the brain lately, but this song and video has amused me quite a bit lately. Check out the video - it has Pat Robertson marrying an ape! What could be better? (Or more fitting?)

Can Christians be rational?

Last night I was checking out more video clips from "Don Exodus", the fella who made the video debunking the videos of Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron. Guess what? The guy is a Christian. Don't all Christians believe in creationism? Don't you have to reject evolution in order to believe in Jesus Christ? Isn't the whole argument over Intelligent Design an argument between people who believe in God and people who don't? Umm, that would be no, no, and no.

Oddly enough, I thought that it was really cool that this guy was a Christian. After reading Ray Comfort's blog entries, I was starting to feel like religious people were idiots, even though my experiences tell me otherwise. So, this guy was a nice little reminder that there are plenty of people who are intelligent and still believe in God. It's a bit humbling, really. Even though I'm secure in my beliefs, it's good to have a reminder every now and then that I don't know and understand everything.

If you liked the video that I posted, check out his others. Or, just check out one of the better ones below:

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Ray Comfort vs. Reality

Ever hear of Ray Comfort? He's an evangelist who's buddies with Kirk Cameron (he of Growing Pains and annoying proselytizing fame) who has a series of videos called "The Way of the Master." Basically, it's all about spreading the word of God (read: selling their books and crap). He has this one spiel where he asks people on the street if they've ever told a lie. Of course, everybody says yes, and then he asks if they've ever taken God's name in vain. He continues along with the 10 Commandments and goes on and on until he concludes that they need to be saved by Jesus. I could go into greater detail, but just trust me that it's full of all sorts of assertions and logical fallacies.

He also likes to attack evolution, and he demonstrates his basic ignorance of the subject each time he does so. Luckily for him, most people aren't very informed, so the people he talks to aren't able to point out just where he's gone wrong. For instance, when he begins describing evolution, he talks about the Big Bang and how "first there was nothing" and then there was an explosion. Well, for one thing, the Big Bang theory doesn't say that there was "nothing" it just states that there was a Big Bang, and there is evidence to support that. Secondly, the Big Bang has absolutely nothing to do with evolution, but hey, why argue actual points when you can make up some of your own?

I first found out about him when somebody sent me this link to his "Atheist's Worst Nightmare" video. In it, he claims that a banana proves that there is a God. Do check it out, but don't take a sip of your drink before doing so:

Ummm...yeah. He's got me there. Never mind the fact that coconuts and pomegranates are pains in the ass to eat. Let's also not pay attention to the fact that the bananas that we enjoy are the products of selective breeding, and they do not exist that way in the wild. But hey! It's spreading the word of Jay-sus! Why bother yourself with little trivialities like facts!?

Mr. Comfort has a blog, which I've been checking out and even sometimes posting on it. It's a pretty funny site, as he keeps saying the same old crap, a few die-hard fans of his will tell him his post was brilliant, and a bunch of atheists point out how illogical he is (or how he continues to make the same factual errors over and over again.) Sometimes I think that he's really an atheist himself, and he's doing a Stephen Colbert-type of a sendup of fundamentalists Christians.

Anyway, I let most of the other atheists make whatever points I would have, but I felt the need to respond to his assertion that humans are intrinsically evil. According to his brand of Christianity (I realize that there are many sane Christians out there who find Ray Comfort to be as offensive as I do), we're all sinners and deserving of hell, whether our sins are murder or stealing gum - all of the sins are equal. Also, the only way to be saved is to believe in Jesus and give yourself over to him. According to him, and I shit you not, Anne Frank is burning in hell, as well as all the other victims of the Holocaust. Nice loving God he's got there. Of course, he gives all sorts of convoluted explanations filled with doublethink that explain why this only proves that his god is a god of love, but anybody with half a brain can see right through it.

So, his point that we're intrinsically evil caused me to respond as follows:

“What a depressing belief system you subscribe to. Humankind is intrinsically evil? I don't buy it. Are we capable of evil? Sure. But we're also capable of good. For instance, while taking a walk one time, I saw a hummingbird on the road. I picked it up to get it out of danger, and I warmed it up (it was a cold day) in my hand. Eventually, it recovered from whatever shock it was in and it flew off. If I was intrinsically evil, then I would have smashed it, or I would have simply left it lying on the street. Your assertions make absolutely no sense.”

He then took that quote to make a blog post of his own. Notice how he completely skips around my actual point without ever directly addressing it.

I responded yet again, but I didn't go into too much detail. What's the point, really? The guy makes a living scaring and shaming people into believing his theology, and the more believers he gets, the more money he's going to make. If you want to see more of his silliness, with comments by somebody who actually knows what he's talking about, check it out:

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Comic book movies

Kirsti and I saw Iron Man on Sunday, and without giving anything away, let me say that it was great. (94% on the Tomatometer - the critics agree.) The thing is, I was only really looking forward to this one when I started to hear about who was involved. I mean, I figured that I'd probably see it one way or another, as I check out most comic book superhero movies whether they look good or not (except Catwoman - even I have my limits). Still, Iron Man has never been one of my favorite characters, so I didn't originally expect much from a movie. (Unlike Daredevil, who has a lot of really great comic book stories, but the movie was a bit of a turd.)

I did get excited when I heard that Robert Downey, Jr. was going to play the lead, as I'm not only a fan of his work, but I felt that he was right for the part (as most comic book fans did - just like how we all knew that Tobey Maguire was perfect for Spider-Man). The rest of the cast seemed pretty solid. What added to my enthusiasm was seeing director John Favreau talk about the film at WonderCon. He seemed to have genuine enthusiasm for the character, and he seemed interested in making something that was true to the comics.

So, Iron Man was good stuff. How does it rank up with the others? I'd say that it's up there with Batman Begins, Spider-Man 2, and the original Superman. I don't consider it to be just a good comic book movie (like I do with Hellboy - although I have hopes that its sequel will transcend it above the genre a bit); I consider it to be a good movie, period. It had genuine human emotion, characters that I cared about, a definite arc for the character, inner conflict, etc. Not only that, but it had some really fun dialogue, and it was genuinely funny. Some of the older comic book movies (looking at you, Batman and Robin) would try and interject humor into the story, but it only made the characters seem like clownish buffoons. Iron Man's humor just made the character seem more human, so it definitely worked.

The thing is, many people will look at me funny when I say that I read comics, although these are the same people who will see movies that are based on comic books - movies that they really enjoy. Yet which ones do I hear the non-comic fans rave about the most? The very ones that I mentioned. And why are those ones so good and so much better than some older adaptations (looking at you again, Batman and Robin)? They're better because they're true to the source material. While they may change some plot elements, they always get to the heart of what the character is all about. That's why they're so good, and yet they still don't seem to bring more people to the comics. Ahh well, their loss, I guess.

Still, it's nice now that there are some movies that I can point to when I want people to understand what comic book superheroes are all about. I remember trying to explain to people how the Batman movies (even though I still like the first two) didn't really capture the character as he is in the comics. (In fact, I'd have to point to the Animated Series to let them know what the "real" Batman is really like.) People seemed to think that they knew what superheroes were all about, but they clearly had no idea. Now though, I have several movies that I can point to. What's great about superhero comics? See Iron Man and you'll get a good idea.

Oh, and I've been meaning to work this in here somewhere, but I couldn't manage it. So, I'll just shoehorn it into the end: Transformers sucked ass.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Summer Beers

What with the warmer months coming on, I'm trying to plan ahead and have some appropriate beers for the warmer months. While I'm sure to always have your basic amber/red ales handy, as they're pretty much good all year round, I'm keeping in mind the weather when I make my selections at my local homebrew shop.

I mentioned in my last beer-related blog my American Ale. It's a nice, all-purpose beer that's refreshing and goes well with food. This weekend, I wanted to pick up two kits for this month, and as I plan on making them back to back, I want to save some money by reusing the yeast on the second batch. (Yeast is usually around $5). Of course, I'd need to make two kinds of beers that use the same yeast.

I went with the German Hefeweizen. I'm using a different yeast than the last time I made it, and I think that this one is going to be a little more authentic than my first batch. (It'll have more of that banana-smell to it, in other words.) As my second beer, I noticed that More Beer had a new kit - a Dunkelweizen! For those of you who don't know, it's basically a dark Hefeweizen. Very refreshing with a little bit more body and character to it. I've only had a few of these before, and they're really nice when done right.

Of course, I doubt that I'll ever be able to duplicate that awesome Hefeweizen that I had when I was in Nuremberg. Gutman was the name of the brewery, I believe, and I'm pretty sure that they don't bottle their stuff, and they definitely don't export it. That was awesome, and I had two big glasses with my lunch. (Normally, I don't like to have more than one if I still have a lot of stuff to see and do that day - this stuff just tasted too damn good to say no to a second.)

So, the Hefeweizen should be ready in about three weeks (unlike a lot of beers, it's not necessary to age it out - it's almost better to have it as fresh as possible). Give it another two for the Dunkel. The Hefe is sitting in the closet right now, fermenting rather violently.

Perhaps I might even feel a little less antisocial when summer rolls around and I'll invite some folks over for brats and beers. Should be fun.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

The conservative doth protest too much, methinks

If you're on the Internet, you're probably aware of Wikipedia. If you're somehow accessing this page via telepathy, then let's just say that it's an online encyclopedia that anybody can edit. Obviously, there are potential problems with this, but it's a pretty cool resource. I tell my students that they can't cite it for their papers, but that it's a good starting point to find legitimate sources (that is, if the article lists them - which is usually a sign that it's a reliable article).

Apparently, some extremist right-wingers are upset about Wikipedia because apparently it has a liberal bias. They don't care for its articles on evolution, for instance, because it says crazy stuff about how it's essentially the foundation of the biological sciences. Wikipedia also lists all of the problems with creationism and Intelligent Design. Conservapedia's founders call that liberal bias - I'd call it more of a factual bias.

Whatever. That's fodder for a potentially lengthy discussion. While the accusations regarding things like evolution are ridiculous, they may very well have a point when it comes to other topics. Still, what prompted me to write this was when I saw Conservapedia's own page of user statistics. Check out the most viewed pages:

Main Page‎ [2,599,881]
Homosexuality‎ [2,392,690]
Teen Homosexuality‎ [417,353]
Wikipedia‎ [385,013]
Arguments Against Homosexuality‎ [332,598]
Homosexual Agenda‎ [331,862]
Ex-homosexuals‎ [317,409]
Homosexuality and choice‎ [311,998]
Homosexuality and Health‎ [292,885]
Examples of Bias in Wikipedia‎ [289,721]

I'm detecting a pattern...hmmm...what is it...oh yeah, lots of stuff on homosexuality! Wow. Are Conservapedia's users obsessed much? You just can't make up crap like this. Do you think this even occurs to the users of Conservapedia when they see these statistics? Think that maybe one of them says, "Wow. I perhaps care about gay people a little bit too much. Maybe it's because nothing would make me feel more complete than the warm loving touch that only another man can give." Nah, I doubt it. I figure they'll just continue their shenanigans at the local rest stop or airport bathroom.

I almost feel sorry for them. Imagine what it would be like to hate what you are? Still, I am amused when guys like Ted Haggard and Larry Craig get caught with their pants down. (I'm just waiting for that "Focus on the Family" guy to get caught kneeling in front of a big strapping lumberjack. You know it's bound to happen).

I smell like I sound

Yesterday morning while I was telling my wife my plans for the evening, she informed me that she'd be out all night as well. When I asked what she was doing, she replied, "Oh, you wouldn't be interested. My mom's neighbor got us free tickets to see Duran Duran."

Wouldn't be interested? Wouldn't be interested?!!! Woman, you press me too far!

I didn't say that, exactly, but I did convey that with my facial expression. Luckily for me, Kirsti was able to hook me up with a ticket as well. So, my friends and Rock Band (the video game, for those of you who don't know) would have to wait for another time.

I have to admit, I don't really follow the band or listen to a lot of their music. At least, not within the past twenty years or so. Now, when I was a little kid, that's another story all together. I remember the first song that I heard from them - "The Reflex." I was probably in third or fourth grade, and I became an instant fan.

From there, I wound up buying all their albums (some on tape, but I actually still own Rio on vinyl). The first one I bought was a tape of their first, eponymous release. I remember pretty much driving my family crazy because I'd listen to it over and over again. (Hey! What could I do? It was the only album I had!) Pretty ironic considering that nowadays I don't even like hearing the same song twice in one day.

While I lost interest over time, I never really stopped liking them. In fact, I found that much of their music held up pretty well - a lot better than some of the crap that certain family members were listening to at the time! Some of it might sound a little bit dated, but their songs were catchy and most of them genuinely have something interesting going on if you really pay close attention.

I'm sure it's no coincidence that my loss of interest coincided with their fall from the pop charts. Still, and surprising to many, they made a decent comeback in the 90s, and those hits were as good if not better than their older stuff (especially "Ordinary World"). Since then, they've managed to stay in the public eye more or less - not quite hitting the heights of their days of glory in the mid-80s, but not exactly playing the local rutabega festival either.

So, how was the concert? With the exception of a techno portion in the middle (which wasn't bad, just not my cup of tea) it was fantastic. Kirsti was especially impressed with how well lead singer Simon Le Bon's voice has been holding up. He was also quite the showman, and the whole band seemed to be genuinely having a great time. Surprisingly enough, it wasn't a big old nostalgia fest, as the set list consisted of quite a few new songs. I found myself liking them quite a bit, especially their current hit, "Falling Down."

So, my inner 11-year old was quite satisfied (I still seemed to know many of the lyrics by heart!) but so was my more discerning 34-year old self.

Holy shit! I'm 34?

Friday, May 2, 2008

Lime in the Crappy Beer

I try not to be a beer snob; I honestly do.

At least, I try not to frown upon the beer choices of others. I'm not always successful, but I honestly do believe that you should drink what you like. If you honestly don't like the way a Double IPA tastes, then you shouldn't drink it just because certain people tell you that it's good. (Although Lagunitas Maximus is awesome.) I honestly only get frustrated when people say ignorant things like, "I don't like dark beer" as though "dark" is somehow a flavor. This sort of thing irritates me a bit because it shows a closed mind - as there are a lot of different styles that could be classified as "dark". (And besides, how dark does it need to be in order to be considered dark? I once had somebody say that in reference to a Sam Adams Boston Lager! I never thought of that as being dark!)

While I also don't ever buy the macro lagers like Bud, Miller, Heineken, etc., I don't find them to be bad necessarily. They're not my preference, but I've enjoyed a few MGDs when that was all there was (or the best choice anyway - I'll take an MGD over a Heineken any day).

Honestly though, I don't understand why many people actually seem to prefer the taste of light beers though. I find that they range in style from basically flavorless to outright bad. I believe that I've mentioned Bud Select before, which is Bud's low carb beer. That was genuinely awful. I got a free one and I couldn't even finish it. I mean, I realize that taste is subjective, but I just can't imagine anybody drinking that and actually thinking that it tastes good. At best, somebody might find it tolerable. As a person who genuinely enjoys beer, who sips it slowly and savors it, that's not exactly a ringing endorsement - not when there are so many other options out there.

So, maybe you've heard of this new "Miller Chill." I admit, as soon as I heard about it, I thought it sounded like an awful idea. It's basically a light beer with salt and lime flavor added - basically to compete with Corona or something, I guess. (Know why people put lime in Corona! To make it taste like something! Or to hide the fact that it tastes like puke when it's any warmer than ice cold!) From what I figure, Miller Chill is a beer for people who don't actually like beer. I guess that there's not necessarily anything wrong with that - although, why not just find something else to drink? Whatever though, I really wasn't curious enough about it to try it.

Of course, the big companies like Miller and Bud can afford to do all sorts of promotions and giveaways at various bars. (It'd be heaven if North Coast, Lagunitas, Sam Adams, Sierra Nevada, etc. would ever do a promotion when I'm at a bar!) Last night, Miller was doing a Miller Chill promotion and giving out free samples.

Now, my friends have known that I've been mocking this beer for some time. A friend of mine (who actually appreciates good beer when he has it) has admitted to buying 12 packs of it, and I give him a hard time. (Oddly enough, he doesn't defend it - he even admits that it's crap.) My (half-joking) theory is that it was specifically marketed to the douchebag demographic, and while you don't necessarily have to be a douchebag to drink it, if you're a douchebag, you'll be interested in it.

So, I tried it. I honestly tried to keep an open mind. Now, was I expecting that it could possibly be as good as a Belgian Dubbel? Well, of course not. Still, I thought that it was possible that I could be surprised and find it perhaps at least drinkable - perhaps even slightly refreshing.

Wrong. It was bad. Thing is, with a lot of bad beers, they actually taste okay on the first sip or two. Even with Bud Select, it took a few sips until I decided that I simply couldn't have any more. This one was bad right from the get-go. It's hard to explain, but here goes: You know how they make lemon-scented Windex? Well, imagine that they made lime-scented Windex. If they did, Miller Chill is what I imagine it would taste like. I know what lime is supposed to taste like, and this wasn't anything lime-like - not even an artificial candy lime. Perhaps the salt did it, but I doubt that this is an all-natural beer. I mean, it's not like light beers in general stick with the basic beer ingredients of malt, hops, yeast, and water in the first place - so why put in authentic lime and salt flavor? You gotta imagine that would be expensive, and the point of these beers is to make them cheap.

I didn't say anything though, as I was sure that my friends would have chalked it up to me having already made up my mind before taking a sip. I don't know. Perhaps that's what it was. Or maybe I'm right. (My friend who drinks it described it as being worse than he remembered.) Another friend called it a good beer after doing yard work on a hot day - you know, a beer that's good on certain conditions. I'm not buying that either though. For me, there are plenty of good, quality beers that taste good on a hot day. I'm going to be homebrewing a Belgian White beer which is perfect for that sort of a thing. My American Ale is also pretty light and refreshing, without being low on taste - or tasting gross when it warms up a little.

Of course, if you're not a homebrewer, you don't have as many options. Still, the summer offerings of Sierra Nevada and Sam Adams (among others) both do the trick nicely as well. And they taste good even if you HAVEN'T been doing yard work! Why settle for crap when you can have something good? Here are some other recommendations for summer yard work beers (if you're over 21, that is):

Lagunitas Pilsner
Wittekerke (available at Trader Joe's for $4.99 a six pack - not the best example of a Witbier, but well worth the price!)
Trader Joe's Bohemian Lager
Springboard (New Belgium)
Black Diamond Belgian Blonde
Bud Light Lime (kidding - although I've never tried it - doubt I ever will)