Monday, June 30, 2008

My hero, El-Hajj Malik el Shabazz

I don't usually give a lot of thought as to who my heroes are. When I do think of it, I think of people who have inspired me in one way or another. Shakespeare is definitely one of my heroes - not only because so many of his plays speak to me, but because of the sheer impact that he has made upon not just the English language but upon the entire world. As somebody who aspires to write, you just don't get a better role model than him. After him, I'd probably list off all sorts of creative types from high literature to pure pop culture.

But if I have to rule out people who have made their mark due to artistic and literary contributions, I'd have to go with El-Hajj Malik el Shabazz, who's better known to the world as Malcolm X. I'm fortunate enough to have his autobiography be one of the novels that my seniors read, and I think that it's an important book for them to read for several reasons. One reason is that they get to learn a bit more about the Civil Rights Movement, and while it's clearly important for them to learn about Martin Luther King, Jr., it's good to show them that there was more to it than that - there were some black people who were downright angry and didn't feel as though King spoke for them. I also like teaching it because most people only know Malcolm for his speeches about the white man being the devil (if they know anything at all, that is). This includes people who are old enough to have remembered him! I think that people should know that he spoke out against those sorts of attitudes in the last couple years of his life. (Who knows? Perhaps if he wasn't assasinated at a young age, he'd be remembered more for his positive statements.)

There's a line from Julius Caesar that fits Malcolm's reputation rather well. "The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones." It seems like people would rather remember the negative. Fortunately, the resurgance in interest about fifteen years ago helped changed that a little bit, and Spike Lee's movie helped to correct things. (The film, which is arguably one of the best biopics ever made, was my introduction to the man. I wouldn't realize until much later just how profound of an impact it had on me.)

Here's the thing though. One time, a concerned father came up to me on back to school night and said that he didn't think that Malcolm's book was worth studying. He was very reasonable about it, and we had a nice discussion. He even lent me a book of Malcolm's speeches where he underlined some particularly heinous things that Malcolm said - and some of the questionable passages came after Malcolm's rejection of the Nation of Islam. I suppose that he figured that would make me change my mind about the man.

The thing is, there are a lot of things that Malcolm X said that I don't agree with. I think that he's a sexist. I think that some of his attitudes were off the mark. I'm sure that if you were to channel his spirit into my room, I'd have a lot to argue about with him. The man is not my hero because I agree with everything that he says. That's not the point.

He's my hero because he embodies the one quality that I value the most - the desire to constantly learn and improve one's self. The man's life was one of constant change. Some of the changes were definitely for the worse, many of them for the better. (And think about it - when he was preaching for the Nation of Islam, he was no longer on drugs and committing crimes. This doesn't excuse it, but it does show that nothing is completely black or white.)

That's impressive enough, but this quality, coupled by his amazing courage is what inspires me. He knew that by speaking out against the organization that he was once a part of that he was painting a target on his chest. Read his book - he predicted that his life would end violently. But what did he do? Did he just go along with what he knew was a lie? No. He spoke out - and he was killed for it.

It's easy for me to point out the things that I think are wrong in this world. I hope that I'll never have to find out whether I'm willing to die for it. I'd like to think that I'd have that kind of courage, and Malcolm X shows that it's possible for us to have that kind of courage.

The first year I taught his book, I don't think that I did that great of a job. I didn't emphasize enough how he was laying his life on the line by going against the Nation of Islam. One girl even said, "So he changed his mind. What's the big deal?" A lot of kids also got too hung up on his constant criticizing of white people. I always make a little speech when we start the book, pointing out that the point of this whole thing is not that white people are bad, even though he says things that are undeniably true about what white people did in the past. I jokingly say to my students, "I wouldn't want you guys to walk away with that because, and this might come as a shock to many of you - but I happen to be a white person myself. My mother was a white woman, and my dad was a white man."

I also tie his life story in with Beowulf and Siddhartha, if you can believe that. I teach about archetypes and the hero's journey, and Malcolm's autobiography is the bridge that shows the connection between myths and reality. Of course, I emphasize that when I talk about heroes, I'm using the mythic sense of the word, not the modern day connotation. In myths, all the hero needs to do is be brave and overcome great obstacles. (This is why characters like Macbeth and Richard III can be referred to as heroes.) Still, for me, Malcolm embodies both meanings of the word.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Posing with booze

At any given time, I have about four to five different things buzzing around in my head. Ever since I started blogging, I always think, "Hey! I should blog about that!" Oftentimes, I'll get started and then realize that I just don't have enough to say to justify an entire entry. This is one of those times, but I'm going to write about it anyway.

It seems strange to me to pose with alcohol. Don't get me wrong. I'm not referring to when you're at a party and you have a drink in your hand and somebody takes your picture. I also don't mean when you're sitting at the dinner table and there's a drink in front of you. Of course, my wife has photos of me sampling beer when I went to a brewery. There's nothing strange about that.

What I'm referring to is those photos that I see where it's like the person is advertising the product. The label is clearly displayed, and while it may very well be a coincidence, it doesn't seem like it. Know where I see this the most? Photos of students and recently-graduated former students. I'm not saying that they all do it - in fact, I don't see it that often. (But to be completely fair, I don't really go through all of their photos. I'm referring to the ones on MySpace that they use as their default picture. That's when I see it.)

I've also seen it a couple of times when students have photos on their binders. Some of them will have pictures of their friends, holding a bottle with the label clearly displayed. I've seen some adults do this as well.

I don't know why that strikes me as so odd. It looks like they're saying, "Oh, my picture's going to be taken! I need to let the world know that I endorse this product!" Or perhaps they just see too many commercials with pictures of models making similar poses, so they feel like that's what they need to do when they're getting their picture taken.

Or maybe I'm just getting old and I'm disturbed to see teenagers drinking. It's not like I didn't know that they do - I just like to pretend like I don't know that sometimes.

So, is it me? Or does anybody else notice this and think that there's something weird about it too?

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Would you like some carbs with your anti-oxidants?

Back when I was in college, I was hanging out with a couple of friends and we decided to go out for pizza. When it came time to ordering, they wanted to get a pizza without cheese. That's right. Not extra cheese, which makes sense, because cheese is delicious, wonderful, and the closest thing to the ambrosia that the Gods of Olympus used to consume. They wanted no cheese. I protested, wondering what the hell was wrong with them. Is it even pizza anymore if there's no cheese? They looked at me like I was the crazy one, 'cause after all, cheese is fattening, don't you know. They were probably staring at my gut and being thankful that they weren't a big fat fatty boom-ba-latty like I am.

About a decade later, somebody was telling me about a friend who had lost a lot of weight. How did he do it? By not eating things like rice. Rice? Really? You mean that stuff that Chinese people eat a lot of, yet they don't have the obesity problems that we do over here? Rice? That's what makes people fat? Turns out, rice had "carbs" in it, and so did other things like bread.

It seemed like it happened almost overnight. People were all talking about how they were avoiding carbs. You couldn't go near food without somebody saying the word. If I had a nickel for every time I heard it, I'd be a millionaire. I did a bit of reading on it, and it turns out that (if I remember correctly) carbs are what your body burns off first, then it starts to work on fats. If you don't have any carbs in your system, then your body goes to work on the fat. So, it's not so much that carbs are bad for you. After all, I imagine that athletes still take in a lot of carbs before a competition.

It really started to get out of hand when I saw that the mayonnaise I bought had a big sticker that read, "Zero carbs!" I figured by that point it had officially gone from diet craze to just plain old craze. Oh, and low-carb beer too. If you want to avoid carbs, you don't deserve beer.

The thing is, it works, and I know people who lost weight by not eating carbs. I could stand to lose some weight myself, so why didn't I do it? Because I'm realistic about myself, that's why. I knew that there was absolutely no way that I could sustain it. I'd be like the Oprah of College Park High School, where people would talk about how much weight I lost, but after a few months there would be whispers about how I was having an effect on the tides. (This, of course, assumes that I could even keep it up for a few months. I'd probably crack in three days. Okay, one day. Okay, an hour.)

Also, the thought of not having pizza (a big bowl of sauce and melted cheese?), eating burgers wrapped in lettuce, Mongolian Beef with no rice, and Michelob Ultra (don't tell me that it's good - you're a goddamn liar!!!!!) was just plain old depressing. I'd rather be fat then have to do that to myself.

Now, I should give myself some credit. I have lost a bit of weight. It's taken a long time, and I've got quite a bit more to lose, but it's getting to the point where it's noticeable. (People have been pointing it out.) What did I do? Just tried to be a bit more sensible. Also, I generally avoid sweets and only treat myself from time to time. If I have a problem with anything, it's that. (Disclaimer: I just ate a chocolate chip cookie - and I plan on having another! Kirsti made some for a party that she's having.) The nice thing is that I've been able to keep off what I've lost, with just a five - ten pound fluctuation.

I don't have the answers to weight loss, but I do know that not eating carbs wouldn't work for me. Also, everybody I know who did it eventually started to backslide. Now, there might very well be some folks out there who can keep doing it, but I haven't met anyone who has.

You don't even hear the word that much anymore. Now, it's anti-oxidants, which are supposedly good for you. Apparently you have toxins in your body, and those kill them. Good to know. I'm not doing anything different. I drink the ice tea that I have because I like the taste of it, but supposedly it's killing the anti-oxidants.

What's the next food buzzword? I'm hoping for maltodextrin. I've added some to a few of the beers that I've made (most notably, my porter). It gives it a creamier texture, and supposedly it's all natural and comes from corn. I'm not sure whether I want it to be a good thing or a bad thing, but I want people to refer to it as "dex" for short. What sounds better:

There's too much dex in that; I can't have it.


I'll have another one of these, as I haven't been getting enough dex lately.

Oh, and I'm having pizza tonight. With cheese. And a crust. And anti-oxidants. And dex.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Activist judges love guns

Let's start off with some full diclosure here. I don't own a gun. I've never owned a gun. Neither one of my parents owned a gun. I've never held a real gun. I have no interest in owning a gun. I've never met a guy named Gunnar. I honestly believe that there are some people in this country who have an unhealthy obsession with guns. For instance, I saw a bumper sticker that said that it was my duty as an American to own a gun and learn how to use it. That's even dumber than the "Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve" bumper sticker.

With that said, I'm pretty suspicious of anti-gun laws. I guess I'm a bit of a libertarian on some issues, especially this one. You can throw out all sorts of statistics to make a case for stronger gun laws and an equal number that make a case for more relaxed gun laws. While I hate to use a cliche, I think that there's a bit of truth to the "if we outlawed guns, only outlaws would have guns." I mean, if people want something bad enough, they'll figure out a way to get it.

On the other side of the debate, I think that there are some people on the pro-gun rights side of the issue who get their panties in a bunch any time anybody even suggests any kind of regulation at all. I mean, we have regulations on cars, don't we? Figures that there should at least be some sort of a process to owning guns. While I think that the average law-abiding citizen should be able to get one, it shouldn't be like going to the store and buying a jar of pickles either. I'll leave that to smarter people than me (and people who actually want to own a gun). I mean, there has to be some restrictions. Do we really want people to be able to buy rocket launchers? We need to use a bit of reason in this whole thing, which I'm sure most gun users are willing to do.

As for the 2nd Ammendment, I've read up on this and let's be honest - it's not as clear as the 1st Ammendment, is it? Again, I'll leave that up to smarter people than me. But the bottom line is, even if the Constitution didn't allow for private citizens to own guns, that's a right that I think they should have.

So, this brings us to the recent story where the Supreme Court struck down a handgun ban in Washington, D.C. I realize that there are probably some passionate people on both sides of the issue, and I realize that D.C. is a city that's plagued with gun violence. However, I think that getting rid of guns attacks a symptom of the problem, but not the problem itself.

But my question is this: Are these "activist" judges? After all, they overturned a law, didn't they? I'm not certain of the circumstances that brought about this law, but I imagine that it had the support of the people. If the court went against the will of the people, then is this any different than what happened in California regarding same sex marriages?

I'm going to guess that nobody's going to level this accusation at them. It'd be funny if the anti-gun crowd did though. It'd give a lot of people a dose of their own medicine - don't address the issues of Constitutionality, just slap a negative label on the issue and call it a day.

Batman movies - Batman Begins

While watching the crapfest that was Batman and Robin, I kept thinking about what I would write for my blog. The problem was that there were so many awful things about the movie that I was sure that I would forget to write about many of them. Watching Batman Begins, I had the exact opposite problem. I'm sure that there are plenty of good things that I'll forget to write about.

After seeing B&R when it was in the theater, I was pretty jaded. As far as I could tell, we'd never get a decent superhero movie made, or at the very least, a decent Batman movie. It took a long time, but the first two X-Men and first two Spider-Man movies (especially Spider-Man 2) started to give me a bit of hope. When I heard that they were making a new Batman movie, and they were basically going to completely start over and ignore what came before, the hope grew. Learning that Christian Bale would play the lead and even better, Christopher Nolan would direct really started to get me excited.

At WonderCon, Christian Bale made an appearance at the DC panel to promote the movie, and Kirsti and I were both in attendance. I remember the feeling that I had after the interview, as not only was this actor clearly a fan of the comics (as he made specific references to comics instead of just general comments that previous actors had made) and he had a reverance for the character. I had never seen this before. Even with the Burton films, it seemed as though the movies were being made by people who may have drawn some inspiration from, but certainly weren't devoted fans, of the comics.

When I finally saw the film, the first comment out of my mouth to my friend was, "There are no other Batman movies." While I've come to appreciate the older films for what they are, as I no longer say to myself while watching them, "Dammit! They should have done that differently!" I would certainly tell a person who only planned on seeing one Batman film that Batman Begins would be the only one that they'd need to see.

So, let's break it down. Since I have more good things to say, let's get the bad out of the way. Honestly though, there isn't anything that really bugs me. Some folks have complained about Katie Holmes, and while she certainly isn't great, I feel the same way about her as I do about Chris O'Donnel in the previous two movies - not bad, but not really good either. I think that mainly she gets criticism due to the fact that she's surrounded by some of the best actors in the business, and her chops just aren't up to their level. So what though - Maggie Gyllenhall is playing her character in the next movie, so no damage done.

I can't really come up with anything else. I found the action scenes to be a bit confusing the first time I watched it, but now I have come to appreciate them for what they are - they're supposed to be chaotic, and they reveal just enough to let you know what happened. Another thing, which only occurs to me when I think about it, is that they changed a lot of story elements from the comics. However, I won't even call this a bad thing though, as all the changes that they made actually improve the story (at least, it's better for the format of a movie), and they're not just arbitrary tweaking of the characters by people who don't give a shit about getting it right.

So, how about the good?

Christian Bale as Batman/Bruce Wayne - not so much that his performance is great, but that this movie actually focuses on the title character, unlike the previous films, and Bale is able to carry the movie and make Batman the most interesting character, despite the fact that there are a lot of other compelling ones in the film. What a concept - making Batman the main character of his film!

Morgan Freeman and Lucius Fox. It's funny, because the previous movies made the characters less interesting than they were in the comics, but this movie makes Fox much more important and interesting than he ever was in the comics. His role is expanded quite a bit for the film, but it makes perfect sense, as after all, Batman needs somebody who's more of an inside man in Wayne Enterprises so he can get the weapons and gear that he needs. Also, Freeman adds his usual gravitas to the role that it hardly feels like a token black character. He actually does something and the movie would be missing something important if you took him out.

Michael Caine as Alfred. I've seen the movie several times, but I still smile at the fact that they got him to play the part. He has the character's dry wit down perfectly, and he also makes you believe that a guy would be so loyal to one family for so long.

Gary Oldman as Jim Gordon. In Frank Miller's Year One comic book series, Gordon became an even more important part of the whole Batman story, being one of the few good cops in a corrupt city. The first Burton film touched on that idea, but for the most part, you could cut the character and nothing significant would be lost. Again, it's not just so much that his performance is great, but the character is well-written. Still, this is a testament to his acting ability, since he's able to play such a decent, good-hearted guy after many roles where he was basically a creep.

Liam Neeson as Ducard/Ra's al Ghul. This is one of those instances where they changed a lot of the details about the character, but the soul of what he's all about was fully intact. In the comics, he's a centuries-old guy (resurrected many times via the Lazarus pit) who is determined to wipe out most of humanity in an effort to improve the world. (Like the best villains, he truly feels as though he's the real hero.) He attempts to get Batman to marry his daughter, Talia, as he figures that only Batman is worty to bring him an heir. It's different in the movie, but the point is the same - he feels that he's the good guy and he's willing to use extreme methods to achieve his goals. Also, he felt that Bruce Wayne was worthy of taking his place one day. As for the Lazarus Pit and his daughter, while not mentioned, they aren't necessarily contradicted in the film either. They could be virtual deleted scenes for a comic book purist.

The Batmobile. Watching the other films, I actually liked the design of the Batman Forever car the best, but it still looks like a big movie prop, just like all the others. This one, while not as impressive looking at first, actually looks like it can do the things that it does.

The Scarecrow. There was just enough of him for him to be interesting without having to devote more time to explaining his origin. Not all villains need to have their motivations explained, as this instance certainly proves.

It's actually about something. This movie has a few running themes throughout it. One theme deals with the difference between vengeance and justice. The other is about overcoming your fears. Also, in true Joseph Campbell, heroic cycle fashion, it deals with the self-realization of the hero, as he finally figures out what he's supposed to be doing. I really can't say the same thing about the other movies, and I think that this is why the movie rises above the genre. I remember some non-comic book friends of mine were skeptical of this movie came out, but then they agreed that it was a great movie. (One of them, while hearing me talk about what a good job they did with it, scoffingly said, "Come on, it's Batman! How good could it be?" Later on, he actually described it as a "great" film.)

And that's the thing with this movie. While it certainly gives me what I want as a comic book fan, it's not just a good comic book movie. It's a good movie, period. I'm a fan of comics, and I'm a fan of movies. This one appeals to both sides.

My grade? A

Here's hoping for an A+ from The Dark Knight.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Summer reading - The Stranger

No, I haven't finished Moby Dick, and like I wrote in an earlier entry, I have a lot of reading that I want to do this summer. If I wait until I'm finally done with that book, then I won't get anything done. So, I read The Stranger, by Albert Camus, which I might get to teach to my seniors next year. Kirsti had a copy, so I didn't have to go out and buy one. She had recommended it to me some time ago, as she had read it and really liked it.

It's a short book, yet it's taken me about a week and a half to get through it. I guess I'm just being a bit lazy, or preoccupied with other things, as there's no reason to not finish it in a day or two. It's really short, and it's pretty straight-forward. While it deals with some pretty weighty issues and a narrator who really makes you think, it's not difficult to discern what's happening as far as the plot is concerned.

I haven't read any sort of analysis of it, so I'm sure that there's some obvious theme or motif that I'm completely missing - especially considering that I was only reading about 10-15 pages a day. Still, I have to say that I enjoyed it quite a bit. I'm not quite sure what sorts of things I'd talk about with my students just yet, but I think that I would definitely like to read this one with them.

The main character is somewhat of a frustrating guy, as he seems to be rather indifferent to the world. Kirsti told me that he reminded her of me a little bit, as supposedly I don't get very passionate about some things that might matter to others. I see where she's coming from, but I know that I also get all steamed about stuff that many people don't care about at all.

I don't want to get into a plot summary, just in case you're interested in reading it, but I will definitely say that the ending has a good payoff. At least, it has a satisfying emotional payoff, and the character is definitely a changed person by the end of the story. In fact, the ending makes me want to go back and reread all of the earlier bits.

One thing I also noticed is that the book is a bit funny. Not hysterical, laugh-out-loud funny, but "isn't that absurd?" moments. Anyway, good stuff. Next up, another hundred pages of Moby Dick, or perhaps even The Crucible. That might not start up for a few days though, as I just bought an ass-load of comics.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

You might be an atheist

There's just something about that word - "atheist." Oooh...just sends shivers down your spine, doesn't it? After all, atheists don't have any morals! Atheists look at this beautiful world that we live in, dung beetles and all, and don't see the hand of God in it! They don't pray! They don't believe in America! Oh, such a bad, bad, bad thing to be.

Of course, there are plenty of people out there who don't view atheists that way at all. Especially people like me, who you know, actually identify themselves as atheists. (The fact that I love sacrificing infants and rampant soddomy is a completely separate issue, I assure you.) There are also all sorts of faithful people who understand that atheism does not equal immorality. And don't forget the religiously neutral - the agnostics if you will.

Those are the people whom I'm addressing here. Obviously, I'm not talking to you Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Zoroastrians, but feel free to keep reading if you're one of them. Oh yes, I used to call myself an agnostic as well. I think that the reason why I did was because I had spent so much of my life believing in the Christian God (I think they call him Jesus) that it was hard to completely let go of it all and call myself an atheist. In fact, I used to argue with atheists (one in particular, who no doubt delights at the fact that I joined the dark side with her). I just couldn't understand those people. Clearly, there was something wrong with them. How could everything just come together so perfectly? How could the Earth orbit the sun at just the right distance? How could it all be one big accident? (What really annoys me about those arguments now is the fact that I used to make them!)

So, when it became much too difficult for me to believe that there was such a thing as the one, true religion (and it turns out that a lot of Americans are leaning that way) I called myself an agnostic Christian - even though I wasn't entirely sure if that actually meant anything. Basically, I believed in Jesus, but I wasn't too sure that He was the only correct way to view God. Eventually, this started to fall apart for me, and I just went with full-on agnostic.

The thing is, I like shades of grey. I think that being absolutely sure of anything is a sign of insanity. That's what kept me from going to atheism - despite the fact that if I was honest with myself, I really didn't believe that some Supreme Being was watching me. The running dialogue that I had in my head with God had started to go away as I realized that it was a touch too one-sided to be a dialogue at all. Trying to figure it all out, I asked myself the question:

If somebody were to put a gun to my head and ask me whether God exists or not, and "I don't know" wasn't an option, and getting the answer wrong would mean my head being turned into a canoe, I'd have to go with "no."

This doesn't mean that I'm absolutely certain that there is no God. I'd say I'm about 90% certain. That's pretty certain though. Or forget the dramatic scenario. If asked whether you believe or not, and your first response, even if only mental, is "no", then you're an atheist. You don't believe. Even if it's a "No, but I allow for the possibility." Do you see prayer as a monologue or a dialogue? If it's the former, you're an atheist.

And there's nothing wrong with that. So, get off the fence. As Stephen Colbert always says, "Pick a side; we're at war!"

Don't be a liberal

I recently signed myself on to Facebook in order to feel as though I have some human contact beyond my wife. (I don't need to actually hang out with people and spend time with them! I talk to them online!) One of the sections for the profile section asks for your political leanings. I hate questions like that, so I put that I'm a member of the Whig Party.

I hate political labels. I see a lot of people either put down a political party or the words "liberal" or "conservative." Well, I'm not gung-ho enough about any political party to want to identify myself. Also, I feel as though the words liberal and conservative have pretty much lost all their meaning. After all, people who are supposedly "conservative" have managed to turn the word "liberal" into an insult, where all they have to do is throw that word out and their opponent is automatically demonized without the issue at hand actually being examined.

So, what am I then? Let's look at some basic issues. I'm pro-choice. I'm against the death penalty. I support same-sex marriage. I'm extremely opposed to teaching Intelligent Design in a science classroom. I'm against the War in Iraq. I believe that human activity has an impact on climate change.

Damn...kinda makes me sound like a liberal, doesn't it? Still, I don't want to use that word. Even though I covered a lot of issues there, I don't really feel as though these things really explain who I am or how I feel. For example, when people who support the death penalty say to me, "If you murder somebody, then you've given up your right to live." my reaction is that I completely agree with them. However, I don't trust the government to carry out capital punishment.

Regarding abortion, I wrote a whole blog entry on that. The funny thing is, a conservative blogger friend of mine wrote one some time before I wrote mine, and while he identified himself as being against abortion, we really weren't that far away from one another as to how we saw the issue.

How about the Intelligent Design issue? How is it "liberal" to oppose this? I believe that science classes need to focus on theories that meet the scientific method. ID clearly does not. Also, proponents of the ID movement have been proven to be liars (or grossly ignorant - take your pick) when it comes to what they say about evolution. For me, I think that it's a rather conservative sense of right and wrong that makes me oppose this sort of nonsense. It would be liberal to allow every crackpot idea into a science classroom, if we're actually using the actual definition of these words.

Then there's same-sex marriage. This is probably seen by many people who identify themselves as conservative as the numero uno litmus test as to whether you're a liberal or not. I see my support of allowing same-sex marriage as intrinsically connected with my desire to not be an asshole. (And is there any other word for these people who now want to amend the constitution of California? All this effort to stop something that doesn't hurt you in any way, shape, or form? Asshole!!!!!!)

I could go on and on, but the bottom line is that I feel the way I do about these issues because I have weighed the evidence and made my decision. I'm also willing to have my mind changed on any one of these issues, but so far I keep hearing the same lame arguments over and over again. It's not that when a new issue comes along, I wait until I find out what the "liberal" side of the issue is and then make up my mind accordingly. I also don't wait to hear what some ill-informed pundit has to say. I might consider and weigh the opinions of people whom I respect, but there isn't anybody out there whom I feel that I agree with on everything.

So, am I a liberal? Maybe I am. In all honesty though, that word has no meaning to me.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Batman movies - Batman and Robin

A lot of my friends referred to Spider-Man 3 as a crappy, awful movie. While I certainly didn't find it to be a very good film, I have to wonder, if that's true, then what is Batman and Robin?

Even at the zenith of my superhero movie apologetics, I could only go so far with this one. I actually saw it twice in the theaters, and the second time was because I had told my nephew that I would take him to see it. I tried to say that it was at least entertaining, if not good. Yeah, I went to some pretty pathetic lenghts to justify a superhero fix.

I'm not sure if there is another movie out there that clearly has such a huge budget and talented people behind it and yet fails on pretty much every single level. As I wrote in another blog months ago, there were at least some things about Spider-Man 3 that I enjoyed and could defend. This one? Is there anything? Let's break it down like I did with the other ones:

The good:

There are a lot of bright colors that nicely show off an HDTV with an upconverting DVD player. It also introduces a lot of potential toys which got kids to get their parents to buy them, and that's good for the economy. Oh, and Coolio has a cameo. I guess that's good.

That's all I have. How about the bad? Very tempting to say "everything" and leave it at that, but I don't find Chris O'Donnel to be bad. Don't get me wrong, he definitely isn't good - there just isn't anything particularly offensive about his character or performance. So, let's list them off:

The Governor of California as Mr. Freeze. Dear Lord, what an abomination. The thing is, Mr. Freeze was one of Batman's lamest villains, even inspiring The Joker to refer to him as a second-rate Captain Cold. However, the animated series from the 90s turned him into one of Batman's best villains, making him a tragic figure who became a monster because of his love for his wife. The comics quickly adopted this revised origin, and when I read things about the upcoming movie, they were going to use that as inspiration for the character. Well, yeah, his wife is frozen in ice just like in the cartoon, but when the guy is constantly making bad puns (see video below), it's pretty hard to feel anything for him. And am I the only person who realizes just how stupid that costume looks? Who the hell was in charge of costumes? What the hell was he or she smoking when that one was approved? And don't even get started on how painful it is to listen to The Governator try and ham it up. Stick with cyborgs from the future, Arnie - that's what you're best at.

Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy. I like Uma. She was great in Tarantino's movies. She's wasted here, and even though she looks good in the outfit, it all gets ruined every time she opens her mouth. Remember my conflicted feelings about Michelle Pfeifer as Catwoman? There is no conflict here - every moment with her sucks. And I should probably add that just like with The Riddler, Two Face, and Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy is a great villain. She worked well in both the comics and the cartoon series as a seductive siren/temptress figure (am I the only one who catches the symbolism with her having that huge Venus Flytrap that almost devours Batman in the animated series?)

Some guy (I don't feel like looking it up) as Bane. Yet another villain ruined! In the comics, Bane is the guy who broke Batman, but before breaking his spine (he got better), he used strategy to wear him down over the course of several days. That's right, in the comics, he's not only strong, he's incredibly clever as well! Could he be more pointless?

Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl. Okay, I really don't get the comments that she received that said that she was supposedly "fat" in this movie. That was an incredibly lame and plain old messed up thing for people to say. (I mean, if a woman isn't skinny, does that mean that the only other option is that she's fat?) Criticisms of her acting are fair game though. She stinks - but who could possibly do something with that dialogue?

George Clooney as Batman. Clooney just missed making my man crush list (perhaps if I had ten, he'd be number six), and this is probably the reason why. I've seen interviews where he's taken the blame for this movie being a failure, but I don't think that anybody could have saved this piece of shit. But George, you're not entirely blameless either, because you did suck. The most glaring problem? He used the exact same tone of voice as both Bruce Wayne and Batman.

Elle Macpherson as some inconsequential love interest. She probably has a total of five minutes of screen time, and she's supposedly Bruce Wayne's love interest. If you've only seen this movie once, I bet that you don't remember her. That's because she's totally pointless, but some studio dickwad probably insisted, "You've gotta have a love interest!"

Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze. Just wanted to point this out one more time. It really is shit-tastic.

The conflicted tone. Unlike Batman Forever, which tries to do drama, but then intersperses it with campy moments, this one is trying to be campy while interspersing dramatic moments. It's even more jarring.

Nipples on the suits - 'nuff said. (Batgirl's costume doesn't have them though.)

Ice skates that pop out of Batman and Robin's boots. What the fuck?

Mr. Freeze.

I'm sure that I'm forgetting some equally shitty things, but that's probably enough to get the point across. I did just think of one more good thing about this movie though - it was so bad that the studios decided to completely drop the campy aspects of the franchise, and the taint of the 60s TV show is now gone forever. If Batman and Robin had been less shitty, then Batman Begins may have never been made.

My grade? F-

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Batman movies - Batman Forever

Unlike Batman Returns, I have a lot more memories about the lead-up to seeing Batman Forever. I went with a couple of friends to see it on opening night, and we even got our picture in the paper with our T-shirts and pez dispensers (I have never denied being a nerd, so don't think that you're some genius by pointing it out). I remember being pleased to hear that Val Kilmer was going to be Batman, as I dug him as Doc Holliday in Tombstone and I figured that he'd be able to do another great performance (not so much, it turns out).

I'm embarassed to say that I liked this movie a lot more than it deserved. I even saw it several times in the theater. I mean, I think that I always recognized its flaws, but anybody who knows me is aware that I have a soft spot for comic book characters, and I was willing to make a lot more excuses for this movie than I would now. (And keep in mind that this is long before X-Men, Spider-Man, and of course, Batman Begins - I had to get my superhero fix any way I could get.)

Watching it again, I realized that I was going to have a hard time listing off the good qualities of it. Bad qualities? That'd be easy. I should also probably address a question that some folks might wonder - why do I even own this movie? I bought the box set of double-disc editions when it came out. I had read up on what the special features were, and I figured that it was worth getting - especially considering my fondness for the character. I'll say now that the extras are pretty interesting, and I'm pretty jaded about most special features nowadays. Perhaps I'll elaborate on that when I finish this series of blogs.

What is good about it? I have to say that it is pretty entertaining. In fact, for the first 30-45 minutes, I was leaning towards giving it a B-. The opening sequence is fast-paced and action-packed. In fact, that is the one thing that this movie does pretty well - the action scenes, and there are a lot of them. There are also some dramatic moments that work pretty well (like when Dick Grayson/Robin first comes to live with Bruce Wayne/Batman). The look of the film is pretty good as well, but not as good as Tim Burton's films.

So, what's bad about it?

Jim Carey as The Riddler. Look at my complaint about Jack Nicholson as The Joker. It's the same thing, but without the conflict. I know that Carey is a talented guy, but he's just mugging for the camera in this film. Also, why does he leave riddles? There's absolutely no reason for him to be doing it. In the comics, he leaves riddles because although he's really smart, he has an obsessive compulsion to make sure that everybody knows just how smart he is. In this film? No reason, aside from the fact that he's The Riddler.

Tommy Lee Jones as Two Face. Two Face is arguably Batman's best villain, and everything that I've read about the next film makes it seem like they're finally going to get it right. This movie completely blows it though. Never mind the fact that Billy Dee Williams got ripped off and didn't get to play him (Harvey Dent becomes Two Face), this villain is completely indistinguishable from The Riddler. Not only that, but Jones (who also can be a damn good actor) is trying to out-Jim Carey Jim Carey - and what Jim Carey is doing in this movie sucks. So it's a lesser version of a sucky thing, but yet it manages to suck more.

The mixed tone. As I mentioned before, some of the more dramatic moments actually work pretty well. However, all of the jokey, silly moments completely undercut any weight that they may have had. (Like the shot of Batman's ass - come on.)

Nicole Kidman as Dr. Chase Meridian. You could completely cut her and lose nothing in this film. She's like a cardboard cutout with a sign on her that reads "Love Interest".

Nipples on the batsuit. Didn't anybody point out how weird this was when they were filming it?

My grade? C-

(Turns out that there are a lot of deleted scenes, and there's a chance that we might see a darker version of the film some day. Maybe that'll bring its grade up a bit.)

Batman movies - Batman Returns

For some reason, I don't seem to remember there being nearly as much hype around the opening of Batman Returns as I remember the hype around the first movie. I'm not saying that there wasn't any, I just don't remember it as much. I'm pretty sure that I saw it on opening night with a group of my friends, and I remember being pleased to hear that Tim Burton was the director once again. I also recall being disappointed that The Penguin was going to be one of the villains, as I always felt that he was one of the lamer of Batman's villains. (I mean, he's no Killer Moth, after all.)

I don't even really remember my first impression of the movie. I think that I liked it; I just didn't like it as much as the first one. I remember a lot of people telling me that they didn't think that it was very good at all, including my parents when we watched the VHS copy that I got on my birthday. It was panned by a lot of people, and let's just get it out of the way: the penguin army and the penguin pallbearers were over the top and lame - that's a given.

Still, what's odd is that over the years, whenever I got the urge to rewatch the Batman movies, I started to find myself liking Batman Returns more than the first one. I even suggested that to a friend once and he looked at me like I was crazy. Why would I think that? Was it just that I hadn't watched it nearly as many times as the first one that it just seemed fresher?

After watching it again, and thinking about what I'm going to write, I realized why I think that it's a better movie. That's because it's a better movie.

But how? Overall, I think that it has everything that was good about the first one and not as many things that were as bad about it. Let's break it down a bit.

1. Just like the first one, it looks great. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that it looks even better. Gotham feels even more like a real place, as surreal as it is, than a set. The character designs are fantastic as well, and the fight scenes between Batman and the Red Triangle Circus Gang look like a comic book come to life. The winter/Christmas setting was a nice touch as well.

2. Christopher Walken as Max Shreck. Walken is a pleasure to watch in pretty much anything, but he's the real villain in this movie. He also makes for a nice contrast with Batman/Bruce Wayne. Instead of being a rich person who uses his resources to better the world, he only uses his resources to obtain more power. (Wanting to create a power plant that drained power from the city was a good, if perhaps a bit obvious, metaphor. Hey, superhero stories aren't known for their subtlety!)

3. Michelle Pfeifer as Selina Kyle. Why didn't I say Catwoman? Keep reading and find out. Anyway, watching her transformation from the frumpy secretary to the confident and slightly deranged femme fatale is always fascinating. I love the bit where she goes nuts in her apartment and destroys all of the cutesy crap that she had lying around. (The stuffed animals in the garbage disposal being the highlight.)

4. The dialogue. While certainly clunky in places, there are a lot of parts that really zip by. Off the top of my head, the scene between Shreck and Kyle where he pushes her out the window is a nice bit of acting. It definitely doesn't have the same problem as the last movie did.

5. The Penguin. As I stated earlier, he's one of the lamer Batman villains, even though one of the most well-known. While I was annoyed as a teenager that they totally changed his origin from the comics, I now appreciate the different origin from the movie. It's more interesting, and once again, we have a nice contrast with Batman. His line, "You're just jealous because I'm a genuine freak and you have to wear a mask!" is a nice touch. Also, the movie touched on, but barely developed, that Batman actually felt a connection with this villain, as they are both orphans - although the Penguin was rejected by his parents.

How about the bad?

1. Michelle Pfeifer as Catwoman. She hams it up way too much whenever she's in costume. She's using the old 60s TV show as a guide, obviously, and that just doesn't work. While it's good to have a different voice while in costume, it just doesn't have the right sound to it. Also, what exactly is motivating her? Why should she be fighting Batman? It makes sense that she wants to go after Shreck, but that's forgotten until the end of the movie. Perhaps the movie should have made her more of an anti-hero, a partner that Batman reluctantly teams up with. That would have made more sense.

2. Too much story! While the first one really doesn't have a compelling plot, this one suffers from several possible plots that are all pretty intriguing. But it's all too much, and there isn't enough time devoted to any one of them for there to be much of a payoff.

3. Penguin army - just in case you forgot. Whatever.

While watching this, I was heading for a B+ for the first 45 minutes. It starts to unravel and everything that is set up doesn't really pay off after that. So, I give it a B-. That's right, it's better than Batman.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Batman movies - Batman

In anticipation for the latest Batman movie, The Dark Knight, I have decided to rewatch all of the Batman movies and write about them on my blog. (Surely I can't also mean Batman and Robin, can I?) First up, Tim Burton's Batman from 1989.

It's difficult to watch this movie without reflecting on what was going on when it came out. It came out the summer after my freshman year of high school, and by that time, I had been reading comics steadily for a few years. I had been a Marvel fan, but the hype around this movie enticed me to start reading some Batman comics. After all, I had an affection for the character as some of my earliest comics from when I was a little kid were Batman comics. (Still have them too!)

It's strange to think about it now, but I remember that it seemed like everybody and their grandmother's pediatrist suddenly started wearing Batman T-shirts. They were ubiquitous. They were everywhere. You couldn't go anywhere without seeing them. And I hadn't acquired my skills at redundancy at that point.

I remember being a bit annoyed, because most of these people were not comic book fans, and you probably would have to force them at gunpoint to even read a comic book. I remember even asking some of my fellow students about reading comics, and they looked at me like I was an idiot. Why would a Batman fan want to actually read the comics?

Anyway, I could go on and on about that, but instead let me write a bit about the movie itself. Ever since Batman Begins came out, many people refer to this as the second-best Batman film (although I imagine that it will be demoted to third once The Dark Knight comes out). I even remember telling people when Begins came out that it was by-far the best Batman movie ever made, and many of them reacted with a skepticism that anything could surpass the 1989 entry.

Here's the thing though - it's not very good. I mean, it has its strong points, and I'll probably even watch it again, but ultimately I couldn't call this a good, quality film. When I was a teenager, my complaints had more to do with the fact that it wasn't true enough to the source material (like with Batman having a cavalier attitude about taking life). Watching it now I realize that it has other, much more glaring problems.

Let me start with what's good about it though:

1. It looks great. Burton really managed to create a new world for this movie. It was definitely surreal, but not in an over-the-top sort of a way that would later plague the Shumacher films. This is probably the sole reason why I'd watch this movie again - it's simply nice to look at. It's dark, it's atmospheric, and I honestly can't think of another movie (with the possible exception of the other Burton Bat-flick) that looks like it.

2. Michael Keaton. His portrayal of both Bruce Wayne and Batman were entirely convincing, which is amazing considering that he really didn't look right for the part. As Wayne, he seemed like he was uncomfortable in his own skin, as that personality was as much of a fabrication as his other one was. As Batman, he managed to change his voice enough that it was easy to suspend disbelief instead of wondering why Vicki Vale didn't simply recognize his voice.

3. The supporting characters. While they didn't have a lot of screen time, I really enjoyed the performances of Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent (he got robbed in Batman Forever!) and Jack Palance as Carl Grissom.

4. The theme song. 'Nuff said.

What's bad about it?

1. The dialogue. It really sounded great in little bits when shown on the trailer, but in context, most of those lines feel shoehorned in there. Pretty much every conversation feels awkward, as though the characters aren't actually paying attention to each other and instead they're just waiting for their turn to say their lines. Pretty much every conversation between Bruce Wayne and Vicki Vale illustrates this.

2. The plot. There is hardly any narrative drive in this film. The Joker does something, and Batman reacts. The Joker does something else and Batman reacts. While I understood that making The Joker be the guy who orginally killed Batman's parents creates a symmetry, it really lacks the emotional punch that this sort of thing should have had.

3. The Prince videos. I've been on record stating that I like Prince, and his songs for the soundtrack were actually pretty good. This doesn't excuse the obviously extended scenes where it's obvious that they were there solely to get as much of his songs in there as possible in an effort of cross promotion. (I'm referring to the scene and the museum and the parade scene in particular).

What about the undecided?

1. Jack Nicholson as The Joker. I must admit, I'm entertained as I watch the guy. The scene where he talks to the body of the guy he just killed is actually pretty brilliant, and he actually manages to work his way through some of the bad dialogue without you even noticing it was bad until you think about it. Still, is that really The Joker or is it just Jack Nicholson hamming it up? Does it matter? I think that Heath Ledger's Joker is going to be the one to weigh all future performances against in the future.

My grade? C

Sean Hannity - the most courageous person

For anybody who actually reads my blog on a regular basis knows that a few months ago, I tried watching various pundit shows, including Countdown with Keith Olbermann, The O'Reilly Factor, and Hannity & Colmes. My conclusion? The shows were crap, with H&C being perhaps one of the most inane (no, I'm not misspelling "insane" - look it up) things I've ever seen in my life. I also watched Sean Hannity's other show, Hannity's America. I summed up the episode that I watched as follows: "Agh!!! Aghhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!! The illegal immigrants are coming over the border and they want to take your jobs, destroy the country and rape your pets!!!!!!!!!!! AGHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

It was the most shameless pieces of yellow journalism that I've ever seen in my life. Now, I've only seen that one episode, but it was clear that the point was to make people upset and feel as though they were under attack. Nothing like a good distraction to get people to forget things like the Iraq War, eh? (And please, I'm not suggesting that illegal immigration isn't a problem. If you can't see that, you have no sense of nuance.)

After seeing all of these shows, I decided to stick with my newspaper, my home page's news stories, and the Comedy Central shows. Life is too short to waste it on blowhards like Sean Hannity, who has such a smarmy way of talking that I want to cave his nose in with a mallet. So, I found out about this latest thing on Stephen Colbert's show. Do check it out:

Okay, if you didn't feel like watching it, Colbert was making fun of Hannity's newest thing where he repeatedly refers to America as the "greatest best country God has ever given man on the face of the Earth." Apparently, his show even has a graphic for it.

Colbert jokingly calls Hannity brave for declaring this over and over again. That's the thing about it - what kind of a bold statement is that, anyway? I'd be more impressed if some woman in Iran said it. I mean, do you really think that any of Hannity's viewers are going to call in and protest it? Of course not - this is some of the most shameless pandering I've ever seen in my life.

Now, if you're sitting there saying, "Well, he's just being a patriot" then I have the following to say to you: bullshit. Give me a break. If there's a line between jingoism and patriotism, then Hannity is so far on the jingoism side that he can't even see the line any more. The thing is, when people feel the need to keep repeating something over and over again, I start to distrust whether they actually feel that way. Ever have somebody repeatedly tell you that they "respect" you? Ever notice that the people who do that are the ones who show you the least amount of respect?

What feels foolish, but I'm going to do it anyway, is that I feel the need to point out that I do love my country. I honestly don't think that I'd want to live anywhere else. Now, if you gave me a billion dollars to live somewhere else, then I'd reconsider it, and I'm sure that I'd find someplace else that makes me happy (I really liked Victoria, British Columbia, for instance!) Still, I don't feel the need to wave a flag and constantly talk about how "great" America is. And let's get real for a moment - how can you honestly say this unless you've lived in EVERY country in the world?

Are there a lot of reasons why America is a great place to live? Hell yeah! Are there a lot of countries that it clearly is better than? Damn skippy. (I'm looking at you, Saudi Arabia! Unless you're a wealthy oil sheik - in which case, it's as good for you as any place is going to be.) Still, I seem to recall reading an article recently where a poll indicated that Danish citizens are more happy than the citizens of any other country. Now, that's not proof that Denmark is a better country, but it certainly indicates that one can lead a happy, fulfilled life there. I'm sure that there are plenty of people in various countries throughout the world who wouldn't come to live in America even if they were fully informed of all the pros and cons.

So, do I somehow love America less than Sean Hannity does because I don't feel the need to keep saying it's the greatest? If anything, I think that I'm a little more secure in my love for my country. After all, my wife likes to hear me say that I love her. I'm sure though that if I said it to her every five minutes, created a banner declaring so in every room of the house, tatooed it on my face, taught the cat to say it, forced every person she knows to tell her how much I love her, and wrote a novel with the sentence "I love you, Kirsti" printed over and over again, she'd start to get a little weirded out.

That's how I think that America should feel about Sean Hannity.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Summer bloggin'

So, I figured with classes having ended last Wednesday, I'd have plenty of time to blog. After all, there are a lot of things swimming around in my head that I've wanted to write about, but for some reason, it feels like all of my days have been absolutely packed. I also have a lot of things that I want to get done this summer, including:

Read several books, including The Stranger and The Crucible. I also want to finish Moby Dick, but I haven't been reading that one at all over the past few weeks. I started The Stranger though, and even if I go slowly, I'll finish it by the weekend. I like it so far.

Read and reread several comics. I'm reading the entire run of Astonishing X-Men right now. It took four years for 25 issues to come out, and about halfway through I stopped reading it, because I could never remember what happened from issue to issue. Reading all the issues in a row has been good though, and I'm glad that I continued to pick it up. I've got some other comics like that, and there's a bunch of stuff I simply haven't read for one reason or another (or completed, anyway.)

Do some yardwork. There's a tree on the side of my house that's obviously never been pruned. I've chopped the shit out of it over the past couple of months, and it still has some work to go. It's actually looking pretty good. Now I just need to focus on the bushes in my front yard.

Write my epic. If you've read my Eagle-Man blog, you know that I have aspirations for writing an epic story with my character. It's got everything from superheroes to time travel to zombies to the Crucifixion. A good time is guaranteed for all! (And if you haven't read my short story that I posted - what's wrong with you? A few people have read it now and I've gotten some genuinely positive feedback. One thing that everybody seems to agree with is that it's entertaining, so at the very worst, you won't be bored with it.)

Go on a trip with Kirsti. It'll be a road trip, despite the price of gas. More info on that later.

Clear my credential and sign up/pay for some independent study units so I can climb up on the pay scale.

Become the Ultimate World Fighting Champion. This might have to wait until next year.

Other than that, I want to walk Argos to the park every day. This week I'm just taking him on short walks though, as in the mornings I'm taking a class in San Ramon. It's an art class, and it's aimed more at elementary school teachers, it seems, but it's fun and the units will bump me up on the pay scale as well.

Looks like it'll be a busy summer.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Pilsner? Not so much...

While driving back from More Flavor today, I noticed a Miller Light truck. Underneath the logo read something along the lines of "a true Pilsner beer." I'm sorry, but no.

Look, I realize that there are some people out there who drink Miller Light and actually enjoy it. I'm not commenting on the quality of it. I'm just saying, Pilsner is a specific kind of a style, and Miller Light ain't it. I suppose that perhaps, technically it's a Pilsner, but only in the same sense that Hannity and Colmes is a debate show and a turd between two pieces of bread is a sandwich. (Okay, perhaps I am commenting on the quality of it. For the record, I was once at somebody's house and that was all he had. I actually had two. It's not horrible. It's just extraordinarily unremarkable.)

According to the Beer Advocate website, a Pilsner is described as follows: "The Czech Pilsner, or sometimes known as the Bohemian Pilsner, is light straw to golden color and crystal clear. Hops are very prevalent usually with a spicy bitterness and or a spicy floral flavor and aroma, notably one of the defining characteristics of the Saaz hop. Smooth and crisp with a clean malty palate, many are grassy. Some of the originals will show some archaic yeast characteristics similar to very mild buttery or fusel (rose like alcohol) flavors and aromas."

There's also a description for the German Pilsner, "Classic German Pilsners are very light straw to golden in color. Head should be dense and rich. They are also well-hopped, brewed using Noble hops such has Saaz, Hallertauer, Hallertauer Mittelfrüh, Tettnanger, Styrian Goldings, Spalt, Perle, and Hersbrucker. These varieties exhibit a spicy herbal or floral aroma and flavor, often times a bit coarse on the palate, and distribute a flash of citrus-like zest--hop bitterness can be high."

Okay, I'll admit that these are terms that are a bit above me when it comes to describing beer. Still, I know enough to know what "hoppy" means, and both of these descriptions mention how Pilsners (Yeah, there's more than one spelling) have a distinctive hop taste to them. (For those who don't know, hops are what give beer their bitterness. If you don't have a balance with the hops and the malt, then you get something that's too sweet.) Miller Light only resembles a Pilsner in the sense that it has a light color to it. You'd have to struggle to notice the hop flavor with those. They hardly use any, and this is probably because there's hardly any malt in there.

Let's also not forget the fact that a true Pilsner is an all-malt product. Miller Light probably uses rice, corn and who knows what the hell else.

Drink it if you like it, but it ain't no Pilsner. Want to actually have a Pilsner? Try the following:

Lagunitas Pilsner (my personal favorite)
Trader Joe's Bohemian Lager
Gordon Biersch Pilsner (actually, it's the same beer as the one above - just with a different label).
Spaten Pils
Czechvar (also known as Budweiser Budvar)
Pilsner Urquell

Monday, June 9, 2008

Everybody loves my chicken

A couple of years ago, I saw an episode of a show on the Food Network called The Thirsty Traveler. On it, the host had traveled to Alaska, and the show focused on Alaskan Ales. At the end of the show, just like every episode, there was a recipe that used the beer that the show was devoted to. The recipe was for a salmon marinade, and I tried it out. It was excellent, but I have since adapted and used it for chicken. The result? Some awesome flippin' chicken.

The first time I tried it out on somebody other than my wife and I was when my in-laws were over and I was BBQing some chicken. My in-laws...well, let's just say that their tastes are somewhat "conservative". So, I basically just made chicken with barbecue sauce, but I also made half a chicken with my marinade. My father-in-law gave it a try and declared that he liked it more than the chicken with the barbecue sauce (and I was using the same brand that he uses - Sweet Baby Ray's).

I then made it for my mother and her boyfriend when they came to visit. My mother's boyfriend completely cleaned off every bone that he ate, and my mom raved about it as well. I have since tried it out on various friends and coworkers - all of whom have enjoyed it tremendously. About a week ago, Kirsti and I went to one of her coworkers house for dinner. I brought my chicken (raw and in the marinade) and they grilled it up. Yet again, it was a success. One of them claimed that she wasn't a very big meat eater, but she ate about two and half thighs.

And last night, we had company yet again, and the same thing happened. People love this stuff - and no wonder, it's awesome.

So, how the hell do you make it?

First off, while it's good with any part of the chicken, I really recommend using thighs. Something about them just absorbs the flavor more.

Anyway, you start off with a 12 oz. bottle of beer - and this is important, it's best if it's an amber-colored beer. Basically, you want something slightly sweet and very malty. While I usually use my homebrew, I've made successful batches with Samuel Adams Boston Lager. I'd imagine that Sierra Nevada Pale Ale would work nicely as well.

Then you want some soy sauce. I don't measure anything, but I guess I use about a third as much soy sauce as I use beer. Oh, I also use a low-sodium soy sauce. If you're using the regular stuff, you might want to use less, as you don't want it all to have too salty of a taste.

Mix in some grated ginger, chopped cilantro, and crushed garlic. (Lately, I've been tossing all of that in the food processer - it works nicely). Then add some olive oil and marinate the chicken overnight. Lastly, grill it up. Bitchin' chicken!

And here's a bonus recipe! A friend of mine did a variation on that recipe and praised the results. So, I did a variation on his variation. It's the same thing, only delete the cilantro and garlic and add lime juice (about five limes) and habaneros (I use four - hot enough to notice, but not so hot as to ruin the taste). I made this one the last couple of times along with the usual recipe, and this one got rave reviews as well.

So, make the stuff. I don't invite people over enough for you to just wait around for a visit to my house.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Strengths and weaknesses

First they tried to undermine science education by teaching creationism in the science classrooms. That failed, so they repackaged the same bullshit and called it "Intelligent Design." That certainly sounded more science-y, but it failed in the courts, as it was obvious that they were pushing religion. Have they finally given up? Nope. Now, the new catchphrase is "strengths and weaknesses."

I read about this on the New York Times website. According to the article, there are several states where they're trying to pass legislation where science classes would be required to teach the strengths and weaknesses in the theory of evolution. Much like Intelligent Design, this probably sounds like a reasonable argument to the layperson. If there are problems with the theory, then why not teach them?

But that's just the thing - there are no weaknesses in the theory. It's been around for over 150 years, and ever since then people have been saying that its time was coming to an end. But what's happened? With further advances in science, Darwin's ideas are only strengthened. When they started analyzing human DNA, the theory could have been completely tossed out if the evidence didn't back it up. But what happened instead? DNA only backed up Darwin's ideas. (After all - Darwin didn't know that our genetic structure was nearly 99% the same as a chimpanzees, now did he?)

Of course, students should be taught that everything in science is open to question. As many scientists have pointed out, all you'd need to do is find a rabbit skeleton in the same strata as a T-Rex (or some other thing where you have two species that evolution teaches us have been separated by millions of years). A single discovery of something like that would toss evolution out the window, and we'd have to take another look at life's origins. Or, you could find a reptile with the genetic code for nipples - that would do it as well - but guess what? Nobody's finding anything to disprove evolution.

So, everything's open to question. If one day you drop a ball and it flies up in the air, there goes that whole gravity thing.

It really is amazing though when it comes to evolution. You meet people who are completely reasonable when it comes to most everything, but they simply have a brick wall in their brain when it comes to this. They can accept all of the advances of science, but they can't accept that the very same processes conclude that different sorts of animals have a common ancestor. The disinformation campaign is quite astounding. I even had a student once, who as far as I could tell wasn't religious in any way, say that he was mad that they taught evolution in his science class when it's a "bunch of crap." I was flabbergasted by this. I know that we have some great science teachers at my school, and I'm sure that they went over the scientific method and the evidence for evolution. Why else then would he say something so profoundly ignorant?

I guess that there's just something about it that threatens people. Part of me thinks that maybe it's just that some people are just too stupid to comprehend it, but lots of people accept things that they don't comprehend. I don't really understand how a 747 stays in the air, but I don't think that it's done through sorcery as a result. Perhaps it's because a lot of people mistakenly think that it negates their faith - a notion that many atheists have done a good job of promoting, although wrongfully so (I've mentioned how lame I think that the Darwin fishes are in a previous blog).

But there's the good news, this whole "strengths and weaknesses" is a good sign in my mind. While certainly it amounts to a waste of time, the creationists are learning that they can't win any sort of objective argument that relies on facts. They have to keep moving the goal post. Once this gets tossed out on its ear, they'll have to try an even weaker strategy. What will it be though? "At least mention things that are unreasonable."

Thursday, June 5, 2008

No true Scotsman

Oftentimes while discussing religion, the No True Scotsman fallacy is used. The fallacy is basically a circular argument where if something doesn't fit an assertion, it's dismissed as not being a valid example. For example, if I were to say that no Scotsman jumps rope, but then you pointed out that your good friend, Angus MacHaggis, jumps rope, my retort would be that Angus is not a "true Scotsman."

Christians often use this argument when trying to argue that their religion promotes morality. If you point out an evil, screwed-up thing that a Christian has done, they will respond that they're not "true Christians." In all honesty, I think that in some cases they have a point. The time when it gets really annoying is when somebody points out that he or she used to be a Christian once, but then through various circumstances, abandoned the faith. These people are told that they were never really real Christians to begin with, because once one has truly accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, then it's impossible to turn away from it.

Bullcrap, I say. Now, I'll admit, I was never "born again" and I was never fundamentalist or evangelical. I most definitely did believe in God though. I used to have the running dialogue (more of a monologue, if you want to be honest) with God in my mind. I used to believe that Jesus was there next to me during difficult times. Now I can honestly say that's all gone to me. I call upon Jesus about as much as I call on Superman (probably a little less even). That aside though, I've read enough from people who were big-time believers who later abandoned their faith. I don't see any reason to believe why they were somehow not "true" Chrisitans. It comes off as patronizing to me when Christians tell these people that they were somehow not true in their faith, as if they know these peoples' minds better.

What about atheists though? I know that I've bristled at certain Christians telling me that they were "atheists" at one time. Now, I don't doubt it that they fit the strict definition of atheist, as all one needs to be one is to not believe in any gods. Fair enough. Still, when they try and compare themselves to me, it doesn't ever seem to fit. For instance, they'll tell me that they believed in ghosts, psychics, astrology, whatever. That's not really the same as me. I came to atheism by being a skeptic, and I actually had rejected all of those things, and rejecting the idea of God was a natural next step for me.

Then I've heard things where somebody claimed that he was an atheist until he was confronted with the "proof" of Jesus' existence. What was that proof? The empty tomb? Excuse me, but whaaaaa????? Does that mean that the Millenium Falcon is proof of Wookies? That makes shit all of sense. I've also heard certain fundamentalist types say all sorts of ignorant things regarding evolution (remember, kids, evolution doesn't disprove God!) - things that anybody who knows the first thing about it wouldn't say.

So, what are these people? Were they "true atheists"? As I've said before, all that means is that you don't believe in God - so yeah, they were true atheists. Still, they weren't like I am now. Maybe I need a different word. Skeptical atheist, maybe?

As to whether there ever was somebody like me, who came to atheism through skepticism, but then became a believer in God, I'd like to hear about that. As of now, I don't know of any, but I'm willing to be proven wrong.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The most evil man in the world

There have been many times in my life where I've been wrong - especially when I was a kid. I used to think that Prince sucked. I have since seen the error of my ways (even though I don't count myself as a big fan, I've come to appreciate him.) I used to think that Independence Day was a good movie. I even used to believe that there once was a talking snake. Pretty sure that's wrong.

However, there have been times when I've been so right that I've been practically ahead of my time. A prime example of this was when Michael Bolton used to be a big star. It was my contention that he sucked monkey balls. I submit exhibit A as proof of just how right I was:

Still not convinced? How about this?

How 'bout this shit?

Now, you didn't actually sit all the way through that crap, did you? My apologies if you did - I only expected you to listen to it long enough to realize what horrific crap it was. That should have taken about the first five seconds of the first video.

Years ago, my friend Scott and I created the War on Bolton website, which was basically an Anti-Michael Bolton page - not to be confused with the Anti Michael Bolton Society, of course. The title of the page comes from something that I had said back when he was popular for his "When a Man Loves a Woman" cover. I had said that if he ever did a Beatles tune, I'd personally declare war on him. Of course, he did just such a thing, covering "Yesterday," which is only the most covered Beatles song ever - Mike can't even be original in his unoriginality.

We worked on it when we both had a lot more time on our hands than we do now - not that it really took a lot of time to piece together. Still, I got most of the work done when I was "working" at a cybercafe in San Francisco. Once it was up, it didn't take long for us to start getting some traffic. It even garnered enough attention for me to be interviewed on some internet radio show, and I even got to plug the site on some basic cable show called "Screen Savers."

Most of the feedback, much of it can be seen by viewing the guestbook, was positive. It's pretty cool, because we had people from all over the world check it out. Obviously, traffic has died down considerably, and now we get about one or two messages a year.

Of course, we have had our detractors. Most of them went on about how we obviously didn't have lives, since we had "all this time" to create a website. It's as though they thought we needed to turn a crank all day and hire a staff to keep it up. Once it was there, we pretty much just left it there, with only the odd update here and there.

Some of our detractors were genuine loons, especially a chick named Linda Gallo, who honestly believed that Bolton was reading her messages to Usenet. She compared us to the terrorists - and she wasn't being ironic. She would also talk about how Michael Bolton's security would soon be knocking on our door. Good times. I don't know what she's up to now - probably in the loony bin, I'd bet. (It would be awesome if she posted a comment on this blog!)

Bolton's star has faded - so much so that when he's part of a joke answer on one of my quizzes, many students will ask, "Who's Michael Bolton?" My response to them?

"He's the most evil man who ever lived."

Long live the War on Bolton!!!!!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Don't you ever wonder?

I was recently asked by a Christian if I ever wondered or worried about going to hell when I die. After all, this person said, what if I'm wrong? Obviously, this person hasn't heard of Pascal's Wager and why it's a fallacy, but to answer the question: no, I really don't worry about it.

After all, do any of you worry that maybe you're wrong about being tormented by the Furies in Hades? Of course you don't - why should you? Do you worry about burning in the Muslim hell? (Assuming you're not a Muslim, that is.) Probably not, huh? Yeah, I don't worry about that one either.

I've also heard a few people tell me things along the lines of, "When you get older, you start to think about what happens after you die more." This may very well be true (although I've read about enough elderly people who are more than content with the idea that this life is the only one they get - the local retirement community has an atheist group!) but that doesn't make an afterlife more true. I mean, just because I might think about it and want there to be one, that doesn't mean that it's going to be there. After all, I really would like a beer volcano, but that doesn't somehow make the afterlife of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster more real now, does it?

I'm not eager to die anytime soon, and I'd like to put it off as long as possible (so long as I'm living a quality life). But I honestly don't feel like there's something missing just because when I'm at the end of the line, that's all there is to it.

I've heard people respond to this idea by saying that my point of view is without hope, and it makes life meaningless. To them, I assert that that says more about your lack of imagination.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Chocolate selection

Kirsti asked me to pick her up some chocolate while I was at Safeway today. While deciding on which one to get, I realized something - the chocolate selection at most stores sucks. The only quality chocolate that they had was Ghirardelli. Everything else was Hershey and the other usual suspects. And please, don't tell me that Hershey is good. If you think that Hershey makes quality chocolate, then you deserve to burn in hell for all eternity. (Okay, maybe for just a weekend.)

It's a shame that with all the variety we see lately the chocolate section hasn't quite caught up just yet. After all, even the smaller grocery stores around me will have a fairly decent variety of beers, with a good selection of both imports and microbrews. Obviously, the bulk of the area is devoted to the usual Budweiser/Miller/Coors, but the good stuff is there for those who want it.

Not all hope is lost though, as my local Trader Joe's has an awesome variety of chocolate - especially the ones from Belgium. Cost Plus has some good ones as well, as I've seen that they have started to carry Milka bars - they're from Germany and my relatives would always bring some when they came - this is what gave me my appreciation for the good stuff.

It also seems as though Hershey is trying to branch out, as they had some dark chocolate that was in a package similar to Ghirardelli. They still have a ways to go, but perhaps there's some hope that us chocolate lovers will have a better selection in the future.