Sunday, August 31, 2008

Cable hoax

What with the new crop of summer movies making it to DVD this fall and winter, including Iron Man, The Dark Knight, and Wall-E, I decided that I wanted to get them in the best possible format. Considering that HD DVD is dead, that means that it's time for a Blu-Ray player.
After much thinking and debating, I figured that the best move was to get the Playstation 3. I figured that was a good move because not only does it have a Blu-Ray player, but it costs about the same as the stand-alone players. Considering that Kirsti and I have also been wanting the game Rock Band, and we don't own any other gaming console, I decided that getting the PS3 was a no-brainer - especially considering that Best Buy was offering 18 months interest-free financing. (I have the money to pay it all in one shot - but why not let my money sit in savings and pay the same amount in small increments over time?)

The nice thing about Rock Band is that it gives Kirsti and I something to do together, as we're often in separate rooms while one watches TV and the other is on the computer. We just played for quite a bit, and we were having a blast.

Anyway, the point of this whole thing is that when I was at Best Buy today, I saw next to the PS3s the HDMI cable that one would need to buy with it (it's not included) in order to get a true HD picture. How much does that cable cost? 99 fricken' dollars, that's what.

There was a couple moaning about that, but I gave them a heads up and said, "Go online - you'll get it a lot cheaper." I know this because I already bought one, and I doubt that I paid more than 15 bucks for it. I'm going to need a new one if I don't want to constantly swap with my HD DVD player, so I checked it out on Amazon and guess what? You can get one with shipping for about 5 bucks.

I'll wait while you pick your jaw up off the floor. That's right. The cable that costs $99 at Best Buy costs $5 online (perhaps even less). Now, of course, it's not the same brand, and the employees at Best Buy will no doubt try and convince you that you NEED these premium, gold-plated blah blah blah cables. Do yourself a favor and do some online research - a cable is a cable - and now that we're digital, that's more true than ever.

It's quite possible that the ones you can get online aren't as durable, but what are you planning on doing with it? Jumping rope? I don't know about you, but I just hook mine up and that's the end of its exciting existence.

Don't feel too bad if you got suckered. Just don't let it happen again - and don't let your friends fall for it.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Men of God

Last night, Kirsti and I watched a documentary called Deliver us from Evil. It interviews Oliver O'Grady, a Catholic priest who molested as many as 25 children in California alone (he probably molested even more in his native Ireland). It also interviews some of his victims, and various experts on clergy abuse. Actually, to say that he molested them is too tame - the film makes it clear that he raped those kids, both little boys and girls, one of them as young as nine months if I remember correctly.

It's quite a powerful piece of work, and I was brought to tears a couple of times. The hardest part for me was watching the father of one of the victims as he cried when he talked about how he felt that the church betrayed him. He also told about how he found out that the reason why his daughter never told him what O'Grady did was because she was afraid that her father would kill O'Grady and then go to jail. (He had said that if anybody had ever hurt her, that he'd kill that person.) In a cruel irony, her love for her father allowed the abuse to continue. And of course, the father felt some guilt over having made that statement - but hey, what father doesn't say things like that? (And what father wouldn't feel guilty all the same?)

The really disturbing thing that gets revealed in the documentary is how the higher-ups in the church knew about what was going on and allowed it to continue. When he would be reported, then they'd just move him on to another town to start the abuse again. And of course, for anybody who ever pays attention to the news would know, this kind of coverup has occured throughout the Catholic Church. One thing that really got me is that even the current Pope is under suspicion as being part of the cover-up. Our President (and honestly, I don't pin this on W. specifically - because I imagine that any President would do the same thing) granted the Pope immunity from any possible prosecution.

Why are things like this even able to occur in the first place? I don't want to necessarily put the blame on religious faith in general, but if people didn't just blindly accept the notion that certain individuals speak for an all-powerful creator, then I can't imagine that this sort of thing could occur at this level.

After all, one of the reasons why people are hesitant to go after these guys is because they are "men of God". They can't even imagine that somebody with the title of priest, pastor, pope, cardinal, grand-poobah, whatever could do something so evil. What other profession in this world creates that sort of blind spot? Could you imagine somebody saying, "Man, hard to believe that guy molested kids - after all, he was a plumber!" Shoot, I'm an atheist, but if some prominent atheist turned out to be molesting kids, I wouldn't show shock at the notion that an atheist could molest kids. They're just as likely as anybody else - including priests!

Personally, I think that the time has come when we start looking at anybody who claims to speak for a higher power as being immediately suspect. I realize that the majority of people in this country believe in a god, and I don't think that there's much chance that I can convince them otherwise. However, this might be a fight with the possibility of winning. If you want to believe in some higher force out there, then fine. Just don't immediately trust anybody who claims to speak for it. Better yet, be suspicious of that person and his or her motives. After all, maybe (probably) they're telling you what THEY want you to do and believe.

So, to hell with men of God. If a priest, pastor, imam, rabbi, pope, lama, whatever wants my respect, they have to earn it the same way everybody else does. (And I should point out that there was a Catholic priest in the movie, whose name escapes me and I can't seem to connect to the Internet Movie Database, who has devoted much of his time and energy into exposing this scandal - so much so that he's gotten in a lot of trouble with his own church. While I obviously disagree with his theology, I have the utmost respect for anybody who is willing to point out the truth - no matter how painful it might be.)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Today was the first day back to teaching. Good day, but brain no work so good enough to write blog now. Think hurt head.

I listened to John Coltrane when I walked Argos this evening. Giant Steps was my first album of his, and I keep finding myself compelled to listen to it again and again. Great stuff.

That's all.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Battling Transformers

Always tackling the controversial topics, this particular entry has been a long time coming. I thought about writing on this some time ago, but it got pushed aside. However, today I was reading online about the upcoming sequel to last year's Transformers movie. It's being directed by Michael Bay, just like the last one, and that can only mean that it's guaranteed to be an absolute crapfest.

Why should I care? Thing is, I was a big fan of The Transformers when I was a kid. In fact, I was still into them when I was a freshman in high school (although I'm sure that a lot of others were but wouldn't ever admit to it publicly at the time). I was into the toys, the TV show and the comics. The thing is, I still like the concept of them (beyond just the whole robots changing into cars thing - but isn't that really enough?) In fact, I hung on to all the toys. I even got them all out some time ago just to play with them a bit. (No, I didn't have battles with them like I used to - although why the hell not? I have a wife! I don't need to justify myself to anybody! But seriously, I just changed them back and forth and then put them away again.) A few years ago, there was a new comic series, and I bought the first couple of story arcs. It was fun stuff, and I could tell that the creators were probably about my age and fans from way back as well, as it had all the stuff that I always wanted to see (like them fighting in a major city) when I was a kid.

When I heard about the big budget movie coming out, I must admit that the best I could muster up was cautious optimism. When I heard that Michael "Superhack" Bay was directing, the caution level went up, but I still held out hope that it could have at least been a dumb, fun movie with some cool scenes of giant robots smashing each other while changing into cars, planes, etc.

I've written before about how some movies only seem okay when I see them in the theater, but then they get better the more I think about them. With this movie, I wanted so badly for it to be good that I started off by saying that it was "entertaining," but the more I thought about it, the worse it got. What an absolute disaster that film was.

They got one thing right. They got the guy who did Optimus Prime from the cartoon series to do him in the movie. Absolutely everything else about this movie was dung. This includes Optimus Prime himself. What's up with the flames on the sides of his truck form? He's supposed to be a leader with gravitas, not a roadie for ZZ Top. Not only that, but the designs of the robots themselves were crap. From what I read, they were going for a more "realistic" look (which is the first problem - a movie about robots from another planet that change into vehicles is by its very nature unrealistic. "Realism" just doesn't make sense. Oddly enough, I blame Batman Begins for the whole realism kick. It works for James Bond - not so much The Transformers though.)

I haven't seen it since it was in the theater, so I can't be too specific about what else stunk, but the one thing that really sticks in my mind is all of the cheap jokes: the old lady who flips off her son for no apparent reason, Bumblebee taking a leak on that one dude who's normally a good actor but was far too over-the-top in this one, the Autobots in the backyard, that lame intro to the character Jazz.

Not even the action scenes were well done. I mean, could anybody actually tell what was going on during any of those protracted fights? And what exactly can Transformers do? Apparently they can do everything and anything so long as it suits what that particular scene needs them to do. And what's up with the soda machine becoming a Transformer? Ugh.

Okay, why should I have expected anything better? I know, that was foolish. At least I've learned my lesson and won't go see the next one. At least I'll always have Transformers: The Movie. I bought that one on DVD, and surprisingly enough, it actually holds up.

Now, before you read any further, don't let me get comments saying, "Hey, Lance, I rented the old cartoon movie because you recommended it and it totally sucked!" This is not a recommendation, even though I will admit that I still like this film quite a bit. I will also argue that it's a superior film to the live-action one. If you were a fan of the old cartoon series, and you can still remember the difference between a standard Decepticon and the Constructicons, and you know who the Dinobots were, then you might actually enjoy it.

Why is it better? First of all, it has a more coherent story. The first third is basically just a protracted battle, but from there it follows the character Hot Rod and fits the Heroic Cycle quite faithfully. (Unlike the live-action movie, the cartoon is actually about the Transformers themselves, not the human who befriends them.) It doesn't have nearly as many cheap laughs (a few which are obviously aimed at the younger kids). The ideas are far more imaginative (a planet-eating robot who turns into a planet himself, five-headed judges who give the death sentence to the guilty and innocent alike, "Junkions" who learned to talk by watching TV and speak like commercial announcers - sample dialogue: "Destroy Unicron! Kill the grand poobah! Eliminate even the toughest stains!"

I would also go so far as to say that the dialogue is much sharper and wittier than anything in Bay's film. Also, the acting is better, and there's a great cast with Judd Nelson, Eric Idle, Leonard Nemoy, and even the great Orson Welles in his final role. Shoot, I can still rattle off lines off the top of my head: "I've got better things to do tonight than die!" "Your bargaining posture is highly dubious!" "Coronation, Starscream? This is bad comedy!" All this, and it has a bitchin' 80's hair-metal soundtrack that sounds better than any of the crap I heard in the new movie. Fans of Boogie Nights are compelled to agree! (You either get that or you don't!)

Were the Transformers high art? No, but Michael Bay actually managed to dumb it down - quite a bit.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

What I did during my summer vacation

The first day of my summer vacation, I woke up. Then I went downtown to look for a job. Then I hung out in front of the drugstore...

Just kidding, of course. (Cheech and Chong reference there, folks.)

So, tomorrow I return to work. My stomach is acting up, and I've been feeling anxious all week. I figure if I'm still doing this by my eighth year, then it's always going to happen. Anyway, I didn't work summer school, but I was determined to get some stuff done. I don't feel like I did a lot, but perhaps if I write it all down, I'll feel differently:

1. I took an art class. (And the units will bump me up on the pay scale at work).
2. I wrote the first draft of a novel (about 80,000 words - I imagine the rewrite will add another 10-20,000.)
3. I read some books, including: King Lear, The Crucible, The Stranger, Jesus & Yahweh, and the first couple chapters of Heavy Metal Islam.
4. I went up to Redding to see my dad, and I went up to Mt. Lassen.
5. I went on a cruise to Catalina Island and Ensenada, Mexico.
6. I finished some independent work that will get me bumped up on the pay scale (in conjuction with item #1 that is - I'm not jumping up two sections, just one.)
7. I walked my dog, Argos, to the park nearly every day.
8. I got together with my friends nearly every week so we could read each other's writing and discuss it.

Okay, there's probably more, but that was enough to make me think that I wasn't wasting my time.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I'm looking forward to trying a Bud

That's right. I'm genuinely interested in having a Budweiser. That Bud Light with Lime sounds fantastic.

Hah! Just kidding. It sounds disgusting, actually.

Of course, if you have a TV, that's probably the one that you've heard about. If you're a beer nerd like me, then you've heard of Budweiser American Ale. It's not out yet, but I'm going to be keeping my eye out for it, and I'm eager to try one.

Now, unlike a lot of other beer nerds, I don't really think that Bud, Miller, etc. are "bad" beers. I just don't happen to like them enough to ever buy them, but if somebody offered one, then I'd gladly drink it. (I do think that the "light" beers are certifiably bad though - at least, every one that I've tried. In all honesty, I might just stick to water the next time one is offered to me.) But why would I be so eager to try this American Ale that they're making?

For starters, I saw a little video (see below) on it, and it sounded appealing. While I enjoy many different styles of beer, if I were to be stranded on a deserted island yet I could have only one kind of beer every day there, then I'd probably go with a Pale Ale or an Amber (think Oktoberfest) style lager. Those are good every day beers for me, and this seems like the kind of thing that Budweiser is making.

Of course, there are probably some beer geeks out there who are automatically going to dismiss this beer. Some might even try it, and since it doesn't taste like a Belgian Dubbel or Imperial Stout (it's not trying to!) they'll say that it's bad. For me, I'm going to try it and I honestly expect that the worst-case scenario is that I'll say, "It's okay, but I probably won't buy it again." Personally, I can only see this as being a good thing - especially if it catches on.

I recently went to a restaurant on Catalina Island with my wife and in-laws, and there was a restaurant there that was serving Paulaner (some of the best German beer you can get in this country) on tap. I really hyped it up to my in-laws, and they both had a half pint each. (Me? A pint and a half...mmm...German beer...drool...) My mother-in-law is actually pretty adventurous when it comes to beer, as she's tried a lot of my homebrews, and while she doesn't like the really extreme ones, she's enjoyed all sorts of the ales that I've made. My father-in-law's brew of choice (although he rarely even drinks beer) is Pacifico. Personally, I don't care for it. I've had it once and like most macro-lagers, it got pretty gross at the last third.)

They both really liked the Paulaner, and my father-in-law even kept talking about how good it was the next day. The most interesting thing that I heard him say was how it still tasted good at the bottom. I told him that if it tastes bad when you get to the bottom, then you're not drinking a good beer! A good beer tastes great down to the very last drop!

The point of that story is that people will drink higher-quality beer if they only give it a chance. And with Budweiser American Ale, a lot of people who might not normally try a craft beer will give it a chance simply because it has a name that they're familiar with. This could very well get them to gravitate to the smaller, craft breweries and quality imports (no, not all imports - even from Germany - are quality).

Additionally, it's getting some pretty good early buzz. William Brand, who writes a column about beer in my local paper, gave it a good review. It's also getting some good reviews at BeerAdvocate. (Please note though, some of the people who leave reviews there are pretentious snobs who look down upon anything that isn't 8% and above.)

One thing that's interesting is that it seems as though their advertising on this one is a much more low-key approach. Perhaps they'll actually try and sell one of their beers based on how it tastes, rather than which good looking models drink it. Who'da thunk it?

So, perhaps this Bud's for me.

It's true

Monday, August 18, 2008

The consequence of uncritical thinking

Fellow blogger Gary Fouse posted a letter a few weeks ago from a German named Emanuel Tanay, M.D., who tries to appeal to the majority of Muslims who want peace. Tanay compares the fanaticism of extremist Muslims with the fanaticism of the Nazis, and he makes the case that those who aren't fanatics need to stand up for what they believe in lest the fanatics completely take over and define their religion.

It's a good point, and it's well-written. Personally, I think that while Muslims certainly have an extremely urgent need to address the fanaticism of their religion; however, that doesn't mean that the rest of the world gets to sit pretty and say, "Yeah, Muslims - get it together."
I recently had a blog called Religion and Child Abuse brought to my attention. It keeps track of instances of child abuse that occur under a religious pretext. It has forty posts so far for this month alone. Scary stuff.

Now, I'm sure that there are some religious people out there who might read this sort of a thing and say, "Oh, but I don't do anything like that!" You might even have some handy Bible quotes that contradict the Bible quotes that these child abusers use to justify what they do. You might even be thinking about how you would never do anything like what they do. After all, your beliefs have never harmed anyone. (Much like how the beliefs of most of the world's Muslims have never harmed anyone...hmmm...)

Let's get to the root of this problem though, shall we? When you look at all religious beliefs, no matter which religion you're talking about, they're all based on believing in things without evidence - you know, faith. What drove these people to do what they did? Faith. Sure, most people's faiths don't hurt anybody, but what would have happened if all these people were taught to think critically and not just have blind faith in what religious leaders tell them?

Do you really want to say that it's good to think critically about just some things? Most things? Where's the line?

Women & Kooky Beliefs

I read an article in my local paper a few weeks ago that debunked the notion that girls simply didn't have the same aptitude in math that boys have. It got me to thinking about why this idea even exists in the first place. It also got me to thinking about women and critical thinking. While it's hardly a scientific study, in my experience, women seem to be much more likely to believe in things like astrology, past lives, angels, etcetera. I also seem to recall a study that showed that women are generally more likely to have religious beliefs.

Could it be possible that women simply don't think as much as men? That for some reason, they just aren't able to be logical about things? Hmmm...I suppose I could see how I might think this if it weren't for the fact that I'm married and my wife is much more suited to making important decisions than I am. I'm sure that sounds familiar to many married fellas out there, as I really don't think that this sort of situation is an anomaly.

Also, as a teacher, I've run into many girls who are critical thinkers and are so smart that the only advantage that I have on them is the fact that I'm older. In about ten years, I expect many of them to be a whole lot smarter than me. I should also mention my wife. While she's not the type to tell you what logical fallacy you're using by name, she is definitely a logical thinker, and she's not easily swayed by fanciful stories that appeal more to emotion than to reason.

For those of you who are reading this on my Blogspot page, there are a bunch of links to fellow bloggers with a skeptical/atheistic attitude. Half of them are from women, and this isn't because I deliberately tried to mix it up a bit.

So, what's going on here? Personally, I think that it's simply because generally speaking, women aren't encouraged to think critically when they're young. It's not expected of them to be logical while they're little girls. Now, obviously this is starting to turn around, but it's going to take a few generations, as we're still dealing with the legacy of a patriarchal system where women were expected to be nurturers and little else. (Here's a shock - they can do both!)

One of these days, I'll have a little girl of my own. I'll encourage her to be critical, and I'll expect her to do her best in science and math. I won't assume that she can't hack it.

What's sad is, you have to wonder about all the potential that has gone to waste over the years. Sure, there have been plenty of iconoclastic women out there who have made a name for themselves for their intelligence...but dang, you gotta wonder how different this world would be...

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Close that mind

A few months ago, my wife Kirsti was watching an episode of Oprah. On it, they were dealing with people who had various phobias, and how it was possible that they had them because of "past life trauma." To Kirsti's credit, she only watched about ten minutes until she turned it off and said, "Okay, I can't take it anymore."

I was busy doing something else, but I heard enough of it to get me to think about it a bit. The one thing that Oprah kept saying about it was that one should be "open minded" about this sort of a thing - perhaps a trauma in a past life really is what was causing this otherwise unexplainable phobias.

Nuts to that crap. I'm going to declare right here and now that it's NOT good to be open minded to that sort of a thing. Your brain should shut like a steel trap and not let any of that hogwash get inside. Now, if there was actual, verifiable evidence that people even HAVE past lives in the first place, then I'd say it's time to open your mind a little. Otherwise, the very notion is stupid. I mean, just how open-minded should you be? Should we also consider that maybe certain phobias are the result of a leprechaun being up your butt? Why not? Why is that any crazier than past life trauma? There's about as much proof for leprechauns as there is for past lives. Come on now, you don't want to be closed-minded, do you?

The thing is, I know that I'm not the only one who thinks this way. It's about damned time that rational people (and yes, I'm both saying and implying that if you're open to the idea of past-life trauma, then you are irrational) started speaking up about these sorts of things.

Luckily, some people seem to be finally speaking out. Looks like Bill Maher has a movie coming out in a few months called Religulous. He's not just taking on the far-out silly things though - he's taking on the mother of all craziness - religion. And let's face it, religious belief is nutty. Imagine if when you were growing up, your parents told you all of the Bible stories in the same context as fairy tales. Do you really think that there'd be something about the stories of Noah, Moses, Jesus, etcetera that would make you go, "Hey, wait - these seem a little more logical and realistic than those other ones!" Of course you wouldn't.

The thing is, if it wasn't for the religious right sticking their noses in everybody's business in this country, then I don't think this sort of a movie would be necessary. (In all fairness, Muslim terrorism is also prompting a backlash against religion in general as well.) Are some people going to get offended? I sure hope so. Why should you get to say any crazy thing you want and then expect people to just shut up about it? If I told you that invisible aliens were the cause of diarrhea, you'd rightfully tell me that I'm a loon. Why should the religious be given all sorts of undue respect? Especially when their (okay - some of them) beliefs are subverting science education in this country?

This is a free society. You're free to believe whatever you want. I'm free to tell you that what you're saying is whack-a-doo. Here's hoping that Maher's movie does better than that travesty called Expelled. I predict that it will - mainly because religious people will get their shorts up in such a bunch about it that they'll draw all sorts of attention to it.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

I am a winner!

Kirsti and I just came back from a cruise to Catalina Island and Ensenada, Mexico. We had a good time, both on the ship and off. For those of you who have never been on a cruise before, there's plenty of entertainment for when you're on the ship (some of it cheesy - I could only handle about five minutes of the song/dance production where they did all these hokey renditions of rock songs).

One of the things that Kirsti and I took part in was a TV theme song contest. Honestly, I didn't expect to do very well at all. In fact, I expected Kirsti to completely wipe the floor with me, as she watches a bit more TV than I do. (I tend to prefer watching movies that I either own or rented on DVD.)

Lucky for me though, most of the songs were from classic shows like The Cosby Show and Cheers. There were twenty songs total, and I initially tied for first place with thirteen correct responses. (Kirsti - with the help of her dad, I should add - only got twelve.) So, there was a tiebreaker, and three more songs were played. They were the themes to The Greatest American Hero, Miami Vice, and Moonlighting. I got all three. My competition got bupkis.

What did I win? Check out the picture of me with the trophy below! Can't you tell how happy I am? It's made with real gold-color paint! Jealous? I'm sure that you are.

Oh, and Kirsti apparently won us a free cruise while playing Bingo. Whatever.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Is it liberal to seek the truth?

Over at the Raytractor's blog, there was a link and video clip for an upcoming Nova special called "The Bible's Buried Secrets". Apparently, the show is going to be having an objective look at the evidence for the stories in The Bible. And (gulp!) some of those stories might not be literally true! (Don't worry, the bit about losing your superhuman strength when you get a haircut is totally true though - maybe.) Here's the ad for the show:

Turns out, the American Family Association (never heard of them - I wonder how they feel about gay people...hmmm...could go either way on that one) has issued an "Action Alert!" Aside from simply calling up Batman on the batphone, they are encouraging their drones to forward an online petition, asking Congress to stop funding PBS because of the show. Apparently, it's anti-family to examine the Bible for its historical veracity. After all, who can forget such family-value minded gems like:

"If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters--yes, even his own life--he cannot be my disciple. " (Luke 14:26)

What I really find interesting about the whole thing is that the petition states that PBS is probably "the most liberal network in America". Now, what does this issue have to do with liberalism versus conservatism? I mean, if the documentary gets its facts wrong, then they should attack them on that. Somehow, I doubt that they can do that very successfully though. So, they use the word "liberal" the same way most people would use "baby eater" in order to quickly demolish the other side's point without actually examining what it is.

Of course, this isn't the first time that Nova has been accused of having a liberal bias. The last time that I know of was when they had their episode on the Intelligent Design trial in Dover. Now, Nova is a science show. Did they have a bias? Yes. Their bias was towards science. Being liberal has nothing to do with it.

I wrote some time ago on why I didn't like to identify myself as a liberal. What some conservatives seem to be doing here is stating that it's liberal (and therefore bad) to objectively look at scientific and historical facts. Is that what conservatives want? To be a conservative, is a prerequisite that you ignore reality? That you just accept that The Bible is the literal truth simply because that's what you've been told your whole life?

I would think that issues like this should transcend this "liberal versus conservative" debate. This is a question of facts - not bias. In all honesty, if there is some legitimate criticism of the show, and if it distorts the facts, then I would like to hear it. All I seem to hear are the same old arguments and crying foul against "liberal bias."

Reminds me of what Stephen Colbert said at the White House Press Dinner. "...reality has a well-known liberal bias." Now, I'm not so simple minded as to think that the liberal side always represents reality, but with issues like this, it certainly seems that way, doesn't it?

Side Note #1: Is it just me, or does Donald E. Wildmon, the Founder and Chairman of the AFA (his picture is in the upper-right hand corner) kinda look like Elmer Fudd?

Side Note #2: Does anybody else find something vaguely Ted Haggard/Larry Craigish about the headline on their front page: "McDonald's sponsers gay pride parade - photos included." If only the full headline read "McDonald's sponsers gay pride parade - photos included for your closeted arousal."

Side Note #3: This will be my last blog until at least Friday. I'm a goin' on a cruise!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Since when do you watch that?

A few years ago, I had some students (freshmen) try to tell me that The Nanny was a good show. I was so appalled by this that I immediately put on a gas mask, hit a button underneath my podium and watched as the door and all the windows sealed shut as a poisonous gas filled the room, putting them all out of their misery. One kid's final words were, "Why are you wearing that, Mr. Johnson? And why is my throat getting at scratchy?" I didn't feel very proud of myself for doing that, but it simply had to be done. We can't have a generation of young people who go around thinking that The Nanny was a good show. Of course, I had to deal with all the angry calls from parents. "Why is my son dead?" "You're a murderer!" Blah, blah blah. The principal said that she'd fire me the next time I did that, but that's what she said the last three times too.

To be fair, I don't think that I've ever watched an entire episode. I think that I've only seen a few minutes here and there. For the sake of this post, I did a YouTube search, and this is supposedly one of the funnier moments - so funny that somebody felt the need to upload it to YouTube:

My favorite part is the laugh track - that lets me know that it's funny.

If I'm going to be fair though, I recall when I was a kid watching shows like Diff'rent Strokes, Silver Spoons, etc. I remember my dad used to sometimes walk into the room and watch it for a few moments, and then he'd ask me and my sister, "What are you watching?" He'd say it in the same tone that somebody would ask, "Why do you have a beaver on your head?" We'd answer him, and then he'd look at us and ask, "Since when do you watch that?"

Can you believe that guy? What an idiot! Obviously, the man didn't know quality entertainment when he saw it. He must have lived his life in a cultural vacuum or something, because he sure didn't recognize high-art. I mean, check this out:

Pretty good stuff, huh? I bet you watched it a few times, right?

Ummm...okay, so maybe the shows that I watched when I was a kid were pretty crappy too.

What got me to thinking about this is that Kirsti had finished watching one of her shows that she had recorded the other day. The channel that the box was on was showing an old episode of Roseanne. Out of morbid curiosity, we watched about five minutes of it. That was about all that we could stand. I mean, this stuff was painful to watch. There was absolutely nothing funny about it. The acting was bad, the dialogue was lame - everything was just awful.

That reminded me of when my students were talking about The Nanny. I had told them that when they get older, they'll realize how bad it is. A couple of my students protested, insisting that their parents liked the show. Really? Adults? Watch that? Really? Unfortunately, this is probably all too true. After all, there were adults who watched the crappy shows that I did when I was a kid (not my parents, but some parents of my friends did). I don't think that they watched them out of a sense of irony either.

About a week ago, I turned on the TV to find Hannah Montana starring Achy Breaky Heart's daughter. Holy crap - that was some bad stuff. It's probably pretty safe to say that I have students who actually watch this stuff. The good news is, many of them will one day realize how bad all this stuff is. Some will not though, and they will continue to support crappy stuff that dumbs down our world.

You know, maybe I shouldn't have killed them. Well, not all of them, anyway.

The Complete Epic

Okay, here's my first, very rough, draft of my epic:

Stop the End - a tale of Eagle-Man by Lance Christian Johnson

It's got pretty much everything you'd want in a story - superheroes, two versions of Jesus, Greek gods, a Slavic forest witch, the Rapture, Armageddon, time travel, zombies, and angels having violences inflicted upon them.

I don't know when I'm going to get around to a second draft. Right now, I've started to write Eagle-Man's origin story. (The epic is potentially his final adventure - kinda hard to find a bigger threat than God.)

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Man Who

So, I finished writing the first draft of my epic today. I'm pretty pleased with myself, but I'm also zonked, and I don't feel like writing about what I had originally planned to write in this blog.

Instead, I will present a couple of videos that feature yours truly. A few years back, my friends and I got together and made a couple of videos. We used to make all sorts of stupid movies when we were teenagers, and we basically just wanted to do that, except we actually wanted to plan it out a bit and do some editing.

It was a real collaboration between all of us. (The first video there's four of us, the second one has the original four plus a couple of extras who helped out as well). We all took part in the writing, acting, editing, and music selection process. (Some moreso than others in certain areas.)

What we have is something that a lot of people find to be really funny (especially us), but many others just sit there with a blank look on their face, not quite realizing that it's supposed to be funny. I once solicited some opinions from a message board that I frequent, and basically nobody on it got it at all. So, if you know me in person, then you're more likely to find them funny. If I'm only a cyber-friend, you might start to think that you've been chatting it up with a crazy person all this time. Anyway, it's all in good fun. We had a good time making it, and be forwarned - potty-mouthed language shall ensue (mostly by me, oddly enough).

The Man Who

The Man Who Two - The Man Who Spanks Fruit

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Cloning Fido

I've been discussing the use of curse words with a few people on some other blogs lately, and even though my "cuss-o-meter" is high, I think that my language has been pretty clean lately. With that in mind, there is no way I can write about this and not let an f-bomb or two fly. You were warned.

I just read in the paper that an American has paid a Korean company $50,000 to have her dog cloned (five times, I believe it was). To her, I have this to say: Fuck you, you fucking selfish asshole fuck. (Okay, they're all out of my system now.)

Oh, I'm sorry, am I being insensitive? I don't think so, and here's the reason why:

Just last year, my cat, Tyson, died. She was eighteen years old. When I first got her, I was in high school. She was just a little thing - not quite a kitten, but not quite full grown either. She never did get really big though. She was polydactyl, and she had two extra toes on each foot, giving her a somewhat funky appearance.

When Kirsti and I bought our first house, we took Tyson in with us. So, she was solely my cat for several years before she had to be put down. I loved this cat. She was a big part of my life for nearly half of it. She was my pal, and she was a better friend to me than most people could ever be. She also had her own distinct personality, and she was genuinely sweet. You couldn't upset her enough to get her to claw or bite at you with any sort of force. She also liked to talk - a lot.

I went through some pretty serious depression after she died. While that wasn't the only thing that was getting me down, it was the "straw that broke the camel's back" for me, and I wound up seeing a therapist to deal with all of these feelings. (I'm much better now, thank you!) In all honesty, I still miss her. Even writing about her right now is practically choking me up a little.

And with all that, even at the height of my feeling of loss, there is no way that I would have cloned her. Even for free. Even if I had a guarantee that her personality would be exactly the same and that she would live as long as the original one. No way, no chance would I do that.

Right now, I have another cat, Oliver. I've written about him before and the struggle with getting him to get along with the dog. (They actually snuggle up to one another in a blasphemous display of same-sex, interspecies, neutered affection.) He is absolutely nothing like Tyson, but I love this guy just as much. If I had cloned her, then I would have never had the opportunity to know this guy, and who knows what would have happened to him? He was listed as being five years old - how many people are looking for adult cats at the shelter? (I don't know, maybe there are a lot, but I'd imagine that the kittens get scooped up much faster.) When Oliver's time comes, I won't want to clone him either.

You know, if there was a shortage of animals out there, then I guess I could see why you'd want to clone your pets. The fact is that thousands have to be put down because the population far exceeds the demand. (And yeah, if you don't fix your pets and you let them roam the neighborhood - you're an asshole. Whoops! Let another curse slip out!)

While it may very well be true that it's your right to clone your pets, that doesn't make you not selfish for doing so. I understand how much it hurts to lose a beloved pet. Tyson wasn't the first, and she certainly won't be the last for me. They become like family. But you know what? There are a lot of other cats, dogs, rabbits, etc. who need a family too. And you'll love them just as much.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

My world view has been destroyed

Ya know, I've never posted a rant about the absolute uselessness of Paris Hilton before. People who know me have heard it, but I didn't want to be one more person writing about how she sucks the life out of the collective unconscious (to paraphrase Bill Hicks). Besides, discussing her, even on my humble little blog, only feeds the beast.

But now she's done something that I've actually found to be amusing. My mind is spinning...look, up there - in the clouds! It's the Horsemen of the Apocalypse!

If the video below doesn't work, use this link.

See more funny videos at Funny or Die

On a side note, I have argued with my friends over whether she was attractive or not. Two of my friends insisted that she was. I, however, said that she did absolutely nothing for me. I guess for me, stupid is a total turn-off. That's why Jessica Simpson doesn't do anything for me either. I mean, I look at her and everything seems to be in place, and part of me says that I'm supposed to find her attractive - but there's just nothing, nada.

Anyway, this was the first time I found Paris Hilton to be even remotely attractive. Maybe she's not a total dim-bulb. I mean, I'm sure that somebody wrote all of that for her, but she delivers it with the right amount of conviction, and she was smart enough to do it.

Once again, I am wrong about something.

EDIT: Just read the "behind the scenes" article at Funny Or Die - turns out she memorized her lines. No cue cards necessary.

Let's start an epidemic!

I wrote some time ago about my mixed feelings regarding people who decide to pray when their children are sick rather than take them to the doctor. While I feel that what they do is basically akin to child abuse, I don't know if the answer is for the government to intervene. Anyway, I've been discussing an issue with my wife lately that I feel is related to that sort of a thing.

Apparently, there are a lot of people who are saying that there's a link between autism and vaccines. Who are these people? Not the majority of doctors in the medical profession. Not the American Academy of Pediatrics. Not the FDA. And yet, celebrities like Jenny McCarthy go on TV and talk about it as though there is some credible proof of a connection.

What proof do these people offer? Their children are autistic, and their children had vaccinations. They also say that their kids had no signs until they received the Measles/Mumps/Rubella vaccine - even though the sings usually don't show up until about the age where a child would receive that vaccine in the first place. Also, never mind the fact that the vast majority of people who get the vaccine (raise your hand if you've been vaccinated and you're not autistic!) don't have autism. And of course, never mind the fact that the research into the connection has been inconclusive at best.

So, what's the harm then? People won't get their children vaccinated. Surely nothing bad can happen from that, right? I mean, you don't want to take a chance and have an autistic child, do you?

Oh yeah, I just remembered - VACCINES SAVE LIVES!!! Ever wonder why you don't know anybody who died of the measles, the mumps, rubella, etc? (Okay, maybe there's somebody out there who has, but generally speaking, most people my age have never even met a person with any of those diseases.) The thing is, we're not talking about chicken pox here. These are life-threatening illnesses. (Although I suppose that even that is potentially life-threatening.) There are people around the world who wish that they could have given a vaccine to their child who died of one of these diseases. (I just read a story in my local paper about all the kids who still die of the measles in this world.)

The thing is, you do a little bit of online research and you'll find all sorts of information about this. I checked out YouTube, and there are all sorts of videos on this topic. Some of them have people saying that there is no proof that vaccinations have stopped all of these diseases. No proof? Are you freakin' kidding me? What, did they all go away by magic? Did everybody just pray really hard? Did Apollo stop shooting his infectious arrows at the Greek armies? (That's an Iliad reference, boys and girls.)

I've written about this before, but I think that this is one more symptom of a larger problem that we have in this country. People act like everybody's opinion carries equal weight. A celebrity with an autistic child has the same credibility as a scientist who has done actual research on the issue.

What's it going to take for people to wake up? This is a potential health-risk that we're talking about here. Again, I'm skeptical about government intervention, but don't you think that the government is going to do something if an epidemic breaks out?

It's bad enough if a person chooses to not have their kids receive medical attention because one child dies. But not vaccinating your child doesn't just endanger him or her - it's putting others at risk. Do these opponents of vaccinations even think about the possible consequences of what they're suggesting? Will stupidity be the death of us all?

And for the record, I link this kind of foolishness with the same sort of foolishness that has people believing that Intelligent Design is science. Sure, this is potentially deadly, but they're both signs of the general level of scientific illiteracy in this country that should send shivers down your spine.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Religions and cults

So, what exactly is the difference between a cult and a religion? Now, I bet you guys are expecting me to say that there essentially is no difference. They both subscribe to irrational belief systems that aren't based on any kind of evidence.

Well, if that's what you were thinking, you'd be thinking incorrectly.

I've been mulling this one in my mind for some time now. It all started when I finally realized what the difference was.

The whole thing started when I had my seniors do a "cultural excursion" project. The point of the project is to go out and do something that broadens their horizons a bit. So, they can go to art museums and things like that. Also, I encourage them to attend a religious service. However, they have to go to one that is not their own.

Last year's seniors had some pretty good entries. One girl, who was raised Catholic, went and spent a lot of time with the Mormons. She didn't just go to one service either. She actually spent time in their morning study groups. She wound up giving a really great presentation, and her paper was nicely done as well. It was a rare instance of me giving 100 percent on an assignment. There was one other one though. Another girl, who was raised Syrian Orthodox, went to a Synagogue. She just went for one service, but she came back with a lot to tell, and she also spent some time just talking to the rabbi and members of the synogogue.

In both instances, my students found the people to be very open about their beliefs and practices. Now, I'm aware that there is a lot of stuff about Mormonism that they don't like to tell you right away (like magic underwear and getting your own planet after you die), but my student found them to be very open and forthcoming with their views.

What woke me up to the difference is when another student went to check out the Scientologists. Now, I have a whole story about them that I should probably post some time, but I'll save that for later. He went to their offices in Berkeley, and he tried to find out what their beliefs were. Instead of getting answers, he was just told over and over again by the followers as to how much better their lives were once they got involved with the church. He also got a DVD and some brochures - neither of which was very forthcoming as to exactly what it is that they believe.

Now, you can find out exactly what it is that they do believe by doing a little online research. Still - why so secretive?

Personally, I don't have much use for religion. However, if we're going to be fair, there's a big difference between the types of religious beliefs that the average person has and the brainwashing that goes on with groups like the Scientologists.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Themes, James Bond Themes

With the announcement that Jack White and Alicia Keys are going to be doing the next James Bond theme, Kirsti and I decided to listen to and evaluate all 21 existing themes while coming back from my dad's house (it's a 3+ hour drive).

My introduction to James Bond came when Duran Duran did the song for A View to a Kill. As I've written in a past entry, I was a big fan of the band when I was a kid, so when I heard the song, I wanted to check out what this movie was all about. I remember liking it, even though I've since read that it's considered to be one of the weaker entries in the series. (I own about half of the movies, and the other half are on my Netflix queue.) For the longest time, that song had set the standard for what a Bond theme should be. Of course, now I know better, but it still ranks up there as a pretty good one. So, here are our conclusions. (Well, they're mostly mine, but I'll add in the comments that Kirsti had when and if I remember them.)

First off, let's start with the ones that we didn't really count.

The 007 Theme from Dr. No - Great song, but it's since been used in all of the films, so there isn't really anything specific to that movie about it.

"On Her Majesty's Secret Service" - It's an instrumental as well. It's good, but that alone makes it seem strange to compare it to the others.

Okay, next up are the ones that were too blah to really make an impression: "Moonraker" by Shirley Bassey and "Octopussy" by Rita Coolidge. I don't even remember how either one of those goes. Strictly blahsville.

The absolute worst: "Die Another Day" by Madonna. One, it seems more like something you'd hear in a club than something that belongs before a Bond film. Kirsti and I agreed on this point, but I also think that it just simply isn't very good - period. Coming up a close second-worst is "For Your Eyes Only" by Sheena Easton. What a bunch of shmaltzy, drippy, maudlin crap.

Good song, bad singer: "Tomorrow Never Dies" by Sheryl Crow. It's actually a pretty good song, and it would have been good if somebody like Shirley Bassey or Tom Jones sang it. The main problem is that Crow simply doesn't have a very good voice, and she definitely can't pull of a tune like this. Also, "The Man with the Golden Gun" by Lulu has the same problem.

Not bad, but not particularly good either: "Diamonds are Forever" by Shirley Bassey and "From Russia with Love" by Matt Munroe. They're perfectly serviceable, but they don't do anything special either.

Good stuff: "A View to a Kill" by Duran Duran, "The Living Daylights" by Ah Ha, "Goldeneye" by Tina Turner, "The Spy Who Loved Me" by Carly Simon, and Live and Let Die by Paul McCartney. Generally speaking, all of these songs are a bit over-the-top and get you pumped for an action movie. Obviously, Carly Simon's entry doesn't fit that criteria, but if you pay attention to the bittersweet lyrics, it sounds like something that one of Bond's many loved-and-left lovers might sing. Kirsti also pointed out that every good Bond song seems to have two things: strings and a horn section. That certainly seems to be true, although Duran Duran and Ah Ha might be cheating a bit with the synthesizers. (I'm not going to re-listen to them right now to find out for sure.)

The disagreements: Kirsti liked Garbage's "The World is not Enough" while I thought it was instantly forgetable. I really dig Nancy Sinatra's "You Only Live Twice", although I don't think it belongs up there with the best ones, as it doesn't quite seem to fit the mold. Kirsti didn't dislike it, but she said that it had "no build." Also, we disagreed on "Thunderball" by my number one man-crush of all time: Tom Jones. I'd say it's the second-best Bond theme of all time. Kirsti thinks that the melody of the lyrics isn't very memorable. I think this is one of those differences between men and women though, because whenever I think of that song, I instantly think of the BAH-duh-bah-duh-BUH-BUH. Due to this obviously irreconcilable disagreement, I have filed for divorce. Also, while I don't love it, I thought that "License to Kill" by Gladys Knight had its good moments.

The absolute best: We disagreed on this one, but we both thought that the other's choice was amongst the very best. For me, it's "Goldfinger" by Shirley Bassey. That one simply set the standard for all Bond themes to come, and all of the better ones are aping that style. If Jack White (who's going to write the new song) has any sense (which he seems to when it comes to music anyway) he's going to do just that. For Kirsti, it was "You Know my Name" by Chris Cornell from Casino Royale. We both think that one has everything you want in a bond theme. It's over-the-top, it pumps you up for an action movie, the lyrics fit the mood of the movie, and Cornell's vocals clobber you over the head the same way Bassey did with "Goldfinger" and Jones did with "Thunderball."