Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Don't bring it up then

I have made a decision regarding my blog. While much of the time I write about things that don't inspire much debate, I sometimes write about things where people might feel the need to disagree with me. What's worse, they comment and post their disagreements. I've decided that I can't have that anymore. After all, I have freedom of speech, and people shouldn't be allowed to comment on what I have to say. Therefore, I will no longer allow comments on my blog.

Ha! Okay, what I just said there was totally ridiculous. Honestly, I don't really have a whole lot of people debating me on my blog, although it's been known to happen. While I suppose it is my prerogative to stop posting comments, I would never dream of doing it. After all, I stand by what I write, and I welcome disagreements. Shoot, I've even been known to ammend my opinion on things (like circumcision - I was pretty deadfast against it, but I developed a more nuanced opinion about it after getting into a debate about it), which I personally see as a good thing.

What prompted my little joke at the start of this entry was something that has come up lately, and frankly has always bothered me. I can't stand it when somebody brings something up and then tells you that they don't want to talk about it. I suppose that most people would find this to be only a minor annoyance, but to me it's aggravating as hell. In fact, I once had a family member bring up a subject a few years ago on which I had a strong opinion (and I also had, like, facts, to support it) and then proceed to tell me not to say anything about it. For me, that's maddening. I mean, if you don't want me to bring something up, I suppose that I can handle that (with some resistence) but if you don't want to hear what I have to say on a given issue, then don't start talking about the subject!

This came up a little bit more recently with a family member (in-law of an in-law) on Facebook, where he would post all sorts of ultra-right wing buffoonery and then I would respond to it. Then, he'd get all bent out of shape, citing his right to believe what he wants. The thing that I couldn't seem to drill in his head was that he was posting to a public forum, and in a public forum he does indeed have the right to express himself, but then I have the right to express myself right back at him. Ultimately, he tried to have some sort of a truce where neither one of us would be allowed to comment on one another's postings. To hell with that!

The thing is, I don't care if somebody wants to try and contradict what I have to say. The worst thing that will happen is that I'll change my mind, which could very well be a good thing! So, I told him that my only precondition was that we were to have no preconditions. He didn't go for it and proceeded to drop me from his friends list. Oh darn. In all honesty, I'm neither upset nor happy. I simply don't care.

Now, I hate to generalize here, but this is something that I tend to notice more and more from people who are supposed "conservatives". A friend of mine told me last night of a friend of hers who actually stated that she wanted to be able to just say her piece on a given topic and then not have it turn into a debate. In other words, "I can say whatever I want, but you don't get to say squat." I have certain in-laws (no, not my mother and father in-laws - they're not like that at all) who will do the same thing - bring up a subject but then end it when people say things that they don't like. Lastly, I can't help but recall the Rappin' Jesus guy at the Prop 8 protest, where his friends actively told him to not try and debate with me.

I suppose that there might be more liberally-minded people who are the same way and the only reason that I don't notice it from them is because I already tend to agree, so this issue never comes up. Hey, if there are any of you conservatives out there who do indeed like to debate, and you have an anecdote about a liberal who behaves this way, please post it in the comments section.

To me, it shows a weak mind, and an insecurity in one's point of view to not be able to handle other people commenting on what you have to say. Don't get me wrong. I realize that sometimes when an argument just keeps going on and on in circles, eventually somebody has to say, "You know what? Maybe we just need to drop this because it's not going anywhere." And I'll be the first to admit that I'm usually the last person to do that. This, however, is not what I'm talking about.

Remember, you have the freedom to speak bullshit, and I have the freedom to call it bullshit.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Something more...

A common statement that I hear from theists who want to convince me to see the validity of their beliefs is, "There must be something more than just this life!"

How sad for them.

Let's forget about the notion that just because you can't understand how something can not be true, that doesn't make it true. I mean, "There must be something more!" is hardly an argument. After all, there HAS to be a good movie with the Fantastic Four - one of the greatest superhero concepts ever. But guess what? After watching about fifteen minutes of Rise of the Silver Surfer, I realized that there simply wasn't one.

Anyway, my point is this - why does there have to be something more? Ever see the Grand Canyon? 35 million years of erosion to create a sight like that. How about the Great Pyramids - a testament to the ingenuity of the human race. I was lucky enough to see both of them - and the memory of both will never leave me.

Okay, so what if you don't have any world-famous natural or man-made wonders near you?

Well, I'm about to go on a walk with my dog, Argos. I went out yesterday, and it looks like today is going to be as nice of a day as yesterday was. It's sunny, not too warm, and everything is green. My dog walks along my side, repeating a tradition that goes back thousands of years - perhaps a distant Gothic ancestor of mine had one of his ancestors as a cattle dog. And if you go back far enough - far, far, farrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr back, my ancestor is his ancestor. Yeah, that's the kind of stuff that goes through my mind when I'm walking him. Of course, I shouldn't forget to mention the wonders of modern technology, where a tiny device can bring the music of Metallica, John Coltrane or Beethoven along with me. (Yes, I actually have all of them on my MP3 player - I'm just so darned eclectic that I bet you're totally jealous.)

Of course, there's more. I'd be a fool if I didn't mention my wife, who reminds me that there must be something good about me if somebody as selfless and caring as her loves me. My cat's also good at keeping me company when I watch a movie like The Shawshank Redemption that reminds me that no matter how lousy life can get, there's always a way out of the misery. Of course, I'll try to overlook the fact that his saber-toothed ancestors no doubt used to eat my pre-historic hominid ancestors.

This life is pretty amazing, when you think about it. Perhaps there's something more after it, but I'm not going to be disappointed if there isn't.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

What's wrong with being delusional?

I was browsing some videos on YouTube when I came across this particular file featuring Richard Dawkins talking about his book The God Delusion. While I suppose that I can see why so many theists get all worked up over this guy, I still think that much of his bad rap is undeserved. I seem to recall that there's a South Park episode that made fun of him where the point essentially was that he acted like a jerk. While I can maybe see that with some outspoken atheists, like Christopher Hitchens, for instance, I think that this guy comes across as very far from being a jerk. At worst, he says what's on his mind, and that's often not what people want to hear. However, his language is never caustic or flippant. It's just direct and honest. Unfortunately, people don't always like honest answers.

Anyway, obviously the title of his book would upset some people. Nobody wants to be told that what they believe is a delusion. After all, the implication is that there's something wrong with you if you have a delusion. And people will insist that they KNOW that they're not delusional.

I always wonder about that. How do you know that you're not delusional? I mean, isn't the definition of a delusion something that isn't real but seems as though it is? I don't know why it's such a bad thing to at least consider that you might be suffering from delusions. I admit that I might be. I mean, I don't think that I am - but how would I know if I was?

So anyway, this fella tries to get Dawkins to respond to what, to him, proves the existence of God. Of course, the guy is talking about Da Jeebus, and not Vishnu, Odin, Zeus, or Huitzilopochtli. He insists that he's "walked with God" and "assures" Dawkins that it's been "no delusion". Here, check it out:

Dawkins gives a pretty good answer, I think. After all, if this is what we're to accept as our standard of proof, then we not only have to believe in every god that has ever existed (except Heimdall - c'mon, screw that guy and his horn) but we have to believe every account of alien abductions, ghost visitations, fairy encounters, etcetera. People talk about these things with the exact same conviction as this guy talks about Jesus. They KNOW that what they experienced was real. There is not a doubt in their mind that they're not hallucinating. (Personally, anybody who never doubts themselves scares me. Since when is absolute certainty a virtue?)

There were a couple of things that I found interesting about this. First of all, the guy said that Dawkins didn't address his point. Dawkins did in fact address it. The problem is, the guy didn't get it. His world view is so small, and he starts with the assumption that he's right. After all, he's not talking about all those fake gods - he's talking about the real one! I'm sure that some people would accuse Dawkins of doing the same thing, but his response is one of logic and reason. He's obviously been asked this question before, and his response is correct. Had the guy been born in another place and another time, he would have the same certainty about a completely different god. However, that's an idea that this guy can't even stop to consider. After all, so much of his world view rests on absolute certainty. To even consider what Dawkins said would potentially pull out the bottom of his house of cards.

The second thing that I found interesting is that if you search for it on YouTube, the person who posted it described the way Dawkins answered the question as being "cruel". Why is he being cruel? What is he supposed to say to the guy? "Oh yes, everybody is hallucinating but you." Of course, nobody wants to be told that they're hallucinating - but what if you ARE hallucinating? Should people not tell you so because it's rude?

Now, I don't think that people should go around on the street, walk up to theists and say, "Hey, you're hallucinating." That would be counter-productive. However, this guy came to a presentation that Dawkins was doing. The topic, no doubt, was known beforehand. The guy asked a question. It's a shame that he probably didn't like the answer, and many Christians watching won't like to watch it either.

That, to me, seems to be the ultimate difference between the theist and atheist. The theist uses personal feelings and experiences to determine reality. The atheist knows that what you feel doesn't matter - at least, it doesn't matter when it comes to determining what reality. As an atheist, I don't even necessarily scoff at the notion of somebody feeling God's presence. Perhaps that makes me a bit of a existentialist (assuming that I understand the concept - which I may very well may not be) but if somebody feels God's presence in their life, then that is a very real and valuable thing. No, it doesn't make God real - but the experience is real. That's why I wouldn't put somebody down for having an experience. It's just when they use that as a reason for me to believe - or as a logical argument as to why anybody should believe.

I suppose that it's hard to have an experience and just leave it at that. Personally, I think that I can do it. As I once wrote before, when I was a little kid in the hospital, my mom told me that Jesus was there for me, looking out over me. I truly felt his presence there with me. Now that I look back at it, I know that there wasn't really any god/spirit/zombie carpenter in there with me. And like Dawkins points out, had I been raised in India, I might have felt that Ganesha was there watching out for me. But it doesn't matter. The experience was real, and it made me feel better. Is that the only sort of a thing that can make one feel better? Of course not.

So, I was delusional - and what's wrong with that?

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Booty

I did pretty well, yet again, this Christmas. Despite the fact that my wife's family was doing a "Secret Santa" thing, where everybody was only to get gifts for one person, I still wound up with a bit extra. My in-laws cheated a bit, and my wife got me something as well. I only got stuff for the person whom I was supposed to shop for. Why? Mainly because I'm a greedy bastard who only cares about myself. Well, I do plan on getting something for wifey, but I told her that it would be a bit late, as first I wanted to see what her Secret Santa was getting her from her list. She's understanding that way. (Why didn't I just ask her Secret Santa? 'Cause it's a secret! Pay attention!")

So, I wound up with $130 in gift cards for MoreBeer, the homebrew shop that I go to in Concord. I'm not planning on buying anything big, as I already forked over a pretty big investment earlier this month. I'm just going to use that money for my usual expenses there. (What beer will I make next? I'm debating between an American Wheat and an American Ale.)

My sister-in-law was my Secret Santa, and she's pretty good at scoping out the gifts for me. (I should point out that she bought me my first book on homebrewing, which led me into the hobby. My wife and I frequently joke that it's all her fault!) She got me $50 in gift cards and a couple of nice beer glasses. One's a tall mug for my 22 oz. beers; the other is a tall Hefeweizen glass:

She also got me a cool book by Michael Jackson (the recently departed beer expert, not the singer/dancer/child molester). Although I already have one of his books, this one covers a lot of different ground than the one that I already have.

What's cool, and stirs my feelings of patriotism, is that the country that he seems to be the most enthusiastic about is the U.S.A. Of course, there are writeups about the beers of Germany, Belgium, and England that makes you want to hop on a plane A.S.A.P., but the U.S. definitely gets its due. Of course, some mention has to be made that our most popular beers are pretty blah. Here's a quick excerpt:

"Today, neither European brewers nor most drinkers on either side of the Atlantic have yet grasped that tomorrow's most exciting styles of beers will be American in conception. At first glance, this seems unlikely. The great Czech brewing cities of Plzen and Budweis may wonder just how thinly their names can be stretched in the U.S. When will the "line extensions" reach breaking point? LightBeer; Dry Beer; Ice Beer; Clear Beer; Low-carb Beer. Each of these contrivances is an apology that says: 'Our beer is too heavy, too sweet, too dark...'"

I agree with this viewpoint. In my experience, I've gotten a lot of friends and family members to try some beers that are a little more adventurous than the standard Bud. Of course, there are some who will always prefer their beer to be as un-beerish as possible, but I've had more than a few reactions of pleasant surprise. I think that there are a lot of people out there who would really like craft beer if only they were exposed to it. As the guy who writes the beer column in my local paper likes to point out - think of you store's bread aisle. Do you even picture Wonder Bread being a major part of it anymore? Probably not. Generally speaking, Americans are demanding fuller flavors and more exciting tastes. Beer might be lagging behind, but it's definitely starting to get into the race.

Shoot, if Concord has a good brewpub that serves not just solid local brews, but a nice variety of Belgian imports, you know we've gotta be heading in the right direction.

So, go U.S.A! And thanks, Bre, for the book!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Hard to believe

I was recently asked if the reason why I don't believe in God (referring to Jesus, not Heimdall) is because of the fact that I know so much about other religions and belief systems. That's a pretty good question, and it certainly makes me wonder.

I responded that it was part of the reason why, but I actually know some Christians who know as much, if not more, than I do about other belief systems. (In all honesty, I don't even feel as though I know all that much - but if you know just a little something, you know more than most people.) Lately though, as I've been reading a Gore Vidal book on the apostate emperor Julian, this question is popping up in my head quite a bit more.

For those of you who don't know, back when the Roman Empire was embracing Christianity after the reign of Constantine, there was quite a bit more than the expected token resistence. In fact, the Emperor Julian tried to get Rome back to the old Greek/Roman pantheon. I'm not very far into the book, but I've learned a few things. For one, I've learned about Mithras, who's yet another pagan God who predates Jesus but seems to have done a lot of the same stuff that Jesus did. The other thing, which is far more surprising, is that the prevailing thought in the beginning of Roman Christianity was to deny the concept of the Trinity. Ultimately, and I don't know when, Roman Catholicism stressed that Jesus and God were one and the same, but Julian's Christian upbringing taught him that they were "similar" and most definitely not the same. (If only The Bible was a little bit more clear about important issues, a lot of early Christians wouldn't have had to die, eh?)

So, this gets me to thinking - what am I to make of all this? I suppose it's true that I have a hard time swallowing the whole Jesus story when I know of older religions from which it seems to have borrowed How am I to take a step backward and suddenly start believing that Jesus is real but Horus, Mithras, and Dionysus are not? I suppose that I could always go with the whole notion that those stories were created by Satan to sew the seeds of doubt. I suppose that I could also wear a hat made out of aluminum foil so space aliens don't probe my butt. Seems like a pretty intellectually bankrupt way to look at things though, doesn't it?

And of course, there's other stuff - like the notion that God had a "chosen" people and allowed various mythologies to spring up throughout the world but only informed one particular group of people what the truth was for thousands of years. That's a pretty hard thing to swallow.

So yeah, my knowledge of religions and mythologies is why I can't believe in the divinity of Jesus. It's not the reason why I don't believe in any sort of a god, even in a deist sort of way though.

But I have to wonder about those Christians out there who have some knowledge of other religious beliefs and Jesus-like myths that predate Jesus. How are they able to reconcile those two seemingly contradicting ideas? I'd genuinely like to know why any of you knowledgeable Christians out there have come to a different conclusion.

Of Dolphins and Macarenas

So, just where the heck have I been lately? Why no new entries?

I've been out of town. A cruise to Cabo, to be more specific. This was actually my second cruise this year. Kirsti won one playing Bingo on the last one, so here we were again on another Carnival Cruise Line.

I definitely had a good time, but I feel quite satiated when it comes to the whole cruising experience. To me, the best part of this one was when we got off the boat and went to Cabo - just as the best part of the last one was when we went to Catalina Island and Ensenada. Probably my biggest complaint was that we didn't have a lot of time to spend there, as we only got to do one thing and then walk around a bit until it was time to get back on the ship. (A few people didn't make it back to the ship! From what I heard, it was a couple of boys - ages unknown - and their father had to go back out to Cabo while the cruise ship left without all of them! Sucks to be them!)

Of course, even if everything else was a complete disaster, I wouldn't have traded anything for the best experience I've had in a long time - the Dolphin Swim in Cabo. Yup, that's me up there, feeding a sardine to a dolphin. (The pose was the trainer's idea.) The whole experience lasts only about a half hour, and you're with about seven or eight other people. Still, in that time you get to touch the dolphin, feed him, have him take you for a ride, and "dance" with him. When we saw the brochure for this activity, there was simply no way that I wasn't going to do it. Unfortunately, Kirsti didn't bring her swimsuit, so she could only watch. (Don't feel too bad for her though; she's going on yet another cruise - eight days - and there are dolphin-related activities where she'll be going.)

So, that was awesome, and walking around Cabo was fun. I even went to Cabo Wabo for the sole reason that Sammy Hagar owns it. Luckily, they serve some damn good food there, as the burrito that I had was really something else. It had an awesome sauce on it and the chicken was so tender that I probably could have eaten it plain and unseasoned and still enjoyed it. We also stopped off at another restaurant where I probably had the best margarita of my life.

As for the boat itself, I feel like I got my fill of all that when I went on the first cruise. Honestly, I get a bit of cabin fever, and since I'm not into gambling or socializing with strangers, there isn't much for me to do other than the occasional trivia game and food buffet. I spent a lot of our cruise day reading, which isn't really so bad of a thing. It was relaxing, and all the distractions of home were far behind me. Of course, I should also point out that I got to spend some quality time with wifey, and that can never be bad.

Ultimately though, I think that cruising is definitely something that's more for people with extroverted personalities. I was able to muster up a little bit of small talk with the people who sat at our table, but I'm not the kind of person who wants to go around meeting a lot of people.

Oh, and I should probably embarass myself enough to say that I had a very "me" moment, as I doubt that any other person on Earth could relate to this - but everybody who knows me won't find it too surprising. One night in the dining room after desert had been served, a fella got on the microphone and said that it was "showtime." I remember the last cruise where all the waiters had to put on a little dance routine for everybody, and then they'd get people to come up and dance with them.

Personally, I absolutely hate this sort of a thing. I don't mind dancing, but dammit, if I'm going to do it, then it has to be my decision. (Believe it or not, I'm not a good dancer, but when I'm in the mood I don't let that stop me.) I managed to luck out, but you'd see them go up to people who'd say no at first, and then they'd take them by the hand and convince them to get up anyway. People have tried this tactic with me, and it doesn't work. I don't know what it is, but it starts to become a matter of pride with me. If I say no to something, then that's what I meant. I never mean, "No, but you just might convince me if you keep trying." Is that cutting off my nose to spite my face? Perhaps, but that's my gut-reaction.

So, I immediately started to get nervous when they announced this. I didn't even want to be in the position where I'd have to say no in the first place. (Anybody who's ever read my Eagle-Man stories - you know how he's always anticipating things that MIGHT happen and then starts to stress out about them? He does that because I do that.) And then, a familiar tune started up and the guy announced, "I'm sure that you all know how to do the Macarena, right?"

Oh, hell no. There is no way I'm doing the Macarena. I'll take a Shadrach-like stance and go into the fire before I do that moronic dance.

So, this sent me into "fight or flight" mode, and I quickly turned to Kirsti and said, "I've got to go. Right now. I gotta go." I then briskly walked out - somewhat rudely as I didn't say anything to the people at our table. What was I gonna say? "Sorry, but I hate the Macarena so much that I have to leave." Of course, that would be the truth, and now that I think about it...that's probably what I should have done.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Happy belated birthday, Pop

I goofed up last night and forgot to call my dad to wish him a happy birthday. I got on the ball tonight though, and I gave him a call. I also told him to check out my blog either late tonight or tomorrow, because I planned on writing a little something about him.

My dad and I are a lot alike. No, he didn't get me into comics. He also didn't infuse me with an appreciation for Shakespeare. Nope, he's not an atheist (although he is to blame for me becoming one - more on that later). And no, I didn't inherit my non-interest in sports from him. (He was never a big fan, but he did watch a bit more than I ever do. When I was a little kid, I was into football for about two years, and he was the one who got me into it. It just didn't stick though.)

The thing that I got most from him is that I don't take a whole lot of stuff very seriously. Pretty much every occasion is an opportunity for a joke or ridiculing something that we find to be ridiculous. You should have seen the two of us when we toured the Mormon Tabernacle when I was a teenager. We kept whispering to each other, "When are they going to tell us about how we can get our own planet?" My sense of humor isn't exactly the same. I tend to be more ironic and more of a fan of wordplay. However, the notion that every situation is an opportunity for a joke is one that I definitely get from him.

Something else that I get from him is a sense of responsibility. I'm trying to think of something specific, but I'm at a bit of a loss. For some reason though, I feel as though that if I shirk my responsibilities, I'd be letting him down. I think it's just because he always had high expectations of me. As a teacher, I often think back on what my parents did right in order to get me to do all of my work. I know that my dad wasn't any kind of a star student when he was a kid, and I really don't remember him ever really having a talk with me about how I needed to do well in school. It was always just understood that I was to do well. My mom certainly backed that up, but the driving force behind all this came from him. One thing that I do remember is when I pointed out how he didn't do well in school, he replied with, "I don't measure you with the same yardstick that I measure myself."

Another, character-defining thing that he's to thank (or blame) for is my somewhat bullheaded noncomformity. When he would tell me stories about the army, the moral always seemed to be, "Don't join the army." I know that he's enough like me that he no doubt couldn't stand wearing a uniform and doing the same thing that everybody else did. He could also never be the type to join any kind of an organized religion. A story that he likes to share is when he told a guy who was trying to get him to join the church that he owned a boat but wasn't in the yacht club - basically his point being was that he believed in God, but he didn't feel the need to join a group of other people who did.

I also remember my dad encouraging me to think for myself. I even remember him saying that he'd prefer it if I disagreed with everything he said so long as my thoughts were my own. Ultimately, I think that's why I headed down the path that I did. It's funny, because even though he still believes in God, we don't seem to argue much even when I'm being very critical of Christianity.

I guess he likes the fact that I'm not just regurgitating the stuff that he told me.

Monday, December 15, 2008

My existence threatens you

Recently in my local paper, letter writers have been criticizing those who have been protesting the passing of Proposition 8.  The funny thing about some of these letters is that they're acting like they're the ones who are being oppressed.  Of course, I'm talking about those who are arguing it from a religious point of view.  They complain about how people are being "intolerant" of their religious views.

I've been noticing lately that a lot of Christians like to play the martyr role nowadays.  You'd think that they were still being fed to the lions or something.  Now, I'll actually give it to them that in certain circles, there's almost a public acceptance of mocking Christianity in a way that mocking Islam, Buddhism, etc. would not be seen as okay.  They have a right to point out that sort of a thing, but then there are those who take it too far like with the whole "War on Christmas," as though somebody saying "Happy Holidays" is oppressing them.

But what really gets me are these religious types who think that they can say whatever they want about gay people (or any other group that doesn't fall into line with their belief system - including atheists like myself sometimes).  They spew their ignorance and then act like they're the ones being bullied when people like myself tell them how full of crap they are.  In other words, they demand a level of respect for their beliefs that they are unwilling to give to anybody else.  After all, they're right - they believe in the true religion.  It's okay for them to limit the rights of a certain group of people, but don't you dare tell them that they're bigots - even though that's true.

I wonder if I make the same mistake though.  Obviously, I am critical of religious beliefs on this blog.  I can also be a very vocal critic as well.  However, do I demand that people not criticize atheism around me?  I'm not so sure.  I think that I do get upset when people misrepresent what it is and say ignorant things like how we think "everything's a big accident" or there's "no point to life".  That just bothers me because I'm being misrepresented, and they obviously haven't taken the time to understand where people like me are coming from.  I suppose the equivalent would be if I said that Christians believed that Jesus was the God of Thunder or something - that sort of thing would be simply ignorant.

I guess I don't mind if people truly critique atheism around me.  Why?  Because I've never heard a critique that directly addresses exactly what atheism is.  It's always a bunch of strawmen.  Basically, I'm pretty secure in my non-belief.  I don't feel the need to defend my lack of a belief in God the same way that I don't defend my lack of a belief in unicorns.  To me, if you get all bent out of shape when somebody points out the flaws in your belief system - especially when these are flaws that are grounded in logic and reason and not strawmen - then perhaps you're not very secure in what you believe.

I realize that I'm rambling a bit here, but what prompted it was that a sign from an atheist group that was posted on public property - next to a Christmas manger scene - was stolen.  Apparently, some Christians found it offensive.  (Basically, it read that there are no gods, angels, heaven, hell, etc. and that religion is nothing more than myth.)  Personally, I don't give enough of a crap about these sorts of things one way or another.  I don't find manger scenes objectionable, and I wouldn't go through the trouble to put up a sign like the atheists.  However, if one group gets to put up something that endorses a certain point of view, then why doesn't another group get to say that it's wrong?

Apparently, for some of these Christians, they'll stop feeling oppressed when they're allowed to say whatever they want without anybody being able to call them out on their horsecrap.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


I found these on YouTube.  I'm pretty sure that the one on Jehovah's Witnesses is pretty accurate as to what they believe.  At least, a lot of it sounds familiar from when my parents spoke to the Witnesses.

My question is though - if these things sound crazy to you, are these beliefs any crazier than any other religious belief?  My assertion?  No.  They're not.

Nothing fails like prayer

Some time ago, I met a woman who said that she'd "pray for me" when she found out that I didn't believe in God.  'Cause, you know, obviously, something's wrong with me.  Sure, it makes sense if you don't believe in silly things like Quetzalcoatl, but not believing in Da Jeebus?  Obviously, there's something wrong with me.  Apparently, she forgot though, 'cause here I am still not believing.  Perhaps she prayed to that asshat, Heimdall instead., what a tosser of a god.

Speaking of failed prayers, a toddler died because her Medieval parents' prayers didn't work either.  Want to know what would have worked?  Antibiotics.  No omnipotent imaginary beings required - just simple antibiodics.  (Read about it here.)  As a result of their negligence, they're being charged with second-degree manslaughter.  Of course, they're trying to get the charges dismissed on account of a violation of religious freedom.

I've written about this before.  While I certainly don't trust the government to intervene and remove all children from parents who believe in faith-healing (or to be more fair, faith healing in place of any sort of medicine), I do think that the government is doing the right thing in this instance.  After all, in a free society, you should have the right to believe whatever you want and do whatever you want so long as it doesn't hurt others.

This, of course, is a case where the line has been drawn.  After all, we have laws that prevent parents from abusing their children.  What is this but a form of abuse?  What would you say if they sat back and watched as their toddler played in the street while they prayed that the oncoming traffic wouldn't hit her?  How is this any different?  We're talking about something that could be solved with simple antibiotics here.  It's not like they refused to have her undergo some potentially complex, expensive, and painful process.

In a way, I feel sorry for these parents.  After all, it must be horrible that they lost their child.  Still, my feelings only go so far because it was their fault.  Sure, they probably had parents who raised them with this kind of bullshit, but ultimately adults need to start taking responsibility for their own lives.

Is prayer totally useless?  Honestly, I don't think so.  After all, I believe that it's good for providing people with comfort, and after reading The Year of Living Biblically, I think that it's probably good for your mental health if it's a ritual type of a thing.  However, when it comes to prayer having any kind of practical effect on the world?  It's useless for that.  So, if you're going to pray, pray for yourself.  Don't pray for me, and for Odin's sake, don't pray for your sick children - take them to a doctor.

Moving up in the world

Come January, it will be two years since I've started brewing my own beer.  I had wanted to try it for about a year beforehand, but I was somewhat hesitant.  After all, I feared that I'd do it once or twice and then forget all about it.  Many batches later, it's pretty safe to say that I'm in this for the long haul.

Ever since I started, I've been doing this at the beginner-level.  I boil three gallons in my kitchen and later add two gallons of water for a five-gallon batch of beer.  However, it's time to kick it up a notch, and that's where those birthday gift cards came in.  While I expect to get some more gift cards for Christmas, I couldn't pass up Beer, Beer, and More Beer's big sale yesterday.  Everything was 15% off, so I went ahead and bought everything I need to start boiling a full five gallons at once.  Why would I want to do this?  Two reasons:  1.  Supposedly, the quality of the beer improves quite a bit if you do it this way, and 2.  Kirsti can't stand it when the whole house smells when I'm boiling the beer, and five gallons is too much to continue doing inside.  (Personally, I love the way it smells - but it certainly is overwhelming at times.)

So, I hooked myself up with a gas-powered burner for boiling the wort (that's the unfermented beer) outside.  To go along with that, I got a large, eight-gallon kettle.  It's nice because it has a spigot at the bottom for getting it all out and into the fermenter - no more lifting and pouring.  Lastly, I got something called a "wort chiller".  Basically, it's a device that you put in the wort that cools it down to a level where I can safely add the yeast for the fermentation process.  Before, I would have to submerge my kettle in ice water, and that was a bit of a pain in the ass.  Supposedly, this is more efficient.  (Oh, and the kettle was 30% off - sweet!)

Even though I saved a lot of money, and I got $100 off from the gift cards, it was as big of an investment for me as the initial setup.  I figure that if I brew as many batches this way, then it should be well worth it.  What's the first beer to undergo the upgraded process?  An English IPA - which is supposedly more mellow than its American cousin.

Perhaps in a year or two I'll take this up another step - using all grains instead of extract kits.  Or perhaps I'll start kegging it - which makes it more difficult to share unless I want to start hanging out with people - and who wants that?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

One out of four

Perhaps it was bound to happen sooner or later, but I seem to have more students failing my class this year than ever before.  Of course, I've had students fail before, but it's always just a few here and there.  There seems to be quite a bit more this time though, including several of my seniors.  (Uusally by the time they get to senior year, they're a bit more on the ball and turning in their work.)

I've heard of other teachers having these numbers of Fs before.  Shoot, I remember back when I TA'd for a Government class when I was a sophomore in high school, the teacher gave me a huge stack of postcards that had to be mailed out.  Each one was going to the parents of students who were failing the class and unlikely to graduate.

I've written before about this sort of a thing, and I can tell you that everybody who's failing is doing so because he or she is not turning in the work.  It's really that simple.  But why don't they have it together enough to turn in the work?  Am I doing something wrong?

Well, in the past couple of weeks, I have had four meetings scheduled with parents of individual students.  (These involved all of their teachers - not just me.)  Out of those four meetings, three were canceled because the parents didn't show up.

I guess that tells you something, at least.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Pascal's Wager and You...

Sometimes you can talk to somebody and it's amazing how they can suddenly put into words something that you've been thinking for some time - yet you've never been able to find the right words for it.

I was talking to my dad a few weeks ago about God and religion and all that stuff.  He claims to be a believer, and he even calls himself a Christian.  Still, we were agreeing on pretty much every subtopic that came up.  One thing that came up was the old Pascal's Wager.  Of course, not everybody knows it by that name, but a lot of people make this argument anyway.

Basically, it's the argument that it's better to believe in God because after all, believing doesn't cost you anything, but if you don't believe and it turns out that God is real, then you're in a heap of eternal poo.

So, we were talking about that particular argument and my dad pointed out that people who make that argument don't really believe in God.

The thing is, that's such a no-brainer.  He's right.  If you're believing just to hedge your bets, then you believe about as much as I believe - which is not at all.  You just feel that you need to say that you believe for some reason or another.  So, if that's the best you got, why not just admit that you're an atheist?  It's okay.  I have, and I haven't been hit by a bolt of lightning yet.  (Hail Zeus!)

War on Christmas!

Just when you thought that the war was over...

In my local paper's letters to the editor section a few days ago, some letter writer felt compelled to write about how she (I think it was a she) was going to be sure to say "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays."  It then proceeded to go on about blah blah blah etcetera etcetera.

Seriously?  Are we really doing this again?  Do Christians really feel like they're being oppressed in this country even though I can't walk down my street without seeing at least three manger scenes?  (No, I have no problem with them.  Honestly, I kinda like them so long as they're simple and not too ostentatious.)  Is Christianity really so under attack despite the fact that I can't buy a box of Corn Flakes without hearing songs about how Da Jeebus is my savior?  If secularists are truly oppressing Christians, then they're doing a shit job of it, I'll tell ya.

The thing is, am I crazy or have people ALWAYS said "Happy Holidays"?  Wasn't that originally short for "Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year"?  Is this really new?  Are people so easily brainwashed by the likes of Bill O'Reilly that their memories alter as to believe that this is some sort of recent conspiracy?

And are retail locations really the right place for a sense of Christian spirituality?  Do you feel the love of Zombie Jesus better when the teenager at Best Buy wishes you a Merry Christmas after you've bought your DVD of Hancock?  Call me crazy, but I would think that faith is a more inwardly felt sort of a thing.  Sure, it can be shared with fellow believers - but do you gotta wear it on your sleeve everywhere you go?  Don't get me wrong - I don't care if you do; just don't get pissed off when others don't.

The thing is, I have a friend who's a Christian and we talked about this.  I said that I often wish people a Merry Christmas, and I take no offense in somebody wishing me one.  I also wouldn't take offense if somebody wished me a Happy Hannukah, Ramadan, Kwanzaa or Festivus.  Even if I don't believe in those things, I appreciate that somebody wants me to have a happy day.  My Christian friend felt the same way.  Our ultimate conclusion was that no matter who you are, if somebody wishes you a happy anything, and your reaction is to get upset, you are an asshole.

How Blu can you get?

This Tuesday, The Dark Knight comes out on Blu-Ray, and it will be the last new release that I'll be getting for some time.  It was one of the movies that I bought the player for in the first place, and for the most part, I only picked up the ones that I had originally intended (not that I had made any promises to myself that I'd keep it at that).

Two of the discs that I recently got I already have on DVD.  One of them was Casablanca, which came as a special giftset.  I'm can be a sucker for collectible stuff, and this one had all sorts of neat goodies including a photo book, postcards of various movie posters, and some content that wasn't available on the previous release.  This actually marks the fourth version of the movie that I've owned.  The first one was the standard DVD, the second was the special edition, and the third was the HD-DVD (which I actually got for free).  I knew that it looks brilliant in HD, and it's a movie that I find myself watching at least a couple of times a year, so I decided to treat myself and pick it up.  There aren't many movies where I'd buy such an extravagent package version of - I mean, I liked I am Legend, but I have no intention of buying that huge, super-deluxe version of it that's coming out this week.  This is Casablanca, after all - a movie that gets better with repeat viewings, as every time I catch something new.

The second one I got was The Godfather, or to be more specific, The Godfather Trilogy.  I had recently watched my DVDs on my HDTV, and I have to say that they looked so bad that it was distracting.  The colors were muddy, the picture was grainy - overall, not a good look.  Sure, it looked just fine on my old 27" TV, but a better TV showed it to be pretty lackluster.  This purchase wasn't just an upgrade from regular DVD to Blu-Ray though.  The movies had been restored to boot - and these restorations are even available on regular DVD.  I can imagine that upgrade alone would be worth it, but a high-def version is like a double-upgrade.  Anyway, I found the whole set for $42 (including shipping) on, and then there's a $10 rebate on top of that.  Just like Casablanca, these are movies that I probably watch about once a year (the first two, anyway).  Seems like a good deal to me.

But what about everything else?  Am I going to upgrade my entire collection?  I doubt it.  The other day I was watching The Shawshank Redemption on regular DVD, and it looked fine.  Sure, there's a Blu-Ray version out there, but I don't want to fork out twenty bucks for it.  Maybe when I can find it real cheap I'll get it, but I'm fine with it for now.  Sure, it doesn't pop like it would in high-def, but the transfer wasn't distracting like The Godfather's was.

Still, that's a movie that I know that I'll watch again and again probably for the rest of my life.  What else do I have?  As I take a quick glance at the collection, is there any chance that I'll get movies like 1408, The Illusionist, and Biloxi Blues on Blu-Ray?  I doubt I would even if I saw them cheap.  Those are all movies that I waited until they were real cheap to get on regular DVD, and while chances are good that I'll eventually watch each one of them again, they're not the kinds of films that I watch at least once a year.

There are definitely some that I will get.  Star Wars comes to mind, as does the Indiana Jones films.  Lawrence of Arabia, The Bridge on the River Kwai, and Citizen Kane would all probably benefit from the high-def treatment.  Evil Dead 2?  Probably not so much.

Besides, I need to save up my money for that eventual The Santa Clause Trilogy box set.  Now THAT'S a set that I'll buy three copies of just so I can have backups!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A better national anthem

Something about our national anthem just never quite spoke to me.  It just doesn't ring true to what this country is all about.  That's why we should change it to the following:

The frustrations of being a comic book fan...

Just in case you're one of the few people who reads my blog AND reads comics, you might want to skip it if you haven't read the conclusion of Secret Invasion.  

So, can you believe that Tony Stark is no longer the Director of SHIELD?  And even moreso, can you believe that the organization to replace SHIELD is going to be headed by none other than Norman Osborn?  And then he's got none other than Dr. Doom, Loki, The White Queen, and Namor running the show with him?  Crazy stuff, huh?  And what's going to happen with The Avengers?  We already have two teams, and now it looks like there will be a third one!  Will guys like Spider-Man and Luke Cage ever be able to work with Stark again after what went down during the superhero civil war?  Will the superhuman registration act be repealed?  And will the new Captain America be a part of one of these new Avengers teams?

What's that you say?  You have no idea what the hell I'm talking about?

But dammit, when I flipped to the last page of Secret Invasion #8, I was totally floored.  I haven't felt this way since it turned out that The Thunderbolts were secretly the Masters of Evil!  Remember that feeling when you saw Citizen V take off his mask to reveal that he was really Baron Zemo?  That was such a kick in the nuts!

Huh?  You don't know what I'm talking about with that either?  How about when Flash Thompson was unmasked as the Hobgoblin?  What about when it turned out that it was really Ned Leeds?  Or when it was REALLY Roderick Kingsley?

You don't know about that?  What about the return of Hal Jordan?  Wasn't it great that Kyle Rayner was the Green Lantern who ultimately saved him? have no idea what I'm talking about, do you?

This is the frustrating thing being a comic book fan.  After I finished the final part of Marvel's big Secret Invasion crossover, I was dying to talk to somebody about it.  But to whom?  My wife doesn't read comics.  There's one guy at work who does, but whenever we talk about them we get strange looks from our fellow employees.  (Maybe we need to say that we're talking about a TV show instead of comics.)

I guess that things are better than they used to be, as there are at least some really great superhero movies being made like Iron Man and The Dark Knight being made where non-comics fans seem to like them just as much as I do.  That way, I at least get to talk about superheroes with a larger variety of people.

Still...can you believe that?  Osborn turned out to be the hero!  Doesn't the government realize that they're handing over national security to the Green Goblin?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Reality check - evolution is a fact

I read an interesting article today in the paper about how scientists have discovered that the ancestor to HIV is millions of years older than previously believed.  The finding that it evolved in primitive primates millions of years ago is a huge leap forward towards understanding the virus and hopefully even coming up with a cure for it.

I couldn't help but wonder, what do creationists do when they read something like this, assuming that they even do read something like this?  Not just creationists, but what do the people who say things like, "I have my doubts about evolution.  I don't believed that we came from monkeys."  (Of course, I'm compelled to point out that evolution has nothing to do with us "coming from monkeys", rather, we share an ancestor with apes (and monkeys too, but you have to go further back than that.  If you go back far enough, you and your dog and cat are distant cousins - VERY distant.)

I mean, how many of these scientists do you suppose are creationists?  How many of them doubt that we share an ancestor with apes?  I think it's pretty safe to say zero and none.

The thing is, when it comes to finding cures for diseases, it's the field of evolutionary biology where we'll find our answers.  Nobody who believes that Jesus walked around with dinosaurs is ever going to make any headway into the field - mainly because it uses evolution as the very foundation for research.

Perhaps what we need is a serious plague to break out - one that decimates the population, and then people will see the necessity for accepting that evolution is a proveable fact.  Let's hope that it doesn't come to that.

Spider-Man movies - what next, part 2

Continuing my previous blog entry, I want to have a look at some good contenders to be in the next Spider-Man film.  Last time, I suggested that they do the Spider-Man movies in a similar fashion as the Indiana Jones films (or to be more accurate, the James Bond films).  Start off with Spidey in danger facing a cool villain, have him defeat the villain, and then move on from there.  That way, you can have more characters without having to bog down the story.

What about a villain to carry the entire film though?  Is there anybody good left after Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus?  (While I like Sandman, they had to add way too much to his story in order to try and make him somewhat interesting.  If I had my way, he'd be the sort of villain that Spidey would defeat in the first ten minutes.)  I would definitely say that although Spider-Man's villains fall short of Batman's, he definitely has some more good ones to use.  In no particular order, I'd like to see any of the following:

The Black Cat - If the films want to get away from the Mary Jane romance angle, then this is the love interest that they should go with next.  As much as I like Gwen Stacy as a character, they pretty much ruined her in Spider-Man 3, and she's not different enough from Mary Jane for them to go in that direction.  Felicia Hardy however, that would be a completely different sort of a story.

She started out as a foe for Spider-Man, but she became one of his allies after a while.  What was great about their whole dynamic was the fact that she was totally captivated by Spider-Man but completely underwhelmed by his alter-ego.  That could make for some interesting drama, and then you could still toss a villain into the mix.

The Scorpion - What better than another arachnid to take on Spider-Man?  Mac Gargan took part in an experimental procedure that gave him superhuman strength and control of a cybernetic tail.  Why would he do such a thing?  Because J. Jonah Jameson was trying to create somebody to bring down the "criminal" Spider-Man, and Gargan got paid a lot of money for it.  The guy not only hates Spider-Man, but he hates Jameson as well.  This would be a good excuse to get more scenes with Jameson, which always stole the show in the previous movies.

The Puma - Okay, a lot of comic fans will scoff, but I always kinda dug this guy.  He's a super-rich CEO who uses his mystic powers to turn into the beast that you see above.  He's a Native American and his tribe had a prophecy that one of their members would one day have to defeat a powerful foe who could potentially destroy the world.  Personally, I think it would make for a good story if they ran with that and had Puma believe that Spider-Man was the one he would have to defeat.  Since he's not really a villain, he could later be convinced by Spidey's heroism that he has the wrong guy.

The Lizard - This one's a no-brainer considering that Doctor Curt Connors has already been in all three movies.  (Okay, he was only mentioned in the first one.)  Not only that, but if you pay attention you see that Raimi was sure to give the guy only one arm.  Why is that important?  Because he's going to create a serum to make him regrow his arm (much as a lizard can regrow a tail) but it will go awry and turn him into the creature you see above.  Personally, I'd like to see them go with the intelligent version of him who wants to have reptiles overrun the planet.  Considering that he has a wife and kids, the potential for drama is pretty good.  I actually think that this guy is the most likely candidate.  It'll be nice because he's a villain that Spider-Man has to use his brains to defeat (as he comes up with a serum to turn him back to normal.)

So, plenty of good stuff left over.  And after all of them, they can use The Big Wheel.  

Ugh.  Pardon me while I puke.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Spider-Man movies - what next?

I've already made a couple of blog posts regarding what they should do next with the Batman franchise, and I probably have at least one more in me.  However, what's been spinning in my mind over the past few months is what they should do regarding the Spider-Man series.  It was announced a while ago that director Sam Raimi and actor Tobey Maguire are locked in for at least two more installments.  While I basically see this as good news, I am at best cautiously optimistic.

Let's face it.  That's the team that gave us a really solid origin story and one of the best superhero movies of all time.  Of course, the third one was a mess, but it wasn't Batman and Robin or even Batman Forever bad.  Personally, I think that a lot of the blame for that movie's failure lies on the executives, who insisted on them shoehorning Venom into the storyline.  I had said since the beginning that I didn't want to see Venom in a Spider-Man movie, as I personally think that he's far too convoluted of a villain.  (Although I will give kudos for the film at least trying to do something interesting with him.)

I'm hoping that it wasn't just the money that lured the two back.  I'm hoping that it was greater artistic control over the films.  Personally, I trust Raimi, as he obviously gets the character, which he has more than proved.  I also trust Maguire, as even though he's not a life-long fan, he obviously has done his share of research, and there's no question that he simply was Peter Parker.  So, if creative control was a factor, then we have reason to believe that we might get two more good films to wash the bitter taste of the third one out of our mouths.

What am I hoping for?  Well, I'd like to see even more of Spidey's classic rogues gallery.  I also hope that they can get a few more villains in there without feeling compelled to go into their origins and making them intrinsic to the plot.  What I mean is that they should start the movie off Indiana Jones-style - begin it with a bang and have Spidey fight and defeat one of the classic bad guys.  Some possible candidates include:

Mysterio - If they're going to do this, then they need to go full-on fishbowl head and purple cape.  In the comics, Quentin Beck was a former special effects man, and he used his talents to steal and frame Spider-Man.  Yeah, he's lame, but he's spectacularly lame.  Go crazy with the cgi in the intro and have Spidey kick the snot out of him while making fun of him.  It'd be classic Spider-Man, and we wouldn't have to hear any more about him for the rest of the film.  You could even get Bruce Campbell to play him, and that takes care of his inevitable cameo.

Electro - A cool visual but pretty empty as far as motivation goes.  Basically, the guy was a prick from the start, even before he got his lightning powers.  (And his origin is lame too - no need to go into it if he's simply the guy who gets knocked out at the beginning.)

Shocker - The guy has some gadgets on his hands that create vibrational blasts.  Spidey should defeat him the same way he did in his first appearance - by webbing Shocker's thumbs back so he can't press the buttons.  Brilliant.

Rocket Racer - No, wait, that's a stupid idea.  Thank you, 1970s.

What about the main villain?  Lots of good possibilities there.  I'll save that for another post.  Let's just say for now that they shouldn't do any more goblins - UNLESS they commit to a serious Hobgoblin story and do it just like they did in the comics.  That would involve his identity being a mystery until the end of the film - or better yet, the end of a two-film storyline.  (He could be behind the scenes in the first film and then come to the forefront at the end of the second one.)