Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The problem with the media

Okay, not much to see here. I've written about 7,000 words today, and now that I have a chance to blog, I'm really not in the mood. So, I'll just post another video and give a brief comment.

This video was originally posted at the Raytractors, but I'd like to make a slightly different point with it. There's a lot of discussion as to what's wrong with the media today. Some say bias is the problem. Some say it's a liberal bias. I say the problem is this: the media is stupid.

Exhibit A:

Oh, and I'm going out of town, so no updates until at least Saturday.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Just a little something

While I've been neglecting my blog here a little lately, I have actually been doing more writing over the past few days than I have in months. I actually wrote an entire chapter yesterday, which was about 7,000 words. I've turned a corner on my story, and it's finally caught up to where it began. (It's structured where it starts in the middle, flashes back, then moves forward - just like The Odyssey.) I'm about 2/3 of the way through Chapter IX right now, and I see the whole thing ending around Chapter 11 or 12. While walking, I had an idea for a rather bittersweet epilogue that I will either include in this or just have it be its own stand-alone short story. Gotta finish the big one first.

Anyway, here's a little video that I came across while browsing through one of the blogs of my "Raytractors" cyberspace pals. Something about it spoke to me.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Cool design!

Back when I was a believer, and I'd argue with people about the existence of God, one of the things that I would point to was the complexity of the world. I mean, look at something like a Cooper's hawk. (I had one land on the fence which is right outside the window of the room that I'm typing this in right now - an absolutely beautiful creature. It sat there for a good thirty seconds before it took off and flew away.) It's was "impossible" to look at that and not think that some higher power was at work. Something had clearly designed it.

Of course, that line of reasoning doesn't work so much for me anymore. Part of me has a little bit of respect for people who see things this way (so long as they don't call it "science"), but you know what? If you're going to give a higher power credit for creating the majestic hawk, then you have to give that higher power credit for designing EVERY living thing. So, not just animals and plants. Also, this designer made things like yeast. (Yay! You use that to make beer! God does exist!) And, of course, viruses and bacteria.

I think that the attached video does a good job of destroying the case for a "designer." At the very least, it destroys the case for a designer who loves us. I've heard people explain the "Why does God let bad things happen to good people?" question before, and it always goes back to how we have free will and we turned our backs on God, so it's all our fault. Well, if you see it that way, then I recommend that you go to a third world country and tell that to some little kid who's dying from malaria.

Anyway, the video really pushes the boundaries of good taste, but you know what? Sometimes that's necessary to wake people up. If you have no sense of irony or satire, I recommend that you skip it. You've been warned.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Batman Movies - The Dark Knight, part II

I went and saw the film again yesterday, and I have a few additional thoughts (as I said I would in my initial review).

First of all - is it the greatest superhero movie ever? I hate making statements like this for two reasons.

1. If you work with teenagers, you know that they will declare whatever movie they last enjoyed to be the "greatest movie ever." (Not all of them do this, of course - save your hate mail.) If I were to believe them, The Punisher, Transformers, and 300 are all amongst the greatest movies ever made. (Note - I did like 300, enough to buy it even - but come on.) So, I don't want to declare a movie that has only been out for a couple weeks to be the "best" of anything.

2. Is it even fair to compare it to all the other superhero movies? Was it really trying to do the same thing as Iron Man? I mean, it's safe to say that it's better than the first four Batman movies. I don't know if I'm ready to say that I like it more than Batman Begins though. It's possible that I will be after a few more viewings, but I just don't want to rush into it. (I suddenly realize that this is what you'd get if Hamlet wrote movie reviews! Just make the call already, dammit!)

With that said though, it definitely is a contender. If you made a list of top ten superhero movies of all time, there's no question that it belongs in the upper part of that list. Shoot, if you made a list of top ten action movies, it belongs there as well.

It definitely got even better a second time. I suppose that if I had anything to complain about, it's that I don't always like Christian Bale's "Batman voice." While he overall does the part better than any actor before him (much of this is due to the fact that he had better material to work with) I still think that Michael Keaton did the best job of changing his voice from Bruce Wayne to Batman. This is a very minor quibble though, and it's not every scene where it bothers me.

One thing that I appreciated even more this time was that the Joker gives conflicting stories as to how he got to look the way he does. That's right out of the comics. Even The Killing Joke, the story that supposedly tells his origin hints that it might not really be his origin, as his psyche is so fractured that even he doesn't remember what it is anymore. Also, the comic (later turned into an episode of the animated series) Mad Love had the Joker telling different variations on what his past was like to elicit sympathy from people so he could manipulate them into feeling sorry for him. (One of the stories involved an abusive father who "favored the grape".)

Also, every moment with the Joker is so incredibly tense. While Ledger's performance alone creates this, I noticed that the music works really well in adding to that tension in the scenes where he's talking about his past (and is brandishing a knife at somebody). This is really one of those performances where the hype is well deserved. It'll make you say, "Who the hell is Jack Nicholson?" (But you'll never forget Caesar Romero.)

One other thing that was great about this is that it was the first Batman movie to show how smart Batman really is. In the comics, when he's hanging out with the Justice League, that's the one big advantage that he has over all of them - he's always the smartest guy in the room. I could actually see this Batman pulling his own weight with Superman. With the other incarnations, not so much.

Okay, I could go on and on. The one thing that I just want to add is that for as great as this movie is, it didn't surprise me. I suppose that ten years ago I thought it was highly unlikely that they'd ever make a really good Batman movie (much less Spider-Man and Iron Man). The reason why is because I didn't think that there were enough people in Hollywood who respected the source material. I always knew that the material had the potential to make a great movie, if only they stayed true to the comics. Now, that's finally happening, and people are realizing the potential of these characters. I realized it when I was twelve - thanks for catching up, general public.

Revised Grade: Worst case - A. Best case - A+

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The price we pay

Usually, I'm a big believer in providing at least some evidence before making a bold proclamation. In this case though, can we all just take it as a given that Michael Savage is a total moron? Either that, or he's doing satire and he's just pretending to be a total moron. Either way, the character of "Michael Savage" is even dumber than the guy that Stephen Colbert pretends to be. I mean, there are "conservatives" who'll defend Ann Coulter but draw the line at that guy.

So, instead of giving countless examples, I'll just comment on his current blunder. According to him, autism is a "fraud" and a "racket". Not only that, but "99%" of the kids who are diagnosed with autism just needed their parents to tell them to stop "the act".

Yeesh. My wife, who works with many autistic kids, is understandably more outraged than I am. As for myself, I've worked with a few, and based on my experience, I can say that Michael Savage is 99% dipshit - the other 1% is a combination of nuts, stupid, poo-head, and outofhisfuckingmind.

Of course, he later backpedeled on his statement, saying that he was just trying to "alert parents" that oftentimes there are false diagnoses based on other conditions like "having a high I.Q." and "talking late in childhood." Are you still with me? Did your head just explode? Don't worry, I'm sure that Michael Savage has done extensive research on this issue and is basing it on a close dissection of the facts. I mean, it's not like "conservative" (forgive my quotes, but what the hell is conservative about people like this?) pundits ever just totally make stuff up or completely blow things out of proportion - is it? (Actually, yes, it is like that.)

I'll admit that I'm certainly not an expert, but I do have a bit of experience, and one thing that I do know about autism is that it covers a really wide range of behaviors and conditions. I suppose I could see how somebody might look at the wide variety of people with autism and think that perhaps too many people are being diagnosed. However, if you're going to make a statement like that, you'd better have some facts to back it up.

Something that was interesting to me though, was that when I watched the news story (see below) on YouTube about this incident, there's this one woman who rightfully calls what he said "hate speech." She then loses me though when she says that "We don't allow hate speech in this country."

Ummm...yeah we do. All speech is protected in this country. You can say whatever stupid thing you want. However, since this is a free country, we can combat it by protesting, boycotting, etc.

And that's the thing. I hate stupid cliches like "freedom isn't free" but there is some truth to that. If we're going to have a free country where people are allowed to speak, then we're bound to be offended every now and then. Unfortunately, you don't have the right to never be offended. Because after all, what is hate speech? Somebody could accuse this blog of promoting hate speech since I often criticize the religious (and I referred to a person as a "dipshit" - not exactly an act of love).

If we won't allow hate speech, who will decide what it is and what it isn't? I say, let the Michael Savages of the world announce their idiocy to the world. We all have the power to point out how stupid he is, so let's use that.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

More writing goodness

I wrote my first short story when I was in the third grade. It was a superhero story about a superhero named "Super-Muscle". Pretty lame, I know, but give me a break - I was nine years old!

I continued to write stories (and even create a few comics) with him while I was a kid - even up through high school, although I eventually renamed him. I had a huge, epic story (before I even knew what an "epic" really entailed) in my head, and I knew that I just had to get it out one day. It involved pretty much everything that interested me, and while it was a fantasy/superhero story, I tried to get across my feelings on God, faith, etc. (Those were very different feelings back then from what they are now!) I remember telling myself that I'd finally have my epic written by the time I was 25.

Well, that didn't work out so well. That's okay though - I wasn't ready to write it then. I'm not entirely sure that I'm ready for it now. However, I think that I am good for a rough draft, and things are coming along. As of now, I'm nearly halfway done. Well, I'm nearly halfway done with a major part of it.

I already wrote a whole blog entry about Eagle-Man, and how that started from a high school newspaper strip to what I'm writing about today (many variations and permutations of that one). This story that I'm currently working on can be traced all the way back to that first story I wrote in the third grade. (It's a long and winding road to get from one point to the next, but it's there.)

I still haven't given much thought to publishing and all that. I figure that's a moot question if I haven't actually written it yet. As of now, I have a few friends who have been reading it and giving me some great feedback. Also, I've had a couple of folks who I've only met via "the Internets" who have checked it out as well. One thing that I do know though, is that when I finally finish this big story, I'm going to have to go back and write the earlier adventures of my character, as what I have here is probably the last adventure. After all - he fights God - where can you go from there?

So, here are some new chapters. Please keep in mind that these are VERY rough drafts, and you'll definitely find stuff in the later chapters that contradict the earlier ones. I'll get around to fixing that eventually. Also, the title is a working one - I'm still figuring out what I want to call it. On the stories themselves, it's called Unprophetic Armageddon. That sounds too heavy and pretentious for a story that uses the word "crap" as much as mine does. Right now, I'm mulling over Stop the End! or perhaps even Eagle-Man Versus The Apocalypse.

Book III
Book IV
Book V

And if you missed the earlier stuff:

Who Are You? - A stand-alone short story that introduces ideas that are followed up on in the epic story.
Book I
Book II

Monday, July 21, 2008

You just can't make this up...

As I've written before, I've never really been interested in sports. Along with that, I've never really been able to get into Professional Wrestling. Oh, there was a time when I was a kid when I watched Hulk Hogan's Rock and Wrestling.

I also watched a little bit of actual "professional" wrestling too. I seem to recall one where Hulk Hogan's friend, who I seem to remember was Mr. Wonderful, was supposed to be "wrestling" alongside him in a tag-team match, but he turned on Hogan and the two became enemies. (A quick Wikipedia search confirms my memory.)

I don't remember watching it too much after that. I think it was the kind of thing that I'd watch when it was on, but I never went out of my way to watch it. For the most part, I think that I lost interest because it's pretty much the same thing over and over again. Unless dudes in tight briefs throwing each other around is your thing, I don't see what the appeal could possibly be. Even though I've had friends who have liked it for its kitsch factor, I've always assumed that the average fan is some sort of yokel who probably doesn't know how to read.

If you're thinking, "I'd like it if only it had some mention of Jesus," then boy, are you in for a treat! Presenting: The Christian Wrestling Foundation! I shit you not. Check out "The Italian Stallion" versus "Chris Idol"!

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, just when you thought it couldn't get any weirder, shit like this exists. Oh sweet Flying Spaghetti Monster preserve us!
Here's the thing - how do I even begin making fun of this? It just kinda makes fun of itself, doesn't it? I mean, the fact that exists is enough to make my head spin. Okay, I'm done.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

One chance - make it count!

I was reading an article in the paper today about the love lives of senior citizens. Apparently, a lot of widows and widowers are finding romance - which is a really nice thing to see.

This got me to thinking - Kirsti was filling out one of those silly surveys on MySpace the other day, and one of the questions was along the lines of, "Do you believe that you only get one true love in your lifetime?" Kirsti answered in the negative. Why? Because she doesn't love me.

No, seriously, that's the way I would have answered it too. The thing is, the idea that there's only one person who's out there for you is one of those notions that seems nice. If I scoff at the idea, I'm accused of not being a romantic. (And I AM a romantic, dammit! As I wrote in a previous blog, I get choked up every time I get to the end of Cyrano de Bergerac with my freshmen classes!)

I've had more than one person tell me that Kirsti and I were "meant to be" together. Nuts to that, I say. And again, I'm sure that there are folks who would accuse me of not being romantic for saying that.

The thing is, I don't find anything the least bit romantic about either one of those ideas. One person - and I'm fated to be with her? So, no matter what, she's the one I'd end up with? Where's the romance in that?

Let me put it this way. I wanted to live with Kirsti because I love her. I wanted to marry her because I love her. The reason why I didn't leave the house and call things off with her yesterday is because I love her. The reason why I didn't do that today is because I love her. As for tomorrow, nothing is guaranteed, but I think it's safe to say that if the sun comes up like it usually does (astronomy nerds, be quiet, please) then I'm going to love her then as well.

She puts up with my weird habits. She understands me when I don't feel like socializing with people. She doesn't tell me that I need to stop reading comic books. I can do a stupid little dance in the living room, and she'll always smile and laugh at it - and then she'll smile even more when I tell her that the only reason she's laughing is because she's jealous of what a good dancer I am. She challenges me to think things through a bit more than I do sometimes. She's fun to talk to. It's relaxing and never awkward to just sit and be quiet with her. I love watching her snuggle with the cat, despite her insistence that she's not a "cat-person."

I'm with her because I love her, and she's with me because she loves me. Why do we need some greater, mysterious power like fate to give it meaning?

And I hope that if I go before her, she is able to be happy with the rest of her life - even if that means finding somebody else. I know that she wishes the same for me.

So in the meantime, I'm going to let "because we love each other" be all the reason we need for being together. And dammit, that's romantic.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Not of this World!

Just when I thought that modern Christianity couldn't get any sillier than the "Extreme Teen Bible," (Do yourself a favor and read some of the reviews that has posted for that one) along comes C28, a "Christian Lifestyle Retailer."

My wife was at the mall today, and she brought back a brochure for me from this particular store, which just set up shop at the Sun Valley Mall. On the cover are four HARD-CORE dudes! One has his head tilted and he's got tattoos! Another one is looking off to the side (didn't South Park already make fun of this?) Another one has his arms crossed with a look on his face like he's ready to crack skulls for Jesus - and he's BLACK! The other one is Latino, but he's kinda obscured by the other four dudes.

Here are some ads from their site, the first one has two of the guys I described:

Pretty extreme, huh? And you thought that rules about women covering their heads in church were passe! It's all cutting-edge, baby!

In the brochure, they say that the C:28 stands for Colossians 2:8, which states the following: "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ."

Of course, they don't use that entire quote in their advertising, because it's all, like, gay and Shakespeare-like or something. They just take "Not of this world!" and turn it into a catch phrase. Isn't that totally cooler? It's like The Transformers or something!

Ugh. Ya know, I have a lot of criticisms of religion in general and Christianity in particular. Still, what I find even sadder is how the religion is being dumbed down. I have Christian friends that can speak a great deal on their beliefs and while I don't see it their way, I can tell that they're thoughtful and informed.

One part of the Christian faith that I find interesting is the idea that their belief is "not of this world". Usually, when Christians talk about this, they're referring to how their beliefs transcend the petty and sometimes divisive issues of the world. (For instance - did you know that there are Christians who don't vote Republican! Wow! Who'da thunk it?)

These assholes though, they've completely bastardized something that's actually positive about the religion by using that as their catchphrase. I mean, look at their marketing - Is it any different than the marketing for the clothes you find at more conventional stores? I mean, just glancing at the stuff, can you even tell that it's got a Jesus-theme to it? It's almost like they're trying to hide it - as though they're ashamed of their own faith!

Oh, and get this, on the brochure they ask for donations. Donations! If these guys get tax-exempt status for their little operation, then I'm gonna crap a steamboat.

One of my favorite Jesus stories is the one where he knocks over the tables of the moneylenders. Quick, somebody hand Jesus his whip - he's gonna need it.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Batman movies - The Dark Knight

Considering that I did a whole series of blogs on the Batman movies (yeah, I know, I didn't do the Adam West one, the 1930s serials, or Mask of the Phantasm) I figured that I'd at least write a little something about the latest film - The Dark Knight.

It's hard to write as much on this one as I did the others, considering I just saw it. All of the others I had seen at least a few times, and I had plenty of time to think about them. I don't have that advantage with the latest one, so a Part II will probably be in order, as I hope to see it in the theater at least one more time.

In short - I liked it. Is it possibly the best Batman movie ever? I don't like making those sorts of proclamations in a hasty manner, but I'll definitely say that it has the potential to be the best one ever. It has the potential to be the best superhero movie ever as well. Still, it's just too early for me to make that kind of a statement.

What's good about it?

All of the main characters have something important to do. I didn't feel as though any of the major parts were wasted, as I did with all of the pre-Nolan movies. I was especially pleased that Gordon got to do as much as he did, as he's integral to the mythology of the character.

They keep getting it right. Even though the current series of films aims for a "realistic" tone, they are most definitely true to the spirit of the comics. Sure, the change some story details, but the essence of all the characters is right out of the comics. Two Face is obsessed with random chance. The Joker represents chaos, and he's the total antithesis of Batman. Batman DOES NOT KILL. (Yeah, I know, - he killed in his first appearance and for the first few years of his comic. The fact is, his "no kill" policy has been a part of his mythology for over 65 years now.)

It's about something. It has an actual theme that can be applied to the real world.

The performances - Yes, Ledger is as good as they're saying. Everybody else doesn't feel overshadowed by him though, which is a testament to how good they are.

The action - bigger, better, more intense than the last one.

What was bad about it?

I drank a large iced tea with my minestrone soup before going to the movie, so I had to get up and pee twice. I hate it when I have to do that. Batman should have told me to just stick to the sandwich and a small glass of water.

My grade? Too early to say as of right now. Worst case? B. Best case? A+.

To be continued in the future, no doubt...

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Happy birthday to you!

Okay, my birthday was in November. (As luck would have it, it will be in November this year as well.) Basically, the idea for this blog has been swimming in my head since then, but it never occurs to me when I finally sit down to write. Today it finally came to the front of my brain.

On my birthday, I went to EJ Phair's Brewpub. It was a really cool time, as my wife, sister-in law and her boyfriend, my in-laws, and several of my friends showed up to celebrate with me. They have some decent food there (some kinda blah, some downright tasty) and they have some great beers on tap. (Honestly, I think that their beers are only good, but they usually have great guest beers on tap as well.)

I had quite a few beers, and my friends and I got appropriately boisterous. It looked like everybody was enjoying themselves. As coincidence would have it, apparently other people were born on the 24th of November as well. Some of them even like beer. So, there was a table of partiers right next to mine. The friends and family of the other birthday boy sang the Happy Birthday song to him.

On my way home, I noticed something. My friends didn't sing the song to me.

And you know what? I was really glad that they didn't! The truth is, I hate the Happy Birthday song. I hate singing it, and I hate having it sung to me. I always feel like such a tool while I sit there while everybody sings it. I don't know what the hell to do with myself. I try to force a smile, but I just feel awkward. I also hate singing it to others, mainly because I'm not a good singer, but I have a loud voice, and I'm afraid that mine will dominate and everybody will go, "Who the hell is skinning a cat?" (In my own personal hell, I have to work in one of those restaurants where they make the employees sing those really cheesy and stupidly elaborate birthday songs.)

So please, next November 24, wish me a happy birthday, but there's no need to embarass the both of us with that damn song.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

To brew or not to brew?

Last weekend, I went to my local homebrew supply shop (Beer, Beer, and More Beer) as they were having a 15% off sale. I figured that I'd stock up on a couple of kits and get some supplies like bottle caps so I could save a little bit of money. I've never seen the place so packed before, as it was almost like a big party with free food and beer samples. (Too bad for me I had just been to the Indian buffet!) I usually go there on the weekends, and there are usually only a couple of other customers in there at a time. On weekdays, there aren't many customers there either, but there's a lot of activity, as employees are going back and forth between the showroom and the back area. From what I understand, they do most of their business online.

I've been homebrewing for just over a year and a half now, and I've tried quite a few of the ale kits. (Why not lagers? I'll get to that later - nothing wrong with lagers.) By now, I have a pretty good sense for what I like, and I'm making some of these for the second time now, and there are some kits (looking at you, Honey Ale) that I just won't bother with again. I bought the American Red Ale kit, which is probably one of the most nicely balanced ales that I've ever had before. My friends also seemed to pick that as a favorite the last time they were over. I also bought a kit for the Blind Pig IPA. I have mixed feelings about IPAs. Oftentimes, all you can taste are the hops, and it's like drinking a pine tree. This one though, while definitely having a prominent hop bite, is really smooth and goes well with spicy food. I just have to watch it when I have a 22 oz. bottle of it - as the 7+% alchohol content tends to make me pretty loopy.

One thing that was cool was that I got to meet Mike McDole. For those of you who don't know, Samuel Adams has a homebrewing contest called LongShot, where the winners get their beers bottled and sold in a special mix pack. Mike won for his Double IPA, and the pack should be available in February, if I remember correctly. Mike also has a kit that he created that I've made, called Mike's American Amber Ale. It's pretty tasty stuff, and my friends liked that one quite a bit as well.

He's obviously a much more experienced homebrewer than I am. The thing is, I was planning on expanding my operation a bit this summer. I was going to get a gas-powered burner so I could boil all five gallons using all-grain kits. Funds turned out a little short, so I'm still doing partial-boils with malt extracts. This is not such a bad thing, because even though that gives me a lot less freedom to experiment and work on my own styles, I still produce some damn tasty beer. What was cool when I talked to Mike was that he told me that he still makes a lot of extract kits, as he thinks that they turn out pretty damn good as well.

Personally, I'm pretty satisfied with the kits that are available. As of right now, there aren't any where I wish that they were more or less hoppy/malty/bitter/yeasty/etc. Maybe the more I get into this, the more I'll want to experiment. There's always time to expand on all this.

Sometimes when I talk to people about homebrewing, they express some interest in starting it up themselves. My advice is this: only do it if you 1) really like beer (and by beer, I'm not talking about American macrobrews - not that there's necessarily anything wrong with them, but what's the point when it's so cheap and readily available?) and 2) like to cook. If you're not intersted in one or the other, then don't bother.

Also, unless you're planning on getting a special fridge just for fermenting your beer, you should probably really like ales. (And if you think that ales are dark and lagers are light, please punch yourself in the face - the only difference is that ales ferment at higher temperatures - and I've made some that were as light as a Budweiser - but, you know, with flavor.) What's nice about ales is that there is a really large range of styles which include Hefeweizens, Porters, Stouts, Belgians, etc.

There's just something special about a homebrewed beer. As I've explained before, you might be able to buy a good marinara sauce in a jar, but nothing beats making your own. Same deal with homebrews. It's also really cool to have friends over for beers and treating all of them while shelling out as much as you would on yourself if you just bought your own beers at a local bar.

But what if you're interested in brewing, but you don't want to do all that work? Well, I have no experience with it myself, but there's a thing out there called Mr. Beer. It seems kind of cheesy, but I've read a lot of positive reviews of it. For one, it seems pretty easy to use. Secondly, the initial cost is only about $40. Third, they have a pretty amazing variety of kits you can buy. Lastly - how bad can it possibly be? It's beer, dammit! (Okay, it could be like Miller Chill - but they don't have a kit called "College Frat Boy Douchebag Lime" from what I can tell.)

I'm hoping that somebody I know will buy one so they can tell me how it turns out. I almost want to buy one so I can find out for myself!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Baby names

Okay, I'm bound to upset some people with this one, but here goes...I think that most people are pretty dumb when it comes to naming their children.

Now, I often joke to my wife that if we ever have a son, we should name him "Fabio Francisco Lando Johnson." Go ahead, say it out loud. Kinda rolls off the tongue, doesn't it? Okay, yeah - it's silly. But is it any worse than some of the names that people usually go for?

Of course, I could go on and on about celebrities who name their kids "Apple" or "Rutabega" or whatever. That's too easy. However, I would like to point out that nothing says, "I'm a douche" more than naming your son "Miller Lyte." Apparently, that's what some usually shirtless celebrity's brother named his son. Holy crap. I guess he wanted to let people know that he has shitty taste in both beer and baby names in one fell swoop - oh, and that he's illiterate too. Mission accomplished. To be fair, his parents named him "Rooster." How much hope did he have? What will Rooster's grandson be named? Applebee's? New Coke? Dog shit?

Kirsti and I might have to do some baby naming soon, so don't think that we haven't been discussing this sort of thing. We have a few names in mind, the leading contenders being "MP3", "Spock", and "Taco". Just kidding. The trick is to come up with a name that sounds different, but not so different that people go: "What?" Now, we might wind up with a baby who already has a name - and part of us thinks that we shouldn't rename her - as she should have something from her birth parents that she keeps forever. We might change our minds if her name is something like "AC Adapter" though.

According to the Social Security Administration, the top ten baby girl names are: Emily, Isabella, Emma, Ava, Madison, Sophia, Olivia, Abigail, Hannah, and Elizabeth. Many of those are wonderful, lovely names, but as far as I'm concerned, they are all off the table. See, to me, the whole reason why you'd look at a list of popular baby names is so you know which ones to avoid. Why would you want to call your kid a name that a lot of other people have?

I'm pretty grateful that my parents went for "Lance". It's different, but it's not weird. All throughout school, I was always the only Lance in class. (Except for one year in college, where it was a huge class and there were TWO other people with my name!) Apparently, my mother wanted to call me "Lancelot," which my dad shot down, if I remember the story correctly. I believe that there were some other, more Germanic names floating around as well like "Sven," "Wotan" and "Siegfried and Roy".

Take it from me - I'm a teacher. It gets confusing when there are three Caitlins in the class (but trust me, Caitlin is a lovely name) and it doesn't matter that one spells it "Kaitlin", another spells it "Katelyn", and the third spells it "Gahetluhynx". It also doesn't help that all three of them go by "Katie" for short. Why would you want to do that to your child?

And let's not forget that if I have a son and name him "Lance Christian Johnson, Jr." that I deserve to be bitch-slapped until doomsday. Also, if he winds up having a son named "Lance Christian Johnson, III" then he deserves to be put in the iron maiden. Yeah, I'm saying it - calling your son your name is basically your way of saying, "Not only am I totally full of my own self-importance, but I'm too fucking lazy to think of anything." Look, unless you're the king of a nation, you look like an ass when you do that.

Naming a baby is hard - granted. It's tough to strike that balance between normality and uniqueness. But dammit, at least give it a little effort.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Stupid...or awesome?

I just read an article about a guy in Lima who had to undergo surgery to remove a knife, nails, and other metallic objects. Apparently, the guy is mentally ill. Obviously, eating metal is dumb - especially sharp metal objects.

However, there are always two sides to every story. I think that an argument can be made that swallowing a knife is awesome. Yeah, put aside all of the sensible, logical, and frankly BORING arguments about why you shouldn't do that. How totally rad do you have to be to swallow a knife? And then chase it with some nails? You just might have to be the most awesome person ever.

Just think, if you did that, somebody could threaten you with bodily harm, and you could just reply with, "Back off, buddy! I eat nails!" Then show him the x-ray. That dude will NEVER want to mess with you, because you have proven yourself to be a grade-A badassssssssssss!!!!

This reminds me of a story from a few years ago that I remember about a guy who killed a deer. Oh, he didn't shoot it. He killed it by challenging it to a bout of fisticuffs and totally kicking its ass! It had crashed through the bedroom window, and he decided to take the sucker on mano a hoofo. Not only that, but the fight was interrupted, and then he proceeded to go back into the room to continue the ass-whipping that he had already begun. And he fought it for forty minutes! Forty minutes of sheer awesomeness!

Yeah, you could argue, if you're a total wuss, that the smart thing would have been to wait for qualified individuals to come to the house and subdue the deer in a far less violent manner. You could say that it wasn't worth risking permanent bodily injury, and perhaps even his life, just to fight a deer. And if you're the kind of person who would say that, you might as well move to France, ya pinko! The guy is a hero! Most...awesome...EVER!!!!

I'm gonna go swallow some broken glass and pick a fight with that family of beavers that lives near the Marina. Oh yeah. I shall be awesome too.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

What about the baby situation?

A lot of people already know this, but some of you might not. Kirsti (that's my wife) and I decided that we were going to adopt a baby (a girl, to be specific). We're adopting through the county, and we have gone through a long process in order to get ourselves approved for adoption. The thing is, it's been taking a long time, as we've been waiting for over a year now.

If you don't want to read the rest of this, then take this away from this post: We're fine.

We knew going in that it could be a long time until we got our baby. To be honest, we didn't expect it to be quite this long, but we knew it wasn't going to happen overnight. Has it been frustrating? Yes. Does it even make us a bit sad at times? Yes.

I won't speak for Kirsti, but I'll say that I'm okay with all of that. It's most frustrating when people, most of whom mean well, bombard me with questions about it. Luckily, I don't get that very often. I'm assuming that this is because most of my friends are guys, and guys tend to not ask a lot of questions about these sorts of things. It's not like they don't care. I just assume that they're like me, and they figure that I'll tell them something when I'm ready to tell them something. Anyway, the kinds of questions that are annoying are the ones when people ask me why it's taking so long. Or, they ask me why I don't call to figure out what's happening. As if our social worker has a baby girl sitting on her desk, but she's too busy playing solitaire to call us and let us know about it.

I will admit that there was a bit of a fear that we had fallen through the cracks and that our files somehow got shoved to the bottom, never to be seen again. I'll admit that I didn't call our social worker very much. This is mainly because I genuinely have to work up the willpower to use the phone (yes, I'm weird - I know) and have a conversation. I don't like calling somebody unless there's a reason or some sort of a point. As for calling the social worker, there didn't seem to be much of a point. I mean, what would the conversation consist of? "Do you have a baby for us?" ", not yet." "Okay, bye."

Still, I went ahead and called earlier this week, and that was a good decision as it has renewed my faith that we're doing the right thing. The social worker told me that we hadn't fallen between the cracks; it was just simply that there were a lot of people ahead of us. Also, since we're specific about what we want, that narrows down our options (we also want her to be a year or younger). We're also going to be adopting a child who is primarily Caucasian. (This could be the subject of another blog post entirely - it's an issue that I have mixed feelings about, but I can assure that the reason isn't because we somehow don't like people who aren't crackers like us.) She also told me that we're pretty much at the top of the stack, and we already looked like a good choice, but now that we've been waiting so long, we look like an even better one.

So, has this been hard? Yes. But do you know what keeps me holding on? The fact that once I have my child, none of this will matter.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Shout out to the Raytractors!

I posted some time ago about Ray Comfort's blog and his apparent hatred of all things factual. I still check it out from time to time, as it's kinda like the equivalent of a website devoted to train wrecks. I just can't help but not look. For those of you who don't know, Ray is an evangelist and best buddies with Kirk Cameron. His ministry basically revolves around getting people to feel as though they need God because they're awful, degenerate sinners. He's also pretty infamous for his critiques of evolution - every one of which demonstrate that he doesn't even know the first thing about what he's critiquing.

The thing is, I have a near-obsession with always getting in the last word. I call it "near" because I've actually been able to work on it a bit lately and just let certain things go. It's even easier to just limit my posting to his blog to the occasional comment because of a group of people whom I hearby dub The Raytractors (short for Ray Comfort Detractors).

In fact, I find myself checking out his blog more for what they have to say than what he does - because after all, he's pretty much saying the same thing over and over again. He has a few regular posters, many of whom are Christians who subscribe to his particular brand of the religion. Their comments are usually along the lines of "Great job, Ray!" However, the good stuff comes from The Raytractors. They're basically a bunch of skeptics and atheists (I don't think that all of them define themselves as atheists - because after all, there are a lot of Christians who find what he says to be offensive) who point out all of his logical fallacies and absurdities.

Of course, the true believers attack the Raytractors - usually by making sweeping statements that don't address the content of what they wrote, quoting the Bible, or simply insulting them. (There's even a guy who seems to have multiple personalities who supports Ray.)

I honestly believe though that if there was somebody who was genuinely on the fence regarding Christianity versus atheism, and they read Comfort's blog, they would have a hard time siding with the Christians. Now, they might not necessarily become atheists, but I can't see them subscribing to the extreme fundamentalist, scientifically ignorant views of Comfort and his true believers. (In fact, I believe that there's a guy out there who was on the fence, and the Raytractors appealed to him more). I know some people would wonder why I (or others) would bother even arguing with these people, but this is the reason why. One of the reasons why I finally came around to admitting I was an atheist was by reading the atheism discussion board on usenet. There was plenty of arguing, but the atheists had all of the most logical and compelling arguments. The Christians just kept saying the same stuff over and over again and proved themselves to be ignorant, dishonest, and sometimes both. (And I should probably point out that these were fundamentalist types - I know, I know, there are plenty of Christians out there who can justify their beliefs without attacking atheism.)

The thing is, these folks seem like a real fun bunch. While they can sometimes be slightly aggressive in their criticisms, most of them are just plain old funny. What seems to be happening is that a loose camraderie is starting to form amongst us. Now, many of you know me, and you know that it's difficult to get me to socialize sometimes. However, if these folks all lived close by me, I'd be really excited about having them over for dinner and/or homebrews (not sure if they all like beer or not). Kirsti (my wife, for those of you who don't know) reads the blog as well, and she's often asking me, "Hey, did you see what (fill in a Raytractor's name here) wrote?" She posts less than I do, but she enjoys their wit, intelligence, and devotion to intellectual honesty just as much as I do.

One thing that I find interesting is that many of them are women. Now, perhaps this reveals an inner sexism in me, but generally speaking (and I think that there are even statistics that prove this) women are less likely to be skeptical of the supernatural and more likely to believe not only in God but things like astrology. Perhaps that's turning around now that women are being encouraged to not just be nurturing homemakers (which there's nothing wrong with) but thinkers and scholars as well (which there's everything right with). I know that if I have a daughter, I'll expect her to look at the world objectively and critically just the same as I would with a boy. (And yes, I realize that she may very well wind up disagreeing with my religious views.)

So, a big shout out and raise of the homebrew mug to my fellow Raytractors! I've recently created a list of links to some of their blogs on the side of my Blogspot blog (sorry, MySpace readers - you'll have to go there to check it out). It's good reading, so check it out. And, if there are any Raytractors whose blogs I've missed, please leave a comment so I can be sure to include you.

Monday, July 7, 2008

This made me happy

I realize that I am often rather sarcastic, snarky, perhaps even belligerant on this blog. Please believe me when I say the following, as I am using absolutely no sarcasm whatsoever:

The video below made me so happy that I literally got some tears in my eyes. It goes on a little long, but I can only imagine it not touching you in some way if you're absolutely dead inside.

Where the Hell is Matt? (2008) from Matthew Harding on Vimeo.

Look who's on the cutting edge of progress!

I read an interesting article this morning in my local paper. For those of you who don't pay attention to what's going on in the state that's run by a guy who beat The Predator (no - not Minnesota - their former governor was killed by The Predator!), there has recently been a Supreme Court decision to overturn the ban on same sex marriage. Some of the fallout of this decision has included: boils, frogs, locusts, water turning to blood, and pineapple no longer being refreshing and delicious. Also, all of the straight men have become gay, and every traditional marriage has now completely collapsed.

Probably the most significant bit of fallout (apart from the whole pineapple thing) is that certain people are moving forward to amend the state's Constitution to ensure that marriage remains between a man and a woman. These people are known as the T.F.A., which stands for Total Fucking Assholes. (Oh, I'm sorry, opponents of same-sex marriage - does that offend you? How does that feel? As bad as not being able to be with your loved one who's dying in the hospital because you're not technically "family"? As bad as being told that you're going to hell because of who you love? As bad as being called degenerate, perverted, etc? Man, that's gotta suck. I really should care more about your feelings.)

Anyway, the article stated that there are apparently a significant number of Mormons who aren't getting behind this whole Constitutional amendment thing. This is significant for two reasons. One, the church leaders are urging them to get involved with it. Two, the Mormon Church was one of the biggest voices in the anti-gay marriage proposition of eight years ago. Apparently, the times are changing.

I'll be honest with you. There are some things about Mormonism that really make me scratch my head in bewilderment. However, that's pretty much true of any religion, so there's nothing special about them in that regard. The one thing that I find interesting about them though is that they believe that God continues to reveal Himself. In other words, it all doesn't end with The Bible, nor does it end with The Book of Mormon. The revelations keep coming, and this allows them to change their values with the times - which I personally see as a positive thing. Now, sometimes they can be a bit behind (took a while to finally let black people join the church), but at least they're able to adapt and evolve. I think that this is a reason why Mormonism will continue to be strong long after many other Christian denominations blur into one another.

So, obviously the Mormon church as an institution isn't quite where it should be in terms of equal rights for all people, but it looks like many of the Mormons themselves are using their reason and compassion istead of just blindly following what their leaders tell them.

It gives a guy like me hope.

Friday, July 4, 2008

War on the 4th of July

Quick, somebody call Bill O'Reilly!

Today, after buying some cheese from the deli counter at my local Nob Hill, the lady wished me a "Happy Holiday".

I dropped all of my things and growled at her. "Holiday? Holiday? HOLIDAY??? What the hell???"

"Oh, I'm sorry, I meant Happy 4th of July!"

"That's Independence Day, bitch!" I said to her. "What's the matter, do you hate freedom? Don't you know that, according to Sean Hannity, this is the greatest, best, most amazing, nacho-cheesiest country on the planet and all of its corresponding other dimensional realities? Hannity has conducted a very scientific survey, and his conclusions are air-tight!"

"Okay, Happy Independence Day then!" She was looking at me like I was the one who was being an asshole.

I didn't let her get away with that. I then stood there, with my hand on my heart and said the Pledge of Allegiance. (I even did it one better by saying "under the one, true God, Jesus Christ" instead of just "under God".) That was just a warm-up though, as I then proceeded to sing "The Star Spangled Banner" and then "America the Beautiful." After that, I recited the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution, The Gettysburg Address, Kennedy's "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech, several of George W. Bush's malopropisms, and the lyrics to "Proud to be an American" and several other songs, most of them by Toby Keith.

By this point, there were several people staring - as if there was something wrong with being patriotic! I then shouted at them that they all hated America. To really drive my point home, I leaped over the deli counter and cold-cocked the Blame America Firster, knocking her mask off to reveal - Osama bin Laden! I should have known! But wait, it gets worse - as I went in to punch him again, I noticed that he was wearing another mask! I pulled it off to reveal none other than King George!

"You've failed, your majesty," I said to him as I kicked him square in the nuts.

Why did I do all that? Because I'm a patriot, dammit. Now, pass me a Bud while I eat hot dogs and watch shit blow up.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Writing an epic

I'll write more about this on my creative writing blog, but I have been working on a huge, epic story since summer started. Whether I'll ever attempt to get this published or not is an issue that I'm not dealing with right now, as I'm mainly just doing it for myself. Still, I'd love to get feedback from anybody who's willing to read it. Last night, I had just finished the second chapter, and below are a couple of PDFs of what I have so far.

Do check it out, as after I reread it, I honestly believe that it's pretty entertaining. Imagine a superhero story set to the voice that I write my blogs - toss in some spiritual issues, Jesus, Satan, Greek and Slavic mythology, and even a few zombies, and there you have it. Any comments and/or criticisms are welcome.

Book I
Book II

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

What is art?

Since I have some time off, I decided to take advantage of Free Museum Day in San Francisco (first Tuesday of the month - for many of them, anyway) and check out the SF Museum of Modern Art and the Cartoon Art Museum. I've been to the Cartoon one before, but it was my first trip to SF MOMA. Actually, that's not entirely true, as there was an exhibit of props from the original Star Wars trilogy there years ago, and being the geek that I am, I checked it out.

It's funny, because I remember something in the program about how the museum wasn't going to comment on whether the props were actually "art" or not. I wondered why not. Why not just call it art? I mean, just because it was created in the service of popular entertainment, does that somehow devalue it? The people who designed the ships, costumes, sets, etcetera certainly had to have artistic talent, and they drew inspiration from a variety of sources. Obviously, each one wasn't following their own unique vision, but it's definitely a creative endeavor. In my mind, that's what makes it art.

Anyway, I know that a lot of people cringe when they hear the term "modern art." They think of stuff that elicts the response, "I could do that." You know, different colored squares. Big splotches of paint. That sort of a thing. They want to see things that look like the things that they're supposed to be. They like cabins in the woods, mountains, rivers, trees, etcetera.

It's interesting, because I recently watched a documentary on the Nazis and Hitler's particular artistic aesthetic a while ago called Architecture of Doom. It showed how Hitler had some very definite ideas about what counted as art and what didn't. He liked the classical looks. He liked beauty and heroic-looking figures. Anything that was distorted or abstract was food for the fires. Go figure that Hitler would be so closed minded, huh?

As for me, I'm willing to admit my ignorance when it comes to art. I like what I like, but I don't think that I'm really consistent about what I enjoy. I really enjoyed the works of Rembrandt when I went to the Reichsmuseum in Amsterdam, and I would stand there mesmerized at somem of his works just absorbing the amazing attention to detail. As for paintings of little cabins in the woods that you see in hotel rooms, they don't do much for me. I mean, they're nice and all, but I find them to be rather uninspiring. They're just kinda there, ya know?

What about the more abstract stuff though? I don't care for the works of Jackson Pollock, but I've had a couple of people, who know a whole lot more about art than I do, explain what was good about him. I understood what they meant, and it made some sense. At the end of the day though, it just doesn't look very good to me. That's the thing though, I don't want to be one of those people who are instantly critical of anything that's abstract. While I realize that some of it might be popular due to pretentious people who want to sound smart, I also realize that my own ignorance hinders my appreciation somewhat.

So, going through SF MoMA, I decided to just keep an open mind and have a look around. Much of it didn't do anything for me, but there were some pieces that I really liked. One was really wild, and pretty hard to explain, but there was something about the way it all came together and played with my vision that appealed to me. There was some other stuff that was pretty abstract, where I didn't know what I was looking at, but there was either something about the colors or design that appealed to me. I can't explain what's good about it; I just liked it.

So, when is it art and when is it not? Does it matter so long as at least one person enjoys it?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Tired of music

There have been a few cds coming out over the past few months that I've had some interest in getting. I planned on getting the new releases of Death Cab for Cutie, Weezer, and Coldplay. Yet, for some reason, I haven't yet.

I don't know. I guess I'm just starting to feel a bit uninspired by a lot of the new music I've been hearing lately. Death Cab for Cutie's new single is pretty good, but it just doesn't scream out to me "buy the whole album!" Weezer's last cd was pretty blah, and what I've heard of the new one just doesn't do much for me. It's not bad, but it's just not going to get as many listens as their first three discs did, I just know it. As for Coldplay, I've heard a few of their new songs now, and absolutely none of them are doing anything for me. I'm willing to concede that maybe I need to listen to them some more, as Coldplay was one of those bands that I originally didn't think much of, but slowly they grew on me.

I probably should point out here that I downloaded the new Raconteurs album from That's some damn good music, and I've been listening to it quite a bit. The new one by The Black Keys is pretty good as well, so it's not like I'm totally turned off to all new music.

I remember when pop and rock music used to be a lot more exciting for me. In high school and college, I used to keep up with all the new bands and with what was going on in music. Like so many others, as I got older, I paid less attention, and the new music I got was mainly new releases by bands that debuted when I was paying attention. I also had pretty much drained the classic rock well, as there just didn't seem to be much out there that appealed to me anymore, as I already owned pretty much the entire catalogue of Beatles, Creedence, The Who, etc. I wasn't going to start listening to butt-rock like Boston, Bad Company, and Foreigner, that's for damned sure. (I should also mention that I got into a Blues phase for a while there, and while I still list it as one of my favorite genres - let's be honest, you can buy a disc or two by a particular artist and you have all you need from them.)

And when I do pay attention, I'm pretty underwhelmed. Every now and then, I'll hear something that impresses me. Luckily my wife still pays attention to what's popular, and a few years back while she was watching some awards show, I was introduced to The Hives, The Vines, and The White Stripes (the latter of which becoming probably one of my favorite bands). Now, I'm not so foolish as to say that music was better back when I was a teenager - there was plenty of crap. I guess I was just less discerning then, as certain entries in my cd collection prove. (I mean - do I really need all of the Van Halen albums with Sammy Hagar? Do I really need even one of them? Isn't Van Halen and 1984 with David Lee Roth enough?)

Much of the rock I hear now strikes me as being pretty blah, as it seems like a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy. When I hear it, I don't hear a riff or a melody, and it sounds like the singer is forcing a melody over music that's just one chord over and over again. (At this point, I will admit that my musical ignorance is preventing me from having the proper verbage to say exactly what it is that I mean.) I mean, think of Led Zeppelin's "Heartbreaker." Got that guitar riff in your head? That's the kind of thing that I'm not hearing from a lot of the rock bands of today. (Not that everybody should be doing Zeppelin-like riffs - but there does need to be some sort of a hook.)

Now, before you start saying, "But what about (fill in the blank here)" I am sure that there are a lot of really good bands out right now that I haven't heard yet. I sometimes listen to the radio (106.5 - KWOD) and I'll hear some good stuff. I also admit that some of these bands seem pretty crappy on the first listen, but then I later have to swallow my words and admit that there's something to them. (My Chemical Romance seems to be one of these. I thought that they were really lame at first, but the more I hear of them, the more interesting their music gets.) Still, I have always been of the mind that 90% of everything is crap - and nothing proves that moreso than popular music.

I was in the city today and I stopped off at the Virgin Megastore. While browsing around, I saw a bunch of cds by new rock bands (including some of the ones I mentioned at the beginning) and debated buying them. I didn't struggle too much in passing them by. However, when I went to the top floor, I started checking out the jazz section. There were about three Coltrane cds that I didn't have, and I gave each one a listen. I wanted to buy them all, as I've been listening to him quite a lot. I listen to music when I take my dog on a walk, and his albums have been getting a lot of play from me. I settled on just one - Lush Life.

There was also a listening station for a bunch of World Music compilations. They had discs on everything from African dance to European cafe music to Americana. I listened to a bit of each one, and I wanted to buy them all (about fifteen or so). I limited myself to the Afro-Latin Party disc, and I can't wait to play it next time I'm cooking in the kitchen. I'm sure that I'll be shaking my butt and dancing in a horrific manner that would instantly kill any passer by who's unfortunate enough to look in my window. (Fear for my wife.)

It's funny, but for as underwhelmed as I'm feeling about pop and rock music, I'm starting to get really excited about jazz. I feel as though there's a whole world of good stuff out there that I still have to discover, and my wallet will feel lighter as a result. I'm still figuring out what I like and what I don't about jazz, and it's almost like when I got my first cd player - I've got a lot to learn.

I doubt that my love affair with rock music is over. It's just in a bit of a lull right now as I broaden my horizons a bit. The thing is, a lot of the music I find myself liking isn't what I'm going to hear on the radio - maybe on one of the XM stations that my satellite company provides, I suppose. I have to take the time to look for it - but whenever I get something really good, I definitely feel rewarded.

"Betece" by Africando - one of the bands on the Afro-Latin Party cd.