Thursday, February 26, 2009

How to respond?

I was asked recently how I would respond to an obnoxious person at a party who would get right in my face and ask me, "How is your relationship with Jesus Christ?" (My wife asked me, as apparently it happened to a friend of ours just recently, and he was curious as to how I would respond.)

While I'm never as witty on the spot as I am when I have time to think about it, I suppose that here are some possibilities:
  • About as good as my relationship with Quetzalcoatl (or insert a god of your choice - just not Heimdall, please).
  • How is your relationship with Quetzalcoatl? (Yeah, I know, just a slight variation from the previous one.)
  • We're just friends.
  • He made sweet love to me last night.
  • Who?
  • I haven't spoken to him since he killed my dog.
  • That zombie carpenter guy? You mean him?
  • Wait...did you say Jesus or Jeebus?

That's all I've got so far. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments.

Suck it, Dr. Phil!

I've been putting off this blog entry for some time now, mainly because it will force me to admit something of which I am quite ashamed. I think that I'll just start with that, so without further ado:

I used to like Dr. Phil. Oh, dear Odin how it pains me to make such a horrid confession! Yeah, I know, what the hell is wrong with me? Well, whatever was wrong with me, it's now a thing of the past. I have seen the light.

But why did I like him? Oh, I don't even know how it started. I think that Kirsti caught him when he had a weekly gig on Oprah's show, and I watched it with her. (This is funny, because Kirsti has never been a regular Oprah watcher. I mean, she's been known to watch it, but not on any regular basis that I can recall.) I found myself liking him so much that I would be sure to sit down and watch every Thursday (I think that was his day). I know exactly what it was that I liked - it was fun to watch him tell clueless people to get a clue. After all, who doesn't deal with a lot of clueless people in their daily life? (Especially school teachers!) I suppose that it was some sort of bizarre wish-fullfillment fantasy, as I wanted to rail on the clueless people just like he did.

Things got even worse when he finally got his own TV show. I actually caught the first few episodes! While it was hardly something that I would TiVo in order to not miss an episode, I watched it pretty regularly. It was wall-to-wall revelations of the stupidity of people. In many ways, it's like the dramatic irony of a Shakespearean tragedy - you understand the character's faults even if he or she does not.

Eventually though, it hit me just how totally asinine this guy was. I guess I'm just a little slow sometimes. I suppose it was a combination of things. For one, he started to do all sorts of weight-loss episodes, which is pretty cynical if you ask me. After all, that sort of thing draws in viewers, even though he doesn't really have any sort of nutrition/dietary expertise. Along with that, he also started shilling all sorts of diet products with his picture on them doing a total douche move. See for yourself:

That made me start to wake up a bit, but the thing that really shocked me out of my stupidity was a particular episode with a particularly clueless woman on it. Basically, she went on and on about how she spent too much money on her daughter and how she had racked up a huge debt by buying all sorts of toys for her. She had bought so much that her daughter didn't even have any sense of just what she had any more. To conclude, she said something along the lines of, "Dr. Phil, please tell me how to spend so much money on toys for my daughter."

I tell ya, it was like Paul on the road to flippin' Damascus for me. It all just rushed at me. What the hell was wrong with this woman? What the hell was Dr. Phil going to say that any other person wouldn't say? Sure enough, he said a bunch of folksy blah blah that was pretty much just common sense. I remember thinking that his next guess was going to be a guy who hit himself repeatedly on the head with a hammer, and then he would ask, "Dr. Phil, how do I stop hitting myself with a hammer?"

Yeah, I was pretty slow on the draw, but I finally woke up to why I was enjoying the show - the aforementioned pleasure in watching dumb people being told that they were being dumb, and I realized that was a pretty awful reason to watch something. Perhaps I should have gone on the show and asked, "Dr. Phil, how can I realize that you're actually just a douchey bag of wind?"

And typical of me, once I finally woke up to it, I couldn't stand to hear that moron talk about anything any more. Kirsti will once in a blue moon have his show on, more as background noise when she's doing something, and every word that comes out of his mouth just pisses me off. The thing is, there's nothing wise, nothing profound, nothing valuable about anything that he says. And now that I've actually been in therapy, I've learned that it's a process that takes some time to get any real value out of it; there's no way that he's actually solving any problems on his show.

What finally prompted me to write this entry was when I heard an ad for his show this morning. Apparently, he's going to talk to that woman who just had eight kids despite the fact that she already had twenty-seven (or something) while not having a husband or a job. They had a brief soundbite, and he was telling her, "These aren't dolls we're talking about here!"

Gee, really, Dr. Phil? Man, you must have some kinda fancy fricken' degree to figure that crap out. I'm sure that he's going to get to the bottom of this and finally cure this woman of her dimwittery.

What an ass.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

WonderCon - not this year

I was tempted to make this the second part of my "Comics Rule" series of posts, but somehow that doesn't seem fitting considering it's ultimately about how I won't be attending WonderCon this year. What is WonderCon? It's a comic book convention - you know, those things where a bunch of nerdy people with no lives hang out and discuss nerdy things. If only they had the fulfilling lives of people who sat around the house and watched TV all day.

I went to my first comic book convention shortly after I became a regular reader of comics, which was when I was twelve. It was the very first WonderCon, although that first year it was known as the Wonderful World of Comics convention. My uncle had told me about it, as he was there helping a friend of his who had a booth there. So, my parents let me take BART into Oakland and meet my uncle there. (Don't panic - the convention was at a Hotel that was pretty much right outside the station. I wasn't hanging around Oakland all by myself.)

I didn't really know anything about conventions, so I pretty much just wandered around looking at all the cool stuff that was for sale. I also don't think that I had a whole lot of money to spend either, but I don't seem to recall being bored. Oh, and the highlight of the whole experience was that I got to meet Stan Lee (co-creator of Spider-Man, The X-Men, The Hulk, etcetera).

(Actually, now that I'm thinking of all this, I may be combining the first WonderCon with the second one in my brain. Whatever, the point is that I had a good time at the first one - enough to go to the next one a year later, and I met Stan "The Man" Lee.)

WonderCon became a yearly ritual for me, and I usually had a friend or two come along with me. However, even if I couldn't get somebody to go with me, I was always more than willing to go by myself. The early years, when I was in middle and high schools, were the best. Back then, Marvel Comics had representatives there (for some reason, they stopped and haven't shown up for about a decade now). Their panels were always the best, as not only were a lot of my favorite artists and writers there, but they usually did all sorts of fun things (like a contest where I won a subscription to Daredevil).

I also got to have a lot of conversations with some of my favorite creators. For me, (and this is still true), meeting the guy who writes Batman is as cool as meeting the guy who plays Batman in a movie would be. What's even cooler is that I got to meet some comics artists before they hit the big time. I remember walking right up to Jim Lee and telling him how much I enjoyed his work on Punisher War Journal. The next year, the guy had a line that went all the way around the convention center, and he can still bring in that kind of a crowd.

Another highlight was the movie previews. Keep in mind, this was before the Internet, where you can download pretty much everything. For many of the movies, WonderCon was the first chance to see any footage of them, and it was always fun to tell people who weren't there about what was coming out that summer.

One other cool thing, and this tended to be true if I went on Sunday, was that I could score some really good deals on comics. There was always a huge $1 comic blowout section, where I was able to find all sorts of stuff I wanted. Not only that, but I remember picking up the $15 Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told for a paltry $3.50.

Over the past few years, as WonderCon has moved to San Francisco, it has become a much bigger production. They've had special guests like Tobey McGuire (and I got his autograph on a Spider-Man 2 poster), Christian Bale, Gerard Butler, Jon Favreau, etcetera. Seeing those folks were definitely amongst the many fond memories.

So, why after more than 20 years, am I not going to the latest one? Probably the biggest problem for me is that it's just too damned big now. I generally can't stand being stuck in a large crowd, and last year I was feeling downright claustrophobic. Not only that, but going out to San Francisco is always a pain in the butt, as whether I drive or BART in there, it's always going to cost a big chunk of change just to get there.

I would like to see the presentation for Watchmen, as the director and some of the stars will no doubt be there, but there are so many interviews and making-of features that I can just catch online now. (Shoot, they'll probably put that particular panel online). Also, Ed Brubaker, one of my favorite comics writers right now is scheduled to appear, but with these huge crowds, it's doubtful that I'd get to say more than a few words to him.

What about the great deals? The past few years, I managed to find some cool graphic novels for half off, but what with the internet and's used shops, I can usually find deals that are as good, if not better. And if you factor in the cost of the ticket to get there (along with the cost just to get there and whatever money I'd spend on lunch), I'm not really getting that great of a deal.

Another thing contributing to my apathy is that the convention is becoming less and less about comics (which explains why it's growing, ironically enough). Last year, Steve Carrel and Anne Hathaway were there to talk about Get Smart. It was pretty cool to see them, but what the hell does that have to do with comics? Also, if you walk around the exhibition room, you'll find all sorts of stuff that's not even remotely comics related. Every year, it seems to be more of a media convention than a comic book convention. Yeah, I know, comic book fans can be a nerdy bunch, but they're MY nerdy bunch.

So, despite my obsessive-compulsive desire to keep the tradition alive, I'm going to pass on this year's convention. Honestly though, I'm eying the Super-Con in San Jose (May 16 & 17). While going to San Jose is probably a bigger pain than going to San Francisco, this one seems more like what WonderCon used to be. I had gone to a couple of Super-Cons before, but I stopped going when it seemed to be nothing more than the poor man's WonderCon. Now though, that's pretty much what I'm looking for.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

DirecTV, you're dead to me

I just watched the latest episode of Lost with my wife, and it was really nice. Not so much that it was a good episode (although it was) but it was nice that the image didn't get all pixelated every five minutes. Of course, that should be the norm, but it hasn't been for the past year or so. Today was different though because I switched from DirecTV to Dish Network.

Unfortunately, switching from one to the other hasn't been an easy process. I've had DirecTV for some time now, and for the first few years I didn't have any problems. It wasn't until I upgraded to their HD service that I started to have some problems. Basically, it was fine for the first several months, but then some of my shows would come in all pixelated and messed up. After they sent somebody out to fix it, things were fine again for a few months, but then the whole mess started up again.

What was worse was that eventually the initial warranty ended, and I had to sign up for some extended protection or have to pay for every time they came to my place. I made a stink about that, and I got them to charge me less than they normally would. Eventually though, the DVR started to crap out on me, and I had to have them send a replacement.

Not too long after that, it crapped out on me yet again. By this time (and I've probably left out a few other times) I was done with them. The only catch was that I was locked in a contract with them, and they wouldn't let me out of it without paying a harsh penalty. I asked to be let out of it, but they convinced me to let them try and fix the problem one more time.

Of course, it was fixed, but just a few weeks later, the whole mess started up again. This time, I not only called but I also wrote a letter to them, insisting that I be let out of my contract, even threatening legal action. (A friend of mine who's a lawyer confirmed for me that I actually would have the law on my side if they continued to be unable to provide the proper service to me.)

When I called this weekend, I found out that they had finally let me out of the contract, and I promptly cancelled, despite the nice lady on the other line asking if there was any way they could make things right with me. The next day, I called Dish Network, and then they had an installer come out the day after that. I'm still getting used to this new system, but so far, so good.

Writing about this, it doesn't seem so bad, but I've written before about how much I hate talking on the phone in general. Calling to deal with this stuff caused me a lot of stress, and no doubt a seriously raised blood pressure. The thing is, I'd go weeks in between when there was a problem and when I'd finally call, as I found myself getting way too worked up about it. Yeah, I'm weird, but I can't seem to change that particular aspect of my personality. (Some of my shows would actually always come in fine, like The Daily Show, but shows like Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles I wound up watching online, which isn't too bad, but what's the point of having a flat screen, 42" TV if you can't watch a show like that on it?

Kirsti had some friends of hers tell her that they weren't happy with Dish Network, but none of their complaints had anything to do with their shows not coming in properly. The complaints had more to do with their automatic billing system and their equipment (one friend said that she hated their remote). I'm not too worried about equipment problems, because the guy on the phone told me that if it breaks down, I can always take it down to Radio Shack to exchange it. There's one of those just a few minutes from my house, so that's not so bad.

Honestly, all of the stress that this has caused me has made me wonder if having TV is even worth it. I suppose that if everything works out, I'll start to view it as something to help me relax rather than something that drives me crazy.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Comics rule - part I

I've been contemplating a really long entry on comics and why they're awesome ever since I started this blog. I soon realized that I'd never be able to write everything that I wanted in one entry. I then started to try and map out exactly how I would do this, and then it started to seem more like work. This blog is intended primarily as an excuse to write for the sake of writing, and it's a nice added bonus that not only do friends and family members read it, but I sometimes seem to get complete strangers from all over the world checking it out as well.

So, I have no plan here, and I don't know how many entries this will be, but I figure that I have a good subtopic right now to get this thing started. And without further ado...

I'm not sure exactly when I received my first comic book. I remember that there were always plenty of things to read for me while I was growing up, most of them children's books, but there were also some comics as well. I seem to recall getting a couple of large, oversized comics when I was I was three years old and in the hospital for open-heart surgery. I still have one of them, and the copyright date on it is 1976, so my memory is probably correct. It's a Batman comic, and it has quite a few stories in it - one of them written by Dennis O'Neal, whom I would meet as a teenager and have a long talk about writing at a comic book convention. (Not that I paid attention to that sort of a thing when I was little.) Flipping through it, I still think it's a pretty cool book, and I'm amazed that it's in as good of a shape as it is. It's basically just a little worn, but the cover and all the pages are still intact.

There were others, I'm sure as the years went on. I believe my Mom told me that she bought them for me and my sister when we lived in Iran. I seem to recall some Archie and Scrooge McDuck comics for the most part. However, it wasn't until we came back from Iran when I was five that my mom bought for me the one comic that would have the biggest impact on me. It was another Batman book, an issue of Batman Family, which was regular-sized, but it was basically a collection of stories featuring different writers, artists and characters. The feature story had Batman fighting an old man who transferred his mind into a giant gorilla.

I still have that one, and I still think that story is cool. There were also some stories featuring Robin, Batgirl, and Batmite. And then the story in the middle, the one that REALLY freaked me out featured The Demon. I thought that was scary as hell, and Michael Golden's art really gave me the heebie jeebies. In fact, I was so creeped out by it that I was afraid to actually read it, yet at the same time I found something to be strangely compelling about it.

As the years past, I probably got a few comics here and there. The ones that I remember are an oversized Superman comic that my oldest sister bought for me on Christmas and an adaptation of Return of the Jedi (which featured some really awesome art by Al Williamson). It wasn't until I was twelve and some kids were bringing in issues of Transformers and GI JOE that I started to think about getting them on a regular basis. After all, I was getting an allowance - I had to spend my money on something!

So, I started off with Transformers, but it was only a matter of months before I moved on to the monthly issues of The Amazing Spider-Man, since Spidey had always been my favorite hero (despite the Batman comics). My first issue was Amazing Spider-Man #276. The last issue that I bought was 586, just last week. No, I haven't bought every issue in between. However, I doubt that I've gone more than a month without going to a comic book store since I was twelve.

I remember my aunt asking me when I was a teenager when I was going to get "out" of comics and start getting "into girls". (I never understood why they had to be mutually exclusive.) Well, I'm 35 and married now. Somehow, I don't think that I'm ever going to get "out" of comics.

Why? Because comics rule. Lots more to come on that.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Creationists - shooting themselves in the foot

I was just sent this article from SFGate. Basically, what's happening is that a guy is filing a lawsuit against UC Berkeley because they have a website called Understanding Evolution. According to this fella, since the university receives government funding, it's the equivalent to putting a cross up on public property. Because evolution is like, a religion and stuff.

Except, you know, it like, isn't and stuff. I'm not going to go into how evolution is the foundation for modern biology and that our understanding of the theory is leading to all sorts of things that have practical effects on our lives (like the curing of diseases and whatnot). If you're still one of those people who think that it's "just a theory" or that we don't share an ancestor with the apes, then there's just no telling you anything. If you're on the fence, check out Berkeley's site that I linked. It seems to be a pretty comprehensive overview of what the theory is and what the evidence for it is.

Basically what's got this guy all ruffled is that evolution contradicts his literal view of The Bible, and therefore the government shouldn't support anything that interferes with his religious beliefs. On some level, I agree with that. I wouldn't want to see the government closing down churches or banning religious rituals. (I'd rather see that happen on its own - although I'd want at least some churches to still stand for the same reason that I think that the Acropolis and the Pyramids should still stand.)

However, if we're going to not allow the government to support any statements that contradict religious belief, then we're going to run into all sorts of problems, aren't we? Does this guy really want this much attention to be drawn to this issue? After all, a spherical, heliocentric Earth contradicts a literal interpretation of The Bible. The fact that women need a man to impregnate them to have a baby (at least in ancient times) contradicts The Bible. The fact that there's no correlation between hair length and superhuman strength contradicts The Bible. Is this the sort of thing that this guy wants brought up in a court of law - especially one that would no doubt draw a lot of media attention?

The creationists already shot themselves a serious blow in the Intelligent Design trial in Dover. This will only hurt them even more. What's more, it will hurt religion even more.

Here's the thing, Religion. You're like a tiger - powerful, beautiful, sublime. However, you're jumping into the shark tank on this one, and now you're nothing but chum.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Odin's probably real

Even though today is Thor's Day, I got to thinking about Odin while walking my dog tonight. Actually, a bunch of tangential thoughts all coalesced into some thoughts that I'm going to attempt to express right now.

While walking Argos, I was listening to my MP3 player. To be more specific, I was listening to the soundtrack of Into the Wild. All of the songs are by Eddie Vedder, the lead singer of Pearl Jam (which just happens to be one of my absolute favorite bands). I purchased it just a few days ago, as I just can't seem to stop thinking about that movie. Kirsti and I rented it a few months ago, and I liked it so much that I bought the Blu-Ray. After watching it yet again, I found myself compelled to buy the book, and then, of course, the soundtrack.

For those who don't know, it's all based on a true story of a young man who gave up everything he had so he could travel the country and live a spartan existence. He eventually went out into the wilderness of Alaska and was shot from a helicopter by Sarah Palin. No, wait, that's not quite right. Actually, he wound up dying of starvation while out there. One of the sad (or morbidly beautiful, depending on how much of a romantic you are) things about it is that he seemed to know that he might not make it back.

Of course, a lot of people dismiss him as being stupid for what he did. I wouldn't necessarily say that's wrong, but it's too simple of an answer. He basically was a man who sought absolute freedom, and he got what he wanted. And from what I gather, he wasn't harboring a lot of delusions as to just exactly what that might entail. (Although, and this is where his intelligence gets called into question, it turns out that there are a few things that he could have done while out there that might have prevented his tragic fate.)

So, it's true tragedy in the sense that it reminds us of the great potential that humans have while at the same time showing the reality of how we oftentimes wind up destroying that same great potential. His story fills me with a lot of conflicting emotions - hence the reason why I can't get it out of my head.

The aspect of his story that was swirling in my head today was the nature of, well...nature. This is a theme that's also well expressed in the movie Grizzly Man - another true story of man trying to live in harmony with nature. The thing is, nature is neither good nor bad. It simply is what it is. It can bring life, but it can just as easily take life. It's not out to help you, and it's not out to get you either. It can be nurturing, and it can be destructive.

During my prep period today, I started to put together some notes for a unit on Norse Mythology. Using a couple of books that I have, along with some useful websites, I started creating some notes about Odin. One thing that I found to be pretty interesting about him was just how downright capricious he was. He was revered, but nobody was under any sort of delusion that he was going to always be kind and generous. He was simultaneously known as The Allfather and The Destroyer - amongst hundreds of other names that run the gamut between those two ideas.

This is not too surprising. After all, the gods of the Greek pantheon could be pretty nasty sometimes as well. Zeus would favor certain heroes, but he had no problem making things miserable for others. Also, if you read your Old Testament, Yahweh is equally fickle in his dealings with human beings. (Don't believe me? Try reading Job!) Of course, when Jesus comes along, he's a little bit more of a kinder, gentler sort, but you still have that awful blood sacrifice and all sorts of other things that are tough to reconcile with the kind, loving God that Christians like to describe, despite the fact that their Holy Bible paints a pretty different picture.

I think that the ancient peoples had it right. After all, what were the gods but an attempt to explain what was not understood about the natural world? You know, that same natural world that trapped Christopher Johnson McCandless in the snow? The same one that put Timothy Treadwell in the belly of a bear? It only makes sense that Odin would be seen in so many different lights. Why should God be described as a being that's wholly loving, wholly caring? If He does exist, then he watches countless children die every day - and no arguments about it being a result of us having "free will" can ever change that. (After all, what free will does a child dying of malaria have? He dies because I've turned away from God? Does that really make God seem any more kind?)

Of course, neither Odin nor the God that most monotheists today describe are literally real. However, this god who supposedly loves you and wants nothing for the best for you? He's not even real on a metaphorical level. Give me Odin any day - at least you know where you stand with that guy.

(But as always, Heimdall can shove it.)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


At the risk of this blog becoming a therapy session, I'm going to write about something in the hopes that a particularly troublesome recurring dream will finally stop. I don't know how interesting it will actually be for anybody to actually read it.

My grandma, Julia Cruciani (no, I'm not Italian - her maiden name was Castro - I'm Spanish, actually) passed away almost eight years ago. She had a Catholic funeral, at which I really didn't feel very comfortable. I guess since I wasn't raised Catholic myself, there's something about all of that ceremony that I don't find very comforting at all. Anyway, I don't think that I shed a single tear that day. I honestly don't think that I shed any tears over my grandmother.

Not too long before she died, my father had remarried. His new wife and her daughter were both terribly distraught at the funeral. (I suppose that they're my step-mother and step-sister, but it seems weird to call them that since I was an adult when they came into my life. It's not that I have anything against them, but it just seems strange.) Part of me worried about how they must think of me, seeing as how I didn't seem to be very sad at all. I also had a bit of a hard time with what was going on, as there seemed to be some revisionist history going on regarding the type of person my grandmother was. Looking back on it now, I don't hold any of that against them. After all, they knew a different person than I did, and they didn't have the same experiences as me. Had I come into my grandmother's life as late as that, I'd probably feel differently about her too.

There is much about my opinion about my grandmother that's colored by the experiences of others. It's very tempting to tell the stories that my mother told me, as well as the experiences of my sister (who I honestly don't remember crying either - but I could be COMPLETELY wrong about that - don't hold me to it). I'm going to try and avoid all of that, as difficult as it is, and just stick to what I experienced myself.

My first memories (for the most part) of her were from when I was five years old and my family had returned from being in Iran for 16 months. (My dad was working there, but that whole revolution in 1979 kinda put the kibosh on that.) Before that, I seem to recall speaking to her on the phone in Iran, but maybe I just remember the picture of me speaking to her on the phone and my parents telling me that's what that picture was. Anyway, my family and I lived with her in San Francisco for several months before we finally moved to a house in Concord.

I don't have a lot of specific memories, and this is where it's tempting to write about things that my mom told me about how she treated me. Still, I'm going to stick to my own recollection. With that, I only have brief flashes of events and a general impression of how I felt. I seem to remember one time her making dinner for my sister and me, and there was an incredible tension during that meal. I remember not wanting to finish what was on my plate and her being very displeased with that. Aside from that, the primary emotion that comes to mind when I think of that time is one of fear. No, she never hit or anything like that, but it's not like a lot of the other women in my life where I recall them being nurturing and loving.

After that time, I saw my Grandma on special occasions like Christmas and whatnot. For the most part, I don't have any negative memories of these times. I know that she would be on the outs with my parents for a period of time, and then things would be back to normal again. Oftentimes the thing that would create a lot of tension was when she'd be drinking. The only thing that I specifically remember is one time when I was twelve, we went to her house to celebrate my father's birthday. By the time we got there, she was passed out on the floor, drunk, and we had to call an ambulance. I'm pretty sure that there were other times like this, but I'm too young to remember them very specifically. Basically, when I recall my feelings at the time, "surprise" was not one of them.

At this point, I had originally written quite a bit more, but I started to ramble and lose sight of why I was writing this in the first place. Maybe I'll come back to it. Maybe I won't.

Monday, February 9, 2009

That's not the reason

I was so moved by the movie Into the Wild that I was compelled to buy the book. I'm about a third of the way through it so far, and I'd definitely recommend it to anybody who liked the film. Obviously, it fleshes out a lot of the details that only a novel can.

One thing that I found particulary interesting was when the author, Jon Krakauer, interviewed the old guy that Chris McCandles lived with for some time before setting off on his ill-fated Alaska adventure. The guy, Ronald Franz (which is a pseudonym, actually) was a very religious man all of his life, but when he learned that McCandles died out in the wilderness, he decided that he couldn't believe in any god that would allow for such a thing to happen - especially considering that he prayed for McCandles' safe return.

Oftentimes, I have written and spoken about how the character of God is like a brutal tyrant. I believe that I have good reasons for pointing this out, but I think that it confuses people. Recently, I made a post on Facebook where I linked a video (see below) that basically mocks the fundamentalist version of God - you know, the one whose biggest concern is whether you're born again or not. A couple of people responded and said that they don't blame me for being an atheist.

The thing is, this has nothing to do with why I don't believe in God. Also, I feel bad for the old guy who befriended McCandles, but whether God answers prayers or not has nothing to do with his existence. Of course, there might be a lot more to the man's reason for deconverting, but that alone doesn't make much sense to me, as I know that there are probably many atheists who stopped believing due to a traumatic event. Shoot, I remember one time somebody insisting that "something must have happened" to me to get me to not believe in God. She seemed incredulous when I told her that my lack of belief was a result of something else entirely.

So, if I don't believe, then why should I go on about what a petty, brutal dictator God is? Why don't I write about what a heel Zeus is for always cheating on his wife? Why not pick on Odin for his capricious ways? How about picking on leprechauns for not sharing their pot o' gold - or their Lucky Charms for that matter?

I suppose that the reason why I don't go after all of those things is that I don't live in a society where people still worship Zeus or Odin, and they don't go looking for leprechauns. If I did, then I'd feel the need to do just that. I mean, nobody's out there trying to convince me that Zeus is all-loving. There wasn't somebody asking for Odin to bless this country at Obama's inauguration. And nobody's trying to have Leprechaun-design taught as an alternative theory as to why rainbows exist.

So, do I think that the character of God, as described in The Bible (and even by a lot of believers) is a jerk? Yes. But I also think that Voldemort is a jerk. Still, that has nothing to do with my lack of belief.

I will say, however, that Heimdall and his stupid Ragnarok horn is exactly the reason why I don't believe in him. I mean, a horn? Seriously? A rainbow bridge? What an ass.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Hefeweizen Perfection

I blogged a while ago about how I had invested in some more advanced homebrewing technology (or as Ali G. calls it - "techmology"). In short, I bought a gas-powered burner for outside and a 7.5 gallon kettle. The major difference is that instead of boiling three gallons and adding two gallons of water to it, I'm boiling all five gallons at once. Supposedly, this will result in better beer. As of now, I have tried two batches, and the question is: Are they better?

The first one is an English IPA. I've never made this style before, so I have nothing with which to compare. The only thing that I can say is that it's pretty damned yummy. Basically, an English IPA is a more mellow version of its American cousin (and no doubt closer to what the style was originally). Still, I can't tell if it's better than if I did the partial boil method. After all, I've made some pretty damned good beers that way as well.

The second, and most recent is an American Hefeweizen. Again, I haven't made this one before, but I have made Hefeweizen several times before. I've made the German ones, and they're basically the same only they tend to have more of a banana/clove aroma than the citrusy scent that you get from the American version. For the most part, I've enjoyed those, but they've never been quite to my satisfaction. While perfectly drinkable, they just didn't even come close to approaching the taste of the kinds that you can buy commercially. The main issues dealt more with the consistency and head retention than anything else. What about this new one though - the American version?

It's flippin' brilliant, to say the least. It's light in color. The head is thick and frothy. It has a citrusy smell. The yeast suspends nicely in the finished beer, creating a slightly cloudy appearance that you'd want in this style. Basically, if you'd hand me one of these and told me that it's a commercially bought beer, I wouldn't know the difference. It's been a while since I had one to compare, but it reminds me of North Coast Brewery's Blue Star. I've already promised a couple of these to some people, but honestly I'm not feeling too inclined to share! (I'm sure that will change once my next batch is ready).

What's next? I'm going to brew my American Red next weekend. That's always been a favorite amongst both me and my friends, and finally I'll have one that I can compare with the partial-boil method. A few weeks after that, my Munich Helles (basically Bavaria's version of a Pilsner - slightly more malty, slightly less hoppy) will be ready, which I actually brewed two weeks ago.

Why is it taking so long? Well, this one is a lager, which means that I'm fermenting it in my beer fridge at a consistent 50 degrees. In a week, I'm going to transfer it to another fermenter and then turn the temperature way down for at least a month. Then it's time for bottling and after a couple of weeks in the bottle, it should be ready to go. (I also went and bought some equipment to enable me to make lagers, including some equipment to make yeast starters, a secondary fermenter, and a temperature regulator for my beer fridge.)

In March, I plan on making a Maerzen, also known as an Oktoberfest. I'm going to store that one until about September before I finally bottle it. Who knows, maybe I might just have a little Oktoberfest here in Martinez. Lancetoberfest?

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Christians and Jews - best buddies

A few days ago, I watched a debate on YouTube with an atheist, a Jew, and a Christian (Christopher Hitchens, Dinesh D'souza, and Dennis Prager). It was pretty interesting, and it got me to thinking about something that's been simmering in my brain for a while now. The Jew and the Christian found themselves agreeing quite a bit, especially so they could pretty much gang up on the atheist. Oh, and the Christian carefully stepped around the fact that his belief condemns Jews to hellfire. Of course, the term Judeo-Christian got thrown around a lot. I'm starting to find this term to be one more of those buzzwords that many people say but few people put any thought into what they mean by it.

While it is true that Christianity did begin as a reform movement within Judaism, and of course Jesus himself was a Jew, we need to stop pretending like these are both pretty much the same religion. Also, what with the rise of anti-Semitism in the Muslim world, Jews and Christians in this country are acting like these two faiths have been palling around in peace and harmony over the past two thousand years.

Don't get me wrong. In many ways, I think it's a positive thing that Jews and Christians are getting along better in this country than ever, I don't like this revisionist history. It's so bad that one Jewish commentator was given to say (and I think that it might have even been Prager) that he felt that the reason why Jews have had it much better in this country than in other countries is due to the fact that this is a nation founded on Christianity. (Never mind that that's not exactly true - and please realize that I'm going from memory, but that's the basic idea.) I even had a Christian point this out to me.

What happened? Did everybody get a mindwipe? Does nobody know their history? If anything, Jews have done well in this country in SPITE of the influence of Christianity. If anything, they're able to do well because this country has a separation of church and state. But can we also stop pretending that anti-Semitism never existed in this country? I mean, just because we haven't had a Holocaust, Jews have had to deal with their fair share of prejudice in America. And are we forgetting how Jews faired in countries where there wasn't a separation of church and state? Anybody remember that little thing that happened in Spain? And let's not forget the failure on the part of the church to act in stopping the Holocaust. (As Hitchens pointed out, it's very interesting that the only reason why Goebbels was excommunicated from the Catholic Church was because he married a Protestant. Being a Nazi is okay, but marrying somebody who doesn't use beads to ask God for forgiveness is right out of the question.)

So yeah, there is a shared bit of history there, and Christians and Jews would do well to emphasize their similarities over their differences. Still, I have the feeling that many Christians view Judaism to be a Christianity-light of sorts. You know, all the religion but without the Jesus. While I'm certainly no expert, I've had the fortune to speak to many Jewish people about their faith, and they certainly don't seem to approach it the same way that most Christians do. To make a really overly simplified contrast between the two, Judaism emphasizes the customs and practices, whereas Christianity emphasizes the beliefs. Of course, Judaism has beliefs and Christianity has customs, but neither one favors them both in the same way.

And the bottom line is that I've known too many Christians who were more than willing to say all sorts of anti-Semitic things. Not only that, but many of these fundamentalist Christians are only playing nice with the Jews because they believe that Israel is going to be part of their God's doomsday scenario.

So please, Jews and Christians, play nicely - but stop acting like you've always been friends and that you share the same religion. You haven't always gotten along, and religion is the thing that's gotten in the way.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Give Batman a break

By now much ado has been made about Christian Bale's explosion/meltdown on the set of the new Terminator movie. A lot of people are talking about it as though it's evidence that the guy is actually a bit of a jerk. After all, he's yelling at a guy and tossing out a lot of F-bombs. He even goes so far as to say that he's going to kick the guy's ass.

Personally, I don't care if Christian Bale is a jerk or not. I'm a fan, but I'm a fan of his movies and the roles that he chooses to take. Pretty much everything he does is at least interesting, and of course, he gets a lot of respect from me for revitalizing Batman (setting aside how he kinda oversells the voice a little in parts). I saw him once in person at WonderCon when he talked about the then-upcoming Batman Begins. He was gracious enough to answer questions from fans, and he showed genuine respect for them and the original source material. Even with all that though, I couldn't care less if he's a jerk on a personal level.

However, if he is a jerk, then this audio of him having a meltdown is not sufficient evidence that he is one. Apparently, he's flying off the handle because some guy is walking on to the set in order to tinker with the lights while Bale was doing a scene. Also, from what I gather from the audio, the guy had been asked repeatedly not to do that already.

Now, I'm not an actor, and I don't have any kind of inside knowledge on how movies are filmed. However, I do have some sense and some empathy. Actors try to create a convincing world - at least, any actor who cares about what he's doing does that. In order to do that, they need to be in the moment and get into the heads of their characters. If some guy is tinkering with the lights, that will pull them right out of the role. And from what I understand, this particular scene was one that was heavy on emotion, so we can surmise that Bale was already pretty charged up for the role, and then it basically all got redirected at the guy to whom he was yelling.

I can't imagine that it's easy to just be "on" like that - to quickly make yourself go through various emotions. I can relate on a very distant level, as I do indeed have to be "on" while dealing with students. Also, there's a bit of acting/performance art in teaching - especially if I'm reading out loud from a play or a novel. And I can tell you, it's annoying when you're reading an emotional scene and some kid gets up to sharpen his pencil. I can't say that I want to blow up at them like Bale did, but that's because I'm pretty much prepared for students to do thoughtless things like this. Bale, however, was trying to work in a professional environment where he expected everybody else to behave similarly. If anything, this outburst from him shows that he cares about what he's doing, and he cares about giving the audience the best performance that he can give. At least, that's what I get out of it anyway.

In all honesty, while I don't think that yelling and cursing is the best way to handle such problems, I can honestly say that I could see myself doing the same thing in his shoes. Of course, I don't really know the whole story. Maybe he yells like this all the time and he really is a jerk. However, it doesn't seem to be the same kind of hissy fit that Bill O'Reilly had years ago. With that, O'Reilly's anger seemed to come more from confusion and stupidity on his part. Bale seems to be frustrated at a guy who's interfering with his job.

So, is Christian Bale a jerk? I don't know. Maybe he is. I just don't think that this is a damning piece of evidence for that conclusion is all.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Who'll Watch Watchmen?

I recently reread Watchmen, the graphic novel (originally a limited comic book series that was reprinted in the graphic novel format) that made it to Time Magazine's 100 Greatest Novels of the 20th Century. I missed it when it first came out, as I was in middle school and no doubt I probably wouldn't have fully appreciated it back then anyway. It wasn't until I was in college, I believe, when I finally picked up the collection and read it. I enjoyed it quite a bit, and when I read it again years later, I liked it even more.

What prompted me to pick it up yet again was that there's a movie coming out next month. I'm approaching this one with optimism - extremely cautious optimism. There have been a couple of trailers out so far, and it definitely looks like Watchmen, but will it be able to adapt that particular story into a movie?

For those who don't know, Watchmen was written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons. It tells the story of a group of superheroes who live in an alternate 1985 where Richard Nixon is still President. Costumed adventuring has been made illegal, and only three continue to be active. Two of them, The Comedian and Dr. Manhattan, (the only one with actual superhuman powers) work for the government. The third, Rorschach, continues the fight in spite of the law. The story begins with the death of The Comedian, and the story involves not only finding out who's conspiring against the heroes but an oncoming nuclear Armageddon. (Much of the story is also told in flashbacks, as The Comedian has a sizable role in the story.)

That sounds simple enough, but there are many other layers at play - as many as one would expect from a thoughtful novel or film. You can get a greater appreciation for the story if you have some familiarity with comic book superheroes, as there's a "Golden Age" and a "Silver Age" group of heroes - something that only a savvy comics fan would even recognize. Also, there's a comic within the comic called Tales from the Black Freighter that mirrors, on a thematic level, what's going on in the main story. (Think of the play within the play in Hamlet.) Oh, and it turns out that particular story is going to be made into an animated movie and released on DVD shortly after the movie hits theaters. Whether it'll even be referenced in the movie, I'm not quite sure.

So obviously, the complex nature of the story would be difficult to translate into a standard-length movie. Personally, I saw more potential in an HBO miniseries than a movie, but hey, nobody's paying me for my ideas. Also, there are simply things that one can do in a comic that can't be done in a movie. It's not like Spider-Man or Batman, where each character has had multiple incarnations and interpretations over the decades. Watchmen is what it is, and it began and ended with that story - nobody's touched it since. (And yes, comic book nerds, I am aware that all of the characters are based on the Charlton Comics heroes to some degree - Nite Owl is Blue Beetle, Rorschach is The Question, Dr. Manhattan is The Atom, etcetera.) So, that's a very specific vision that one needs to be true to, and much of the story has to do with the way it was paced. Comics are amazing in the way that time can be sped up and slowed down simply by altering the number of panels per page. Movies have their own tricks - but it's not going to be the same.

I'm not sure whether the director, Zack Snyder, is a plus or a minus. His previous efforts, Dawn of the Dead (the remake) and 300 were both entertaining and solid pieces of entertainment. But no, I would have to disagree with many of my students who declared 300 to be the "greatest movie ever". The thing is, they're both kinda dumb. Entertaining and effective in their way, but dumb - and Watchmen is definitely working on a higher level than either of those two movies. I mean, there's subtlety and moral ambiguity in the story - something that both of those stories lacked severely. Then again, neither one of those movies were trying for that, so perhaps Snyder has it in him to pull it off if given the chance. I'm hoping that the worst-case scenario is that I walk out saying that it was an entertaining movie, but it wasn't the Watchmen that I know.

As for the first trailer, which I'm posting below, as I stated below, it certainly looks like Watchmen. However, it also looks like a standard superhero action movie. They might be focusing on these things to sell it to a mainstream audience, but the graphic novel is pretty sporadic with the action. There's a lot more dialogue, human drama, character development, and philisophical musing than one might expect from a superhero story. Shoot, I'm afraid that if they do get it right, I'll have to hear from a bunch of ignoramuses how it was "boring" because there "wasn't enough action".

So, here's hoping that they can get it right. Maybe it might get some more people to read comics - and how bad could that be?