Monday, August 31, 2009

Show some humility

I watched a debate some time ago on YouTube with Christopher Hitchens, Dennis Prager, and Dinesh D'souza. It was supposed to represent the atheist, Jewish, and Christian perspective. Of course, when there's an atheist in the room, you'd never know about the long history of tensions between Christians and Jews. (Let's be fair - oppression of Jews on the part of Christians.) Even though Prager and D'souza made a lot of the usual absurd claims, the thing that stuck with me the most is something that Hitchens said that I felt was a bad move. Prager asked him if he ever doubted his atheism, and Hitchens said that he didn't. D'souza and Prager then both went on to say that they doubt themselves. Personally, I thought that made them both look more intellectually honest than Hitchens.

I doubt myself all the time. I always try and consider that maybe there's some angle on the whole theism/atheism debate that I'm not considering. Of course, when I debate and/or converse with believers, I tend to hear the same sorts of arguments that I once used and have long since rejected. Still, maybe I just haven't heard the right argument yet.

Anyway, what prompted all this was an online conversation about the existence of God. The one thing that I really have a problem with is when believers say that they "know" that God is real. They really need to find a better word. They might feel that God is as real, and that feeling might be really, really strong, but that still isn't the same thing as knowing. I know that I have a dog. I can prove it. I can let you pet him. I can show you his poop and the holes that he's dug if he's not around for you to pet. In other words, there's objective evidence. For God, there's only the subjective - which is fine, so long as you can admit that.

Anyway, so this person told me that she (no, this isn't the same person I've discussed in recent blog posts) knows that the existence of God is the one thing that she's not wrong about. That's fine, I guess, even though I tend to distrust people who have such absolute certainty about an issue like that. What's really ironic is that in the same post, she told me that what I needed was some "humility" and the "willingness to admit that you're wrong." If that didn't sink in, reread the whole paragraph. She KNOWS that she can't be wrong about the existence of God, yet I'M the one who needs humility?

What a lot of believers don't seem to understand is that a willingness to admit that I'm wrong is exactly what got me here in the first place! But it never seems to count when you talk to these people that you once believed. Of course, she also concluded that she hoped that one day God would "reveal himself to me". That's patronizing, of course, and I didn't stoop so low as to say something equally patronizing. (You know, I was going to write it right here, but I'm going to be classy today.)

This is a funny thought too. Basically, God's just not bothering to reveal himself. I mean, he did kind of a half-assed reveal when I was younger, because if it was whole-assed then I obviously would still be a believer. Yeah, he'll get around to it, or he won't. It's another one of those "mysterious ways" things - which ultimately explains nothing.

Ramadan It! - Day 11

I've decided today that on the last day of this experiment, when I finally get to have a beer again, I'm going to treat myself to something special. I think I'll head down to BevMo! in a week and find myself something nice.

Anyway, I wound up only making it to 4:30 today. I probably could have held out longer, but Kirsti wanted to eat, and I wanted to sit down and eat dinner with her. I suppose that I could have just watched and ate later, but she didn't feel comfortable with that. Oh well, considering that I ate about an hour earlier than normal, that's not too shabby. I think it's safe to say that I could pull off a Winter Ramadan. Maybe even a late fall. Summer's just too damn hard, and June would be even more unlikely.

What was impressive was that I felt just fine skipping lunch at work today. I usually have a yogurt or some kind of snack at brunchtime, and then I have something for lunch. (I try to keep it relatively light and have something like a spinach lasagna, eggplant Parmesan, or a bean and cheese burrito.) In a weird way, I felt more relaxed today at lunch than I normally do. I guess I'm just so obsessed with going to where I eat, eating, and then making sure I have enough time to go to the bathroom, that I hardly ever really enjoy myself. Today I could just take my time and relax. I didn't even notice how hungry I was during class time, as I was too busy to even think about it.

So, I'm more than a third of the way done now. I think I can probably keep this up.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Ramadan It! - Day 10

I cheated a bit today. I went to Farmer's Market in Martinez, and I wanted to sample some of the fruit before I bought it. Of course, I also went by the booth where they were selling some Indian food, and the guy kept giving me sample after sample. What was I doing to do? Be rude and refuse? Oh, and another guy gave me a cookie. All in all, it hardly counted as a meal, but it's definitely more daytime snacking than I've done since I've started this. Anyway, other than that, I managed to make it until 6 before I finally ate dinner.

Tomorrow's my first day back at work. I have some cash, but I'm not bothering to bring anything to eat. I'm just going to keep myself hydrated, and I'm fairly certain that I should be able to handle things just fine. We'll find out if there are reports of a teacher choking a student tomorrow.

What I did over my summer vacation

After looking at last year's post about what I did during the summer, I was pretty hesitant to write about my accomplishments from the summer of 2009. I really don't have very much to speak of, and I hope that there's something significant that I'm missing. Basically, much of my time was spent dealing with Argos and his operation. (He's still doing great, by the way. That dog's got energy to burn like you wouldn't believe.)

Other than that, I suppose that I did a decent amount of writing. I wrote a complete short story/novella, "The Song of the Howlin' Tornado" and I finally have the first draft of an origin story that I've been trying to get down since I was in college. It needs a little bit of work still, but I think that with some tweaks I'll have something pretty good. I told myself that my goal was to have something that I'd submit for publication by the end of the summer. Honestly, I don't know why I don't just go ahead and see what I can do about "Tornado". I guess it's because I feel like that's simply the backdrop/prequel to a much larger saga. Maybe when I get that origin story, "The Return of Eagleman" fixed up, I'll see what I can do.

Other than that, I managed to keep busy by going for a walk every day whether Argos could make it with me or not. I also wrote about how we went to Mt. Wanda together. My wife and I talked about going on a trip, but what with the Argos situation, it really didn't pan out.

Of course, I also read a lot of comics (including all 100 issues of 100 Bullets) but I also read Henry V, so I have one more Shakespeare under my belt. I also read Member of the Wedding and Bless Me Ultima, but I had to do that as my pre-honors Freshmen (nerds) are going to be tested on those books. "Wedding" was a chore, but got better when I thought about it and discussed it with coworkers. "Ultima" was a pleasure to read for the most part.

So, I guess I got some stuff done, but I hope to have more to say for myself next summer.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Ramadan It! - Day 9

I wimped out a bit today and wound up eating at 5:00. That's not too bad. Still, I'm starting to find myself trying to weasel out of this. "Come on! One week's respectable! You've learned something already! Why drag it out for a whole month? Just do the no beer thing!"

I'm going to stick with it though. I really don't think that it will be too bad when I go to work this week. For one, I won't have that sleepy feeling that I always get after the lunch break. Secondly, I'm ALWAYS hungry by the time I get home - no matter what I ate for lunch.

I realized that I made too many damned Swedish meatballs though. I think that some of this is heading for the freezer.

Friday, August 28, 2009

A humble reminder

Sometimes the faithful really make it difficult for me to believe that they're not either stupid or willfully ignorant. Still, every so often I get humbled a bit and learn to not be so full of myself when I meet a thoughtful person who believes in a supreme being. Today was a good example of that.

I wrote a while ago about an online debate I got into. You can find that post here. The gist of it is that the person I was debating credited her healing from a debilitating illness to Jesus. Obviously, I disagreed with this and found the notion of it to be a bit offensive even. Well, today I got a chance to meet up with her, and while I will continue to be vague regarding any specific details, I just want to write a few thoughts about that.

First of all, I over-simplified things when I stated that her reasoning was simply that since it can't be explained, therefore Jesus is the explanation. After talking to her, I still feel that's a factor in her argument, but it really doesn't give a very fair picture of her point of view. I won't go into it, but much of it had to do with the entirety of what she experienced. There's a lot to her story, and there were many things involved that she can't just brush off as being a coincidence. (Even now, I realize that I'm still selling it short. Hopefully my point's coming through though.)

Anyway, it was a really good conversation. I actually did a decent job of listening and hearing her out, and I didn't do anything obnoxious like roll my eyes or sigh really loud. (I wasn't fighting the urge to, but I'm known to do that sometimes.) After that, I tried a different sort of a strategy than I normally do. I figured that it would be a bad move to start nit-picking away at the story - mainly because there's still so much that I don't know, as I wasn't there, so I could easily have found myself barking up the wrong tree on that score. Instead, I just gave my own personal story. I have all sorts of reasons for why I don't believe. Most of them I consider to be intellectually-based arguments, but I even have some emotionally-based ones. I shared a bit of both.

So, was my mind changed? No. At least, not yet. I find that most of the things that have led me to change my mind over major issues took some time to finally sink in. Still, all of my original objections haven't gone away. What I got out of it was a deeper appreciation for the nature of faith and the reasons why people have it. Because in all honesty, if my experience was the same as hers, I'm not sure that I wouldn't be a believer too. (And vice-versa might very well be true too, I suspect.)

It's easy to turn people into caricatures, but it takes effort to get to know them as people.

Ramadan It! - Day 8

Not much to report today. I ate a little later, but I made it until 6 where my wife treated me to the Indian buffet. The one thing that's nice about this is that I don't have to worry about what I'm going to do for lunch. I realize that probably doesn't seem like a very big deal to most people, but food is something that I tend to obsessively plan over, so skipping lunch takes some pressure off me.

What do I mean by planning my meals? I finish one and then I ask my wife what she wants for dinner the next day. She usually can't even begin thinking about it when she has a full belly, but I'm still concerned about it.

One other thing is that I think I wanted to have a beer more than any other day. The reason why is no doubt that a coworker and I were talking about beer, and he was asking me questions about the differences between ales and lagers and all that. I tend to get excited when I talk about beer, and all that talking really made me want one. Oh well, the one thing I know for sure is that pretty much whichever homebrew I decide to crack open first when this is all done, that will be one of the best tasting beers I've ever had.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Ramadan It! - Day 7

Wow...a whole week into this already? While I'm hardly toughing it out the way many Muslims currently are, I am proud of myself. After all, if you read my first post on this, I was willing to let the bar drop pretty low. I haven't had to do that though, and I made it until 6 today until I ate. Not only that, but I went to a Chinese restaurant with coworkers and had to watch everybody eat while I just drank water. It was kind of hard, but not nearly as bad as I feared.

The one thing that's getting to me is that I'm pretty dehydrated. Even though I'm allowing myself to have water, I'm still pretty dehydrated. I'm stopping ice tea (which I've only had at night) as I think that's not helping. So, just water and fruit juice for me. I think that the problem is that when I eat I probably absorb some water from my food, and then I usually have a glass or two of some sort of beverage. Since I'm probably taking in less water, and sweating out a fair amount due to the heat, it's pretty easy to identify why I'm dehydrated. What are my symptoms? My back and my guts are fairly achy. (I did some research, and those can be reactions to fasting and/or dehydration. Maybe I have something else wrong with me?)

I also weighed myself this morning, and I seem to have lost about five pounds. I expect to lose more, as now I eat a reasonable amount for dinner, but I seem to be losing my desire to have something sweet after my meal. I still have some of that apple crumb cake in the fridge, and it doesn't seem appealing at all. Fresh fruit sounds appealing though. I ought to get some tomorrow.

Comics Roundup for 8/26

Let the comics love fest begin!

Green Lantern #45 - I'm not even going to try and explain what happens in this issue, but let's just say that it's pretty epic. Is it possible to read Blackest Night without reading Green Lantern? Probably, but I don't know why you'd want to. Everything gets ratcheted up a notch, as the Star Sapphires (Violet "Love" Lanterns) fight the Sinestro Corps (Yellow "Fear" Lanterns), Green Lanterns (Willpower) versus Red Lanterns (Hate), Agent Orange (Avarice) battles the Blue Lanterns (Hope) and the Black Lanterns (Death) go after them all. And when is the Indigo Tribe getting involved? Crazy, wonderful, beautiful, fun stuff.

The New Avengers #56 - Even though this is one of my favorite titles, I often have a problem with the fact that a single issue sometimes doesn't cover enough story. I have that problem with this issue, even though Stuart Immonen's art is pretty darned cool, and it ends on a pretty exciting note. Still, I think that more could have happened here. Plus, the title characters didn't get to do enough.

Batman and Robin #3 - Grant Morrison ramps up the weirdness factor, but there's also some nice character bits in there as Dick Grayson starts to own the role of Batman a bit more. I'm not sure that this is the best I've seen from Frank Quitely though. Maybe they need a fill-in artist or two for a couple issues.

Hulk #14 - More stuff with the Red Hulk, but now it seems to be dropping some hints as to just who he must be. It was interesting to see that he's pals with Leonard Sampson and General Ross. What's up with that? Also, Ian Churchill's art is a fine replacement for Ed McGuiness, and this continues to be a fun read.

The Flash: Rebirth#4 - I'm enjoying this, but I don't think that this series will make me as excited for The Flash as Green Lantern: Rebirth got me for Hal Jordan. The one thing that I liked is that it really shows the Reverse Flash to be a pretty dastardly villain, and it gets to the heart of who Barry Allen is as a person - a regular guy who got lucky with an accident. I'll definitely see this series through, and I'll probably get at least the first issue of the inevitable new series. Beyond that? I'm not so sure.

Fantastic Four #570 - Well, I gave the first issue of the new creative team a try, but I think that I'll leave it at that. The story was fine, but the art is sort of wooden. I've been reading FF consistently since Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo's run, but I've never been as huge of a fan of them as I am of Spider-Man, Batman, etcetera. I suppose if I hear good things later on about this run, I can always pick up the trade paperback.

Gotham City Sirens #3
- What's going on with this series? A new writer on the third issue? I've never been a big Scott Lobdell fan, but this issue was decent enough. As cool as what Paul Dini was doing? Not really though. If Dini's not coming back, then I don't think that I will either.

Star Wars: Legacy #39 - I'm glad I didn't stop reading this one, as this issue has been one of the best ones yet. I like the fact that Luke Skywalker serves the "ghost Obi Wan" to Cade Skywalker while taking that role a few steps further. Cade's definitely an interesting character with a more complex conflict than we've seen in any of the other Skywalkers. Basically, he doesn't want to have anything to do with either the Jedi or the Sith, but he's too damned powerful for them to leave him alone. This is easily the Star Wars series that I've stuck with the longest, and it looks like I'll be sticking around.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ramadan It! - Day 6

I did worse than yesterday but than the day before. I wound up eating at about 4:30, making my fast about nine and a half hours - which again, would be an actual time span that I'd have to wait if Ramadan fell in the winter this year. (It's based on a lunar calendar - I'm not just making this up by talking about winter hours, ya know.)

I'm realizing that a big factor is the fact that I didn't have anything more for breakfast than a bowl of cereal. I tried, but the thought of eating anything else turned my stomach. I think I'll eat after my shower tomorrow - give my stomach a chance to "wake up" a bit so I can have a more filling breakfast.

I'm pretty pleased with today's result though, as I had to sit in a really long meeting, and it was hard not to think about food when I was so bored out of my mind. I chickened out when it came to going to lunch with some friends though, as I didn't want to sit there and look at food. (More importantly, I wanted to go to the comic book store.) Tomorrow the entire department is going out for lunch though, so I might just have to endure a bit of torture by going along and not eating.

I'm fairly confident though that I can do this while work starts up. In some ways, it'll be good, as I always feel like I need a nap after I eat, and skipping lunch has prevented me from having this feeling. When I came home today, I didn't feel any more hungry than I always do when I come home from work.

Shoot, I don't know if I'll continue to skip lunch when this whole thing is over, but maybe I'll just have a light salad from now on during lunch time. It doesn't seem to matter how much I eat for lunch, I'm always starving when I get home. I might as well just keep it light, but at least eat a little something so I don't have hunger pangs during the last period of the day.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Ramadan It! - Day 5

Since I'll be spending tomorrow morning in a mind-numbing faculty meeting, I thought I'd post on my progress before going to bed. I did quite a bit better than yesterday. Part of it was that I woke up later and managed to have a bigger breakfast.

I wound up eating dinner at six, which means that I probably went about 10 1/2 hours without eating. That's not bad. I'm actually pretty confident that if we had winter daylight hours, I'd be able to follow the rule to the letter. Still, I managed to skip lunch and not have any snacks with hardly any discomfort. I think that another thing that helped was that I was working on some notes for my Senior English class, so my mind was plenty distracted.

I'd better lose some weight as a result of all this, dammit. No beer...geez, even if everything else about Islam appealed to me, that would be a real deal-killer.

Ramadan It! - Day 4

Epic fail yesterday. I made it to about 3:30 and then I had to eat a bagel that I had originally intended for breakfast but couldn't eat at the time. After that, it was game over, and I had dinner at about 4:00. The good news is that my homemade Swedish meatballs turned out pretty tasty. Also, as before, I couldn't have as big of a portion as I normally have. It's funny, but I figured that I'd be pigging out at night, but I find myself getting full really fast.

After that, I had a bit of apple cobbler. Before going to bed, I had an apple and a bit of dark chocolate. (Because as everybody knows, it's all about the anti-oxidants for me. What are anti-oxidants, you ask? Ummm...hey, look over there!)

Last night was the first night where I actually was craving a beer. That was easy to get over though. I figure even if I just wind up saying "to hell with it!" and start eating lunch again, I can still do the abstaining from pork and alcohol.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Ramadan It! - Day 3

Here's a tip for you if you plan on fasting during the day - avoid having too many jalapenos when you finally sit down for dinner. I'll just leave it at that.

Last night I was all set to make the IKEA Swedish meatballs, but then I had a look at the ingredients and noticed the harmiest of harams - PORK! So, they're a no-go. Still, I've got a hankerin' for some, and I can still use the cream sauce and ligonberries from what I understand. I'll be heading to the store soon, as I've found an all-beef Swedish meatball recipe. I'll probably make it tonight.

Yesterday was easier than the day before for the most part. I felt hungry, but I didn't have that gnawing pain in my gut like before. I did start to feel a bit of a headache toward the end there though, and when I finally stuffed my face with some carne con chile, I felt more bloated than satisfied. I even had a little bit of dessert, but I could barely get any down as I felt full much faster than I normally do. And to think, I didn't have any beer with my meal, which usually helps to fill me up. Honestly, skipping the beer has been the easier part of this.

The only modification I'm making today is that I'm going to drink as much water as I want. I think that my headache might have been a touch of dehydration, and that can't be good for me. Otherwise, I'll keep things the same as yesterday.

Oh, and this has made me realize that there's no God but Allah and Zarathustra is his prophet. (See what happens when you don't fully observe Ramadan? You get all sorts of crazy ideas!)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Ramadan It! - Day 2

While yesterday was a total failure by strict Islamic standards, it was a success by the standards I set up for myself. I managed to go nearly twelve hours with no food and very little water (probably about five ounces total).

So, have I learned anything yet? Well, I don't want to make too big a deal of it, but I did notice something interesting. Last night, Kirsti and I went with some friends to a Mexican restaurant. Like what you'd expect, we got some chips and salsa as a starter. I dug right in, of course, as I was happy to finally be putting something down my gullet. What I didn't notice is that the waiter was taking a long time to finally come and take our orders. My friend started to get really annoyed by this while I was still quite content to be chowing down on some chips.

What's funny about this is that I'm usually the first one to get annoyed when the waiter takes too long. Yet even after it was brought to my attention how long it was taking, I still didn't feel bothered by it. I would have guessed that my "angry hungry" would have turned into "murderous rage hungry" by this point, but fasting all day actually had the opposite effect. Go figure - maybe I'm learning a bit of patience. Still, it's only been one day, so things might change.

I'm altering things a bit for today. Instead of paying attention to sunrise and sunset, I went ahead and ate when I got up this morning - which was about 7. I finished at 7:30, and now I'm going to wait 12 hours until I have dinner. Sure, I'm not going as long as Muslims who live at the same latitude as me, but I'm going longer than I would have if this experiment was taking place in December. (What do Muslims in Alaska do? I figure that they probably bend the rules a bit on that one.) I might also let myself have a bit more water, as I'm feeling really thirsty right now (must have been the margaritas last night).

What do I have to look forward to tonight? Swedish meatballs from IKEA. Nice. Good thing it's not Kosher month, or I wouldn't be able to have the cream sauce with them.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A Cheeseburger sounds nice

Today's my first day of observing the dietary portion of Ramadan, and I really want something to eat right now. Of course, I knew this would happen, and that's sort of the point. The problem with me is that my mind tends to get fixated on things, and it's always hard to concentrate on anything else when it's obsessed with something. In the case of food, it's even harder because I have that constant gnawing in my gut to keep bringing my mind back to the whole hunger thing.

Of course, today I'm doing a half-baked version, as I stated in my original post about this little experiment. Still, when all is said and done, it will be nearly twelve hours since my last meal, and if it was winter, that would definitely count. Of course, margaritas aren't part of the tradition, but that'll be my last bit of alcohol until this is all over.

Anyway, I woke up at 5:45 so I could make myself some eggs and sausage along with a bagel and some cream cheese. Sausage? Ain't that haram? It's okay because it's an all-chicken sausage (no pork casing either). Also, as far as I can tell, Muslims don't have as many rules as Jews do, so it's okay to have chicken with eggs (which will be a no-no when I try Kosher month).

The big problem is that I usually don't eat that much first thing in the morning, so I was only able to finish half of what I made. (The good news? I can wake up a bit later tomorrow so I can just reheat my leftovers!) Also, my cat's routine is that he expects to be fed after I have my breakfast, so he was being a real butthead at an earlier time than usual. And when he meows for food, that gets Willy all excited, and he starts to whine at the bedroom door. (Meanwhile, Argos just relaxes in his crate.) So, they got fed a little early.

After that, I went for a walk and did some yard work. Considering how much I was sweating out there, I decided to allow myself some tap water during the day - no ice though. I filled up one glass that I plan to take small sips from until the day is over.

I figure that the first day is going to be the toughest. Still, the point (or at least, one point) of this whole thing is to get you to think about those who don't have as much as you. After all, there are people all over the world, including this country, who don't know where their next meal is coming from. This is nothing in the grand scheme of things, as at least I know that there's a big meal waiting for me at the end of the day. Shoot, it's a luxury that I can just walk up to a faucet in my home and have drinkable water!

That's the kind of thing I need to think about instead of feeling sorry for myself. Let's hope I've got the willpower to hold out for the rest of the day.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Comics Roundup for 8/19/09

Batman: Streets of Gotham #3 - I've said it before, and I'll say it again - make Hush the in the next Batman movie! Yeah, Joe Average hasn't heard of him, but he also never heard of Ra's Al Ghul, dammit!

Paul Dini continues to make what was a pretty cool villain into one of Batman's best villains. With Bruce Wayne supposedly "dead", Hush has been impersonating him in public, giving out money to the poor left and right. Basically, he's draining the Wayne fortune on which current Batman Dick Grayson (the original Robin) depends. Dick manages to get one-up on him, but every time he seems to be beaten, he comes back with a new plan. I'm hoping that this instance will follow that.

Oh, and there's also a "Manhunter" backup. I read a page or two of it, and I wish that I read the installment from last issue. Good thing I don't throw away my comics.

Daredevil #500
- This issue marks the end of Ed Brubaker's writing run. I've read the title off and on in the last 23 years, and I started picking it up again because one of my favorite writers was doing it. Just like the writer before him, he doesn't leave everything in a neat little package, and there's a pretty radical new status quo. This is one reason why I'll at least pick up the first few issues of new writer Andy Diggle's run on the book. There was also a preview of a DD special that Diggle wrote, and that seems pretty intriguing. Still, I'm looking for excuses to drop titles, but I'll keep reading if it's good.

Amazing Spider-Man #603 - I actually found myself thinking about this one for a bit after I read it. What I like about it is that the creative team really doesn't miss any opportunities with this story. The basic setup is that The Chameleon has taken over Peter Parker's identity (without learning that Peter is Spider-Man). That's not so interesting on its own, but he makes sure to do a lot of things that will screw up Peter's life when he comes back to it. The best part was when he insulted Peter's amputee war veteran friend. Good stuff.

Adventure Comics #1 - This is a new series with Superboy and a backup feature with the Legion of Superheroes. Normally, I don't care much about either one of them. Why did I pick this up then? It's because Geoff Johns is writing both. I liked this issue - didn't love it, but considering how much I've liked his stuff lately, I'll pick up a few more to see if it grows on me before giving it the axe.

The Astounding Wolf-Man #18 - Supposedly, this series is going to end at issue 25. That's too bad, as it's one of the few superhero comics where the reader can really feel like anything can happen. That's what you get with creator-owned works though. Anyway, this brings up a lot of interesting subplots, and I just hope that they'll all be resolved by the end of the series.

Ramadan it!

Ramadan starts on August 22nd, and as a practicing Muslim, I shall be participating. No, wait, that's not quite right. I'm not a Muslim, but I'm going to observe Ramadan. Well, I'm going to observe the dietary part. The prayers? Not so much. Why would I want to do that? I'm not thinking of converting, am I?

Actually, this all started with an idea that I've been toying with for some time. As an atheist, I don't find myself following a lot of arbitrary rules. For the most part, that's a good thing. However, I think that there just might be something to following certain rituals - especially the ones that involve one having to make a bit of a sacrifice. Of course, I don't think that one should follow these rules to the point of ignoring reason. For instance, if you're Jewish and you're starving to death, and the only thing to eat is bacon - EAT THE BACON!!! (Not that I can imagine too many Jews doing this.) Still, there's probably something to making yourself sacrifice something and be a little bit more thoughtful about what you're putting in your body - especially when you live in a land of plenty.

My original idea was to start this gradually. I was going to go a month without eating meat on Fridays. That's easy enough. I figured that the following month, I'd go kosher. After that? I'd go devout Hindu and go vegetarian for a month. The coup de grace would be Ramadan, which requires that I don't eat from sunup to sundown. Also, if I'm going to really do it the way Muslims do, I'm also going to have to abstain from pork and alcohol. That's right - no beer for a month. (Yes, I'm aware that there are other things from which a Muslim must abstain during Ramadan. As I stated at the start, I'm just following the dietary rules.)

When I looked up when Ramadan is, I saw that it's starting on the 22nd. I figure that if I'm going to do this, it'll be more interesting to do it when Muslims are actually doing it. (Just as I plan on giving up something for Lent - whenever that is. Good thing I have the Internet to find this stuff out.) So, everything's probably going to be pretty easy after this (with the possible exception of Hindu month).

Surprisingly enough, my wife is on board for this little experiment. However, she drew the line at Ramadan. I really don't blame her, and honestly, I'm not going to be too hard on myself if this experiment ends in failure. My friends and I have a joke where if I don't eat for a while, I start to get "angry hungry". I'm a bit obsessive about things, and when I'm hungry, I get downright ornery. Still, I wonder if I tell myself from the start of the day that I can't eat until it gets dark, then maybe I can get over this flaw of mine.

Since I don't have the wrath of Allah to worry about, I'm not going to beat myself up if I fail at this one. One thing that I'll try to do is if it gets to be too much is that I'll scale back a little at a time. For instance, it's tougher to do Ramadan in August than it would be in December. Worse comes to worse, I'll go by winter hours and try that. If that doesn't work, maybe I'll allow myself a small snack during the day. Worse comes to worse, I can at least stick with the no alcohol rule. As a homebrewer and beer enthusiast, at least that's SOMETHING. (Oh, and I can also lay off the bacon.)

Obviously, this also gives me something to blog about. I'm going to admit at the start that I'm already going to blow it a bit, as my wife and I made plans with some friends to have Mexican food and margaritas on the 22nd. I figure that I can maybe skip lunch that day and do a half-assed Ramadan, but I'll try and go full-bore on the 23rd.

I don't want to be pessimistic, but I know myself pretty well to know that this is going to be really tough. Still, if I can do some sacrificing that I don't normally do, then I'll consider it to be a success.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The faithful doth protest too much

I once had a student make a stupid comment that implied that maybe I was gay. (I can't quite remember the context, but it wasn't mean-spirited on his part.) My reaction? I just shrugged my shoulders and told him that I didn't care if they all thought I was gay. To me, it's really only important that my wife knows that I'm not gay. I also pointed out that I wouldn't let such an accusation bother me because I'm secure with who I am.

In fairly recent news, some atheists have started an advertising campaign with billboards and signs on buses. Their messages include "Don't believe in a god? You're not alone." and "There probably is no god, so relax and enjoy life." You can read about it at this link. Part of me thinks, "What's the point?" Then I consider the fact that I'm pretty lucky as I don't really have to hide my atheism. Even the people in my family who believe in a god don't shun me for my lack of belief. However, there are a lot of people out there who are afraid to admit their disbelief amongst their family and friends. Shoot, there are probably people who are scared to even admit a slight bit of doubt! So, I approve of these ads, as they're obviously aimed at people like that.

Of course, some Christians are getting their pants all up in a bunch over this. If you do some searching on Youtube, you'll see various TV hosts getting bent out of shape about it too, and they're asking things like, "Are they going too far?"

Seriously? Messages like that pose a serious threat? Are their convictions so shaky that they can't handle even the slightest expression of doubt? I can understand it if the ads said "Jesus sucks!" or "Mohammed can shove it!" or "Heimdall is a douche!" Those sorts of messages would be counter-productive and not helpful for the atheist cause. But letting people know that there are other nonbelievers out there? I think the fact that these people are getting upset says a lot more about their own shaky faith than those who are openly questioning religious belief.

I know that there are some believers out there reading this, and I hope that even though they disagree with my stance on faith, they'll see what I'm talking about with this. I wrote some time ago that I thought it was ridiculous that some atheists were trying to get the song "Silent Night" banned from being sung in the public schools. As an atheist, I have no fear of my children (hypothetical though they may be) being exposed to religious beliefs. I figure that if I arm them with critical thinking skills, they'll make wise decisions.

If you find a message like "There probably is no God" so darned offensive, then maybe you're a tad bit insecure with what you actually believe. And in truth, you're the one who needs that message more than anybody. After all, if I can deal with all the references to God I hear on a daily basis and seeing churches all over the place, you can handle a sign.

Straight A's for Argos

Hopefully this will be the last time in a long time where I'll feel the need to write about my dog, Argos. Last time, I wrote about his trip to the oncologist and how his cancer is likely to spread and eventually be the reason why we'll need to put him down. I also wrote about how the doctor suggested that we give each of his days a letter grade, and when he has more C days than A and B days, then it's time to put him down before it gets to D and F days.

So far, he's been having nothing but A days. When he got his last bandage put on, I was able to walk him yet again. We did our usual two-mile walk to the park, and he did just fine with that. It was also a good thing because since we still needed to keep him inside, his indoor manners improved immensely since he no longer had all that bottled-up energy.

His bandage has been removed, and now I'm not only able to take him to the park, but I can throw the ball for him, and he tears after it like he didn't have a problem. Sure, if you see him standing, you'll notice that he favors his good foot over the one that's missing a toe. Also, when I checked his foot, I saw a little bit of blood still there, but even that's scabbed over by now. (It was really minor - please don't think that I was taking him for walks as he his foot was gushing blood or something.)

I'll have to go back to work next week, so our walks will be shortened a bit (except on weekends). Until then, I plan on taking him out every day so long as he's up for it. In fact, tomorrow I plan on taking him up to Mt. Wanda here in Martinez. That should be fun for the both of us.

Oh, and he's also back outside where he has resumed his guard duty. People passing by on the sidewalk once again are warned to stay away by my fuzzy security system. So, things are looking good. I haven't sat down to make a list of everything that constitutes an A day, but honestly, if it weren't for the fact that you can see that he's missing a toe, you'd never know that there was anything wrong with him.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Comics Roundup for 8/12/09

Okay, there was a lot more to get than I had anticipated. Here goes:

Echo #14 - I'm running out of stuff to say about this series, but not in a bad way. I've raved about it, and all I can do is pretty much just repeat what I've stated before. This issue did a nice job of upping the ante a bit while still continuing to focus on the characterizations that keep me coming back every six weeks.

Batman #689 - The bad news is that Judd Winick is leaving the title after this current story. The good news is that he's coming back. This issue does a nice job of continuing to show how Dick Grayson is a different sort of Batman than Bruce Wayne was. For one thing, he's seen smiling while in action. Oh, and it was also nice to get some Mark Bagley artwork.

Trojan War #4 of 5 - This series deals with all of the stories regarding the Trojan War that aren't covered by Homer's two epics. I was familiar with many of these stories, including the madness of Ajax and the coming of Philoctetes. The story where Odysseus sneaks over the wall of Troy and is recognized by Helen is a new one for me though. I guess that next issue will deal with the sack of Troy, as this one ends with the Trojan Horse coming in through the gates of the city. I wonder if an adaptation of The Aeneid is in the works?

Hellboy: The Wild Hunt #5 of 8 - This one has been delayed for quite a bit, and now I don't remember what happened (for the most part, but I remember a really cool moment in the first issue). I think I'll wait until the whole series is in and then read it all in one sitting. I just flipped through it though, and even though Michael Mignola isn't doing the art, Duncan Fegredo is a pretty damn good substitute.

Amazing Spider-Man #602 - I realize that a lot of fans are still upset over the whole undoing of the marriage, but I'm still on board. Not only that, but I think that Mary Jane has once again become interesting now that she's no longer his wife. (To be fair, there were some good stories about her when they were married, but I like the happy-go-lucky version of the character better - probably because that's the one I first met in an old issue of Marvel Tales, which reprinted an even older Lee/Romita Spider-Man story.)

Blackest Night #2 of 8 - Consider the stakes officially raised. A lot happens this issue, and it seems like the Black Lanterns are pretty damn indestrutable. Also, there's a really cool moment where Green Lantern crashes down on the bat-signal. At first I worried that eight issues would be too much, and that the story would drag as a result. This issue, however, still feels like the setup to the story, as there's a hell of a lot of stuff going on. Hopefully things will move a little more forward by next issue, because although I still enjoyed this one, I'll want some more progression by then.

Blackest Night: Batman #1 of 3 - I've stated before that I'm pretty skeptical about all of the tie-ins that come about whenever there's an event. And yet again, I find myself picking up another one and being pretty darned satisfied. I realize that they're using Batman to sell this book, but this series picks up an even more interesting aspect of the whole "Blackest Night" - what about Deadman? He's already dead! It feels more like he's the main character in this, which is fine with me so long as it's interesting, but some fans might get annoyed with that.

The Walking Dead: Volume 10 - This is a series that I wait for the collected editions, and I simultaneously love it and hate it. Why do I hate it? Because I get so absorbed in the story that I wind up rushing through the entire book, and then I have to wait several months for the next one to come out. I guess if that's my reason for hating it though, I can live with that. This volume changes the direction for the series yet again, and it features the same blend of horror and character development that keeps me coming back. There's an especially poignant moment with Rick, his son Carl, and Abraham. Oh, and I read yesterday that they're planning a television series adaptation, which is exactly the right way to go for something like this. If you want a movie, watch George Romero's "Dead" films.

Al Williamson's Flash Gordon: A Lifelong Vision of the Fantastic - I actually got this several days ago in the mail, but I wanted to make some mention of it. This is one that I bought primarily for the artwork, as I'm not really that huge of a fan of Flash Gordon. While Al Williamson didn't create the character, he's probably the artist most associated with Flash next to Alex Raymond (who did create him). This reprints every Flash Gordon comic he did in black and white (for the most part), including a tw0-issue Marvel series that I already own (but the version I have is in color). Al Williamson also did the Star Wars comic strip back in the early 80s, along with the adaptations of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Anyway, it's a really nice volume, and even though the stories are a bit dated and not quite my cup of tea, I've spent a lot of time just gazing at the absolutely gorgeous characters and backgrounds of a world-class comics artist.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

You can act like a fan!

I realize that there are some folks who read my blog but automatically skip the ones that are comics related. (Just as I realize that some people only read the comics-related ones. My most-viewed page is the one where I speculate on the Green Lantern movie. 172 hits, and that's only counting Blogspot!) Anyway, this one's comics related, but I think that anybody who's a fan of anything should be able to relate on some level.

One of the most controversial comics creators is a fella named Rob Liefeld. Amongst the numerous complaints, one of the biggest is simply that he's not a very good artist. (See his picture of Captain America below if you need an example.) Not only that, but he rode a wave of popularity during the 90s when comics were emphasizing art over story. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but the popular style emphasized big guns and big boobs (even big by comic book standards) with little thought given to proper proportions, or more importantly - storytelling. You'd get a lot of stuff that was confusing to look at, but a lot of people scooped it up because it looked "cool". Liefeld was one of the worst offenders, and what's worse is that he even inspired a legion of imitators. Nowadays, his star has faded quite a bit, but he still seems to have some following.

Anyway, this isn't a rant about Liefeld. What prompted this is that some fan at a convention recently took it upon himself to demand that Liefeld "apologize" for a comic series that he did over ten years ago. Liefeld handled it well, and then the guy came back to give him a copy of How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way so he could "learn how to draw". What's even worse, this guy is even bragging about it on his own blog. (Google it, as I don't want to link it.)

Obviously, I'm no fan of Liefeld. Still, I think that what this guy did was pretty classless. He wanted Liefeld to apologize? Crap. I thought that the series in question looked pretty crappy, so I stuck it to Liefeld by NOT BUYING IT. Turns out I wasn't alone, as he was sacked from the series after six issues.

Of course, we all sometimes pay for things that turn out to be crappy, whether it's a book, a movie, etcetera. If you don't like it, then you have every right to voice your criticism of it. Shoot, with the Internet, you even have a forum for your critiques. That said, Liefeld was there at the convention to sign autographs for his fans. Wasn't there somebody at the convention that this guy wanted to see? Instead, he could have gone in that guy's line and gotten an autograph and thanked him for all the entertainment.

I guess the thing that I feel troubling is all the vitriol you get with fandom nowadays. I was actually in a comic book store one time where a guy was essentially saying that there's something wrong with you if you're reading comic books. Yes, AT the COMIC BOOK store. That's like going to a baseball game and telling everybody there how boring it is. I've also seen fans put down other fans for what they read.

Of course, the Internet has made this even worse. And it's not just comics; it's movies. I've taken a lot of crap for some of the movies that I've liked. Now, it's one thing when somebody can make a case for why something's bad and try to convince me that I'm mistaken, but oftentimes you'll see this sort of a thing degenerate into personal insults.

What about me, though? Am I just as guilty of this? While I wouldn't say that my hands are completely clean, I did just re-read my comments regarding Transformers. Yeah, I'm really critical, but I think that my critiques are limited to the film itself. I know some smart people who liked Transformers, and I don't think that liking the film makes them stupid. At worst, it makes them a little less discerning than I think they should be, but that's different. (And to be fair, it's not even people liking the film that bothers me so much as those who think that it's quality stuff. There's nothing wrong with liking crap so long as you realize it's crap. Did I mention that I bought Punisher War Zone? Holy crap, it's dumb, but dammit if I don't enjoy the hell out of it.)

I think that if you look through my blog, you'll find more positive comments about movies and comics than negative ones. My Comics Roundup is little more than a love-fest for what I'm reading. I've written about some of my favorite movies and why I like them. I even wrote about a movie that I think is objectively bad and yet like anyway (Yeah, "War Zone" again. I need to write a blog on Predator 2 one of these days).

I guess the thing is, if we're going to be fans of something, then maybe we should actually act like it. Spend more time talking about what you like, and when you dislike something, keep it to constructive criticism (which doesn't mean that you can't be brutally honest too) and avoid insulting people who don't like what you do. Who knows, maybe they'll come around, but even if they don't, you probably like some crappy stuff too (without even realizing that it's crappy).

So, Rob Liefeld doesn't owe that guy an apology. If the guy bought the comic series, then that's his own damn fault. I don't think that Michael Bay owes me money either. I could have been able to discern that I wouldn't have liked the first Transformers from the trailers and reviews alone, but even if I couldn't, I decided to stick it to him by not giving him my money for Transformers 2.

Oh, and speaking of acting like a fan, here's a cool image from Captain America: Reborn. Suck it, Hitler!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Let's give spiders and snakes some respect

Several years ago, a coworker was telling me about how she was having a problem with snakes turning up in her garden. Her solution was to kill them with her shovel. The thing is, this really bothered me. I tried to explain that if she had snakes, they were no doubt getting rid of things that actually were harmful to her garden. She paid this argument absolutely no mind. Why? Because snakes are bad for some reason.

I realize that there are poisonous snakes out there (although where I live, you're much more likely to run into the kind that's perfectly harmless to humans), and of course I don't like the idea of being bitten by one. Even with them though, it's not like they go out of their way to find you and bite you. Generally speaking, you can avoid being bitten - unless you're a snake handler, and in that case you're not praying to DA JEEBUS hard enough.

I suppose that I can understand why somebody would find them unappealing to look at, but is it necessary to kill them for that reason? Personally, I think that they're pretty fascinating, and even quite beautiful and graceful in their own right. And whether you like the way they look or not, my argument to my coworker was right. Those snakes are killing mice and gophers that destroy gardens. In a way, they're working FOR you, and killing them only serves to aid a rampant rodent population.

I feel somewhat similar about spiders. Whenever there's one in the house, I don't like squashing it. I always grab a glass and release it in the outdoors. The thing is, I really can't stand most bugs, and spiders are like my double-agents that kill all those other bugs that I don't like. And for the most part, spiders either walk in a straight line or stay in one spot. They're not like crickets or grasshoppers that jump all over the place.

Oh, and I did some reading and all that crap about people swallowing X number of spiders in their sleep is total bunk. What the heck would a spider find appealing about your mouth? I suppose if you ate a bug sandwich right before going to bed, then maybe there'd be a reason. Otherwise, I think they prefer dry places where other bugs are likely to be. And yes, I'm aware of poisonous, dangerous spiders like the brown recluse. Again, in my area, most of the spiders you encounter are harmless to humans.

Maybe I'm just some kind of bleeding-heart nature boy or something, but I do think that there should be some respect for life - even the ones you might think are ugly.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Angry gods vs. loving gods

I read an article in my local paper yesterday about a village in India where five young people had mysteriously died over a period of just a few months. The villagers figured that they must have done something to upset their local god, Khera, so they tried praying, and abstaining from meat and alcohol. And guess what happened? The deaths stopped. The really interesting thing about this article was the spin that was put on it. You can read it here, but the gist of it is that India is a land of contradictions considering that they're rocketing toward the future while still holding on to primitive superstitions. Yeah, 'cause that's just so totally different from America where over half the population doesn't believe in evolution but does believe in angels. Oh, those silly Indians.

I couldn't help but think of a debate I got into with one of my Facebook friends. I'm going to be deliberately vague here out of respect to her, but she was stricken with a debilitating illness only to get better after praying to Jesus. Of course, she credits the whole thing to Jesus, one of the chief reasons being that her recovery is essentially unexplainable. (Keep in mind, it was unexplainable how those young, seemingly healthy Indians were dying too.) Anyway, she wrote a status update about it and how "good" God was for what he did.

Most people wrote words of encouragement and agreement, but of course, I have to be the lone voice of dissent sometimes. I'm sure that there might be some people reading this who would wonder why I'd feel the need to raise an objection to this. After all, why can't I just let her have her belief and shut the hell up? Well, that could be an entire blog topic unto itself, and I believe that I have addressed the harm that I think religious thinking can bring. Sure, perhaps it's a Quixotic task for me to undertake, but I guess I'm a Quixotic guy. So, let me just briefly state that I think that this kind of thinking sends us backward as a society. After all, if we can count on Jesus to heal us, then why should we seek any answers to what ails us? Also, if this Jesus is so "good" then why does he let a million people (mostly children) die of malaria every year? And why didn't he cure that one girl of diabetes when her parents wanted to pray instead of take her to the doctor? (Okay, that's enough.)

So, I wrote that I found this very notion to be offensive. I was careful to sound as respectful as I could, as my point wasn't to try and take away from the profound experience, both the good and the bad of it, away from her. To her credit, she debated calmly and respectfully right back with me. I must admit that I was expecting her friends to come at me with pitchforks and torches, but most of them were pretty civil in their objections to my objections. Of course, I did get a few typical responses like how I'm supposedly angry with god and how maybe I just wasn't seeing God's overall plan, to which I gave the standard rebuttals. Overall though, the conversation was more constructive than not, and I was even complimented on how I handled myself.

Did I accomplish anything? I don't know. One thing that I do know about the Internet is that for every person who comments, chances are good that there are a lot of people out there who are simply lurking and don't write anything. The thing is, there are some people who are only exposed to a religious viewpoint but have their doubts without ever expressing them. Perhaps my comments gave somebody the words that they have been looking for. At the very least, I know that there are some Christians out there who now have a better understanding of the atheist viewpoint.

The thing is, I don't believe that Khera was responsible for stopping the killings any more than I believe that Jesus was responsible for healing a person's illness. With that said though, the Khera story at least makes more sense. The villagers view Khera as being an "angry" god who needs to be appeased. While that's an ultimately useless way to interpret events, at least it matches with what they're experiencing. The problem that modern-day Christians have is that no matter what happens, Jesus has to be a good guy. When good things happen, he's good. When bad things happen, he's still good. If you look at the beauty of the world, that's proof of his goodness. When you look at the misery and suffering, you're just not seeing the big picture.

Honestly, this viewpoint reminds me of a battered wife who continues to defend her abusive husband. I've heard Christians say that the reason why Jesus lets bad things happen is because of the fact that we've turned away from God. In other words, malaria, earthquakes, and hippopotomus attacks are all OUR fault. Either that, or they're the fault of our great-great-etcetera grandparents.

More and more, I find Christianity to be a completely misanthropic religion. Believers talk about their god as a god of love the way an enabler defends an alcoholic. What can I expect though from a philosophy that demands its followers to think of themselves as sheep?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Get the hell out of my country!

I've been reading some stuff about how there are some folks who don't like the direction that Obama is taking this country. Apparently, they think that they know better than THE PRESIDENT. Yeah, right! Like these people got elected to anything! Know what I say? If they don't like this country, then they can GET THE HELL OUT!

It kind of reminds me of all those people who were protesting us getting into the war with Iraq. We're America! We always do what's right! If they think that we're so awful, and if we're always bad guys, then they should GET OUT!!!!

I can't help but think of that Martin Luther King fella. What was his problem anyway? We have separate bathrooms for the races. That's what America is all about! Maybe he should have just gotten THE HELL OUT!!!!

Ever hear of an abolitionist? Those morons don't understand that slavery is a tradition in this country! Maybe if they're so against our traditions, they should find some other country to live! In other words, GET OUT!!!!!

What really gets my goat are these "revolutionaries" who think that they know better than the King of England! Last I checked, kings got their power from God himself. Who the hell is this Washington guy? Jefferson? Jefferhate America is more like it. This country was founded as a colony of the British Empire! If they don't like it, then why don't they GET THE HELL OUT OF MY GOD DAMNED COUNTRY!!!!!!????

100 Issues of 100 Bullets

Your life is a disaster and somebody comes along with irrefutable proof that there's a specific person whom you can blame for it. Not only that, but the one who provides this evidence also gives you a gun and 100 bullets. You can do whatever you want with them, and any police investigations will immediately cease once the bullets are examined by the authorities. In other words, you have carte blanche. Now what?

That's the premise that begins the first issue of 100 Bullets, a comic series that just wrapped up a few months ago. I've been reading the collected editions, and I just finished the final one, "Wilt" a few moments ago. Since the series has come out somewhat sporadically, and long periods of time went between each collected edition, I was starting to forget a lot of important plot points. In fact, I didn't bother reading the last two volumes, as I planned to read the entire series in one go once the final volume came in. Well, it took about a week, but I finally finished it.

All in all, I think that this has been a great series. It doesn't crack my top ten, but it probably makes the top twenty. I also think that if you want to compare it to the crime comic that has more name recognition - Frank Miller's Sin City, then it's a superior example of the art form. I'd also put Eduardo Risso in my list of favorite comics artists of all time.

Anyway, for those of you who haven't read it but are intrigued by the concept, let me just say that it gets a lot more complex than that. After all, who is this Agent Graves (the man who'll give people the gun and the bullets)? How does he have the connections to make something like this happen? It's all part of a much larger story involving a conspiracy of powerful people called The Trust, and Agent Graves is a member of The Minutemen. His team was tasked with making sure that nobody in The Trust betrayed one another. They were separate from The Trust yet integral to their survival.

I'm a person who gets lost when there are too many different characters and too many different plot twists. I have to admit that even after reading the whole series over the course of a week, there are still bits and pieces I'm not entirely clear about. That said, all of the major characters were engaging enough to keep me interested, and just when I started to feel confused, the story got back on track and I was back on board for the ride. Was the ending satisfying? From what I can tell, everything seems pretty well wrapped up. I don't know if it was as satisfying as my all-time favorite comic series, Preacher, but it certainly didn't disappoint.

Enough can't be said about the artwork of Eduardo Risso though. There are two things that always impress me about him. The first is that his characters all look so completely distinct from one another. There are some artists who only seem to have a few basic face-types that they do with small variations on that. Usually, that's good enough, but I've never confused a headshot of one character with the headshot of another's. Keep in mind too that this comic takes place in a "real" world - there aren't elaborate superhero costumes to tell them apart.

The other thing I like about his work is that his characters are so alive. What I mean by that is he doesn't just fill the backgrounds with random characters to inhabit the space not taken by the main action. There's always something going on with those background characters, and you can even follow little mini-stories with them. Each character seems to have his or her own story going on.

Another highlight of the series was the character called Lono. He has to easily be one of the most vile, horrible characters ever created. Bad guys are a dime a dozen, and it's hard to make one that really makes the reader feel some genuine sort of hatred (for lack of a better word) for the villain. Brian Azarello managed to do just that with this guy. No doubt Eduardo Risso's depiction of the character also added a great deal to the sense of menace and impending danger that always came with that guy.

If you're looking for a good crime comic, check out the first volume of the series. If you like that, then you'll probably like the rest. I look forward to what these characters have in store next. (Currently, they're doing the Batman comic in Wednesday Comics, but I'm sure there's a lot more on the horizon.)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Lager attempt #3

Considering that the title of my blog is "Comics, Beer, and Shakespeare", I realize that I've kinda been neglecting the beer side of things. To be fair, I probably write about Shakespeare the least, but at least I did my little bit with Henry V not too long ago. So, what's new with my homebrewing?

My last two beers have turned out awesome. I made an American Ale which is exactly what you'd want from that style - crisp and refreshing with a prominent, but not overpowering, hop bite to it. Before that I made a Porter, which is the first one I've made since I've been doing five gallon boils. That one is also perfect for the style - sweet with a nice toasty and slightly bitter aroma.

Before those two, I was having some problems. I went all the way to Livermore to buy a kit to make an Irish Red. Not that I can't get an Irish Red kit at MoreFlavor; it's just that I wanted to check out that particular homebrew shop. I liked the place, The Good Brewer, as it was a pretty quaint little operation. Also, they had a better selection of soda extracts.

So, what went wrong? Well, I've been putting my fermenter/carboy in a mini fridge for the past several batches. I have a temperature-control guage to go along with it so I can keep it at a constant and appropriate temperature. I originally bought it so I could make lagers, but both attempts turned out to be failures. Anyway, it's complicated, but the bottom line is that I had the temperature set at about ten degrees less than what it should be. This resulted in the yeast not eating away the diacetyl, which results in a buttery flavor to the beer.

Now, diacetyl isn't necessarily bad. In some ale styles, you actually want a hint of it. Still, this was a wee bit too much even for an Irish Red. The good news though is that if I age this out a bit, this buttery flavor should get subdued. In fact, I had one today with some Chinese food, and I barely noticed it until I got to the bottom. Here's hoping that they'll get even better with a bit more aging. Worse comes to worse, they're good for my special chicken marinade, so they don't have to be a complete waste. (I also had this issue with a Blonde Ale that I made, but the buttery flavor wore out much faster, and they're nearly gone now.)

This is what I'm thinking went wrong with my lagers. There's something called a "diacetyl rest" that you need to do towards the end of fermentation, where the temperature is brought back up to about 65 degrees. Considering that I was about ten degrees too cold, it's no wonder that they didn't turn out right. I'm also guessing that this is why they all started gushing out of the bottle, as enough of the sugars didn't get converted into alcohol, and when I bottle-conditioned, there was a bit too much for the yeast to work with.

I'm also using a dry yeast for this, so I won't need to do a yeast starter - which is one less step for something to go wrong. It's made by Fermentis, and I've used plenty of their ale yeasts before. In fact, I prefer their English Ale yeast to White Labs, and I'm even starting to use their American Ale yeast over White Labs California Ale yeast. I like the way their yeasts result in a cleaner-looking beer. Also, the yeast tends to get more tightly packed at the bottom of the bottle, which looks nicer than when it's floating around in my glass.

So, I'm brewing a Vienna Lager tomorrow. I was hoping to have Oktoberfest-style beers for October, but that was a bust. Vienna Lagers are somewhat similar though, so maybe I can have them as a nice substitute. Maybe I might invite some friends over for bratwurst and Vienna Lagers if I'm actually feeling social.

Comics Roundup for 8/5/09

Short roundup for this week (and judging by the solicits, next week will probably only be a bit bigger). Perhaps my goal of cutting back on titles is working now that I've committed myself to writing a little something about each book I get.

Captain America: Reborn #2 of 5 - Again, my only complaint is that I don't see why this couldn't have just been a story in the regular monthly, but so long as it's as entertaining as this, I can't really get too upset about it. Also, the higher price tag isn't so bad, as it has about seven pages more than the average comic. Anyway, the whole "stuck in time" situation is starting to make a little more sense, as Cap continues to relive the defining moments of his life without being able to do anything to affect the outcome. Also, Norman Osborn seems to be the main bad guy in this series, just as he is in pretty much every Marvel book right now. I'm eagerly looking forward to Cap, Iron Man, and Thor finally reuniting and bringing down the "Dark Reign", but hopefully that can set up an equally interesting status quo.

Hulk #13 - Wait a second, wasn't the issue that preceded this Incredible Hulk #600? How is this #13 then? The best thing to do is to not ask questions, just read the damn book and shut up. Numbering strangeness aside, I find this to be as entertaining a read as the entire series has been. It has had a tendency to be a bit over-the-top, and it continues to do so, but this issue sets up an interesting storyline where Banner has been freed of the Hulk, but I have a feeling that he's going to start to miss it. Oh, and guess who the main antagonist is? Norman Osborn, of course.

The Amazing Spider-Man #601 - Well, at least this numbering makes sense. Hey! Mary Jane's back! After more than a year of skipping around the issue, the series finally gets around to dealing with what happened to their marriage. Seems like it still "never happened" as a result of the deal with Mephisto, but not much else has changed. According to Peter, they almost got married and lived together for some time. So, all those issues of a married Peter still count if you take out words like "wife" and "husband". Anyway, this has pissed off countless of fans, but I remain in favor of keeping him single. At the same time, Mary Jane's a great character, so it's nice to see her back - and it's good to see that she still SPOILER WARNING knows his secret. And is it just me, but is she acting more like the real Mary Jane in this issue than she has in over a decade? Her speech/thought patterns reminded me more of the Lee/Romita days than anything since I started reading the book.

Astro City: The Dark Age - Book Three #4 of 4 - Crazy-ass-long title. I'm going to sit down and read the whole series in one sitting. This storyline is too complex to do it any other way.

Oh, and not only have I dropped all the Superman books for the time being, but I also dropped Wednesday Comics this week. But haven't I been praising it? Sure have, but when I looked at how much space each issue takes up, I realized that this is going to be better in whatever collected edition they will inevitably put it in. I'm hoping for something remiscent of the tabloid-sized comics from the 70s (like the Star Wars adaptation that many folks from my generation once owned).

I'm looking forward to next week, as the next issue of Blackest Night is due. Here's hoping it lives up to everything that's been set up so far!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Argos at the Oncologist

Kirsti and I took Argos to an oncologist as a follow-up to the test results of his tumor. It looks like it's probably a melanoma, which means that there's a good chance that this will eventually spread and do him in.

We both really liked the doctor. He went over all the potential procedures with us. He noticed that Argos' lymph node was a bit swollen, but he said that very well could be due to having the surgery. What needed to be done was to take a sample from the node and then proceed from there based on the results. It would involve him getting a series of injections spread out over several months. This could potentially prolong his life and slow down the spread of the cancer.

The only problem? It's prohibitively expensive. Having his toe removed already cost us quite a lot of money, but this whole procedure would go way beyond that. So, we asked the oncologist what we could expect if it's not treated.

He's not psychic, of course, so he could only give us probabilities. The most common thing that happens is that eventually their legs begin to swell and it makes it difficult for them to walk. It's also possible that it gets in the lungs and he'll start coughing. As far as I'm concerned, once Argos starts showing signs of anything like that and is experiencing a lot of discomfort, it's time to put him down.

I really liked the way the doctor put it to us, and I think that this system is a good one for any pet owner to keep in mind. Basically, you look at your pet as having days that fall under being an A, B, C, D, or F. An "A" day would involve him or her being completely happy and doing everything that he or she does. (In Argos' case, it would be barking at everybody that passes by and going on walks.) If your pet can't do one of those things, it goes down to a "B" day and so on.

What Kirsti and I will need to do is keep track of his A, B, and C days. If he starts to have more C days than A and B days, then why wait until it gets down to a D or an F? This makes sense to me, and even though I didn't put it in these terms, that's basically how I felt about it when we put our dog, Molly and our cat, Tyson down a few years ago. They were definitely having more C days than A and B, and I didn't want to see things getting worse for them.

Right now? If it weren't for the fact that his foot still needs to heal up a bit, Argos is acting like he's having an A+ day. Whenever I take him out to pee, he's ready to dart down the street for a walk. I know that when the time comes, we'll be able to make the right decision. Until then, I'm going to enjoy my dog (and the cat and my other dog) as much as I can. After all, he is the greatest dog in the world. (I realize that everybody believes that his or her dog is the greatest in the world, but let me have this for today, okay?)

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Are the Internets to blame?

If you read the papers and pay attention to this sort of a thing, you know that fewer people in this country are identifying with one particular religion than a decade ago. Not only that, but the number of people who identify themselves as being nonbelievers is rising. Sorry that I don't have any specific statistics handy, but go ahead and google this stuff for yourself if you don't believe me.

Anyway, I have to wonder if the Internet has something to do with all this. After all, Internet access also went up. Of course, I'm well aware that just because two things happen at the same time, that doesn't mean that one causes the other, so I can't say that with any definitiveness. Still, I have to wonder.

As for me, my transformation from being a Christian to an atheist has been a long one, and I don't really have one quick anecdote that explains how it all happened. What I do know is that before I started going online, I had already started to identify myself as being pretty much agnostic, although I probably leaned towards belief in Jesus. There were several factors that finally made me admit that I was an atheist - a big one being when I started to sit down and actually read The Bible. Another one was when some guy on BART saw me reading it, and when I talked about all the screwed up things in it, his answers were so full of doublethink and circular reasoning. (The same circular reasoning that I continue to encounter in my debates with Christians to this day.) All that said though, a really big factor was the Internet.

It probably started when I'd be dinking around on various newsgroup sites. I'd often visit forums dealing with skepticism and the paranormal. If I'm honest with myself, I was probably just looking for something that confirmed my reasons for not believing in stuff like astrology, psychics, alien abductions, etcetera. It was pretty easy to keep thinking the way I did though because the skeptics would always completely destroy the arguments of the believers. Many of those folks came off as being not being very mentally sound, and the rest employed all sorts of logical fallacies to prove their points. (Now that I think of it, I learned the concept of logical fallacies - at least, being able to identify them by name - from these forums.)

What I'd notice is that there was a bit of crossover between the skeptics and the atheists. This led me to visiting forums on Christianity and atheism. With this instance, I can honestly say that I didn't know what I'd conclude. I wanted to see who had the better arguments, as I was pretty much on the fence myself. (I can tell you one thing, I sure as heck didn't have my strong feelings regarding the evolution/creationism "debate" that I have now. I remember even thinking that the "why are there still monkeys?" argument was a good one when I first started going online!)

Ultimately though, the atheists always had the stronger arguments and were better able to appeal to reason and logic than the Christians could. Because let's face it, once you start accepting that a virgin can have a baby, you have just turned off your critical thinking. Sure, there are Christians who can think critically, but they selectively turn that part of their brains off when it comes to their faith. (At least, those who take the miracle stories literally do.) Perhaps an argument can be made for faith that shows that it's superior to using reason and logic, but I've yet to hear it.

Did the Internet make me an atheist? Hardly. It might have spread the process along, and it certainly gave me a lot of ammunition that I might not have had otherwise. Not only that, but a bit of googling has shown that others have thought about this as well. There are a lot of unfortunate atheists out there who have to hide their nonbelief from their friends and family, and the Internet is their only outlet for communicating how they feel. (Check out the Closet Atheist.)

I can also imagine that there are a lot of people out there who are being exposed to the arguments for atheism who normally wouldn't have. Ever check out Youtube? There are a lot of theist/atheist debates going on there, and from what I can tell, the atheists dominate. Shoot, I tried typing in "Jehovah's Witnesses" and some of the first results were testimonies of people who left the religion. I can imagine that there are probably some Witnesses out there who wanted to get in touch with fellow believers only to be exposed to things that they would have never heard from anybody they know.

The Internet, for all its strangeness and problems, is most powerful source of information that this world has ever seen. Sure, there are people out there who only want to read and see things that already confirm what they feel. (I've been guilty of this, but I do check out conservative blogs from time to time just to see what their side of things is. I don't always disagree with them even! I've even changed my mind about some things! Shudder!) However, the arguments for atheism are able to get out in ways that they never did before. Who knows, maybe there are some folks who have been introduced to them through some of the stuff that I wrote.

I don't think that anybody who's already firmly entrenched in a belief system is going to come away from it due to what they read online. People who are on the fence though? It's difficult to see them being wooed over by the theistic arguments. Maybe I'm wrong. I'd love to hear from a former fence-sitter who turned believer due to what he or she encountered online. If you're out there, let me know.