Saturday, October 31, 2009

Comics Roundup for 10/28/09

I worked on two other entries, and I just didn't like where they were going. Good thing I finished reading all of my comics this week, so I can do the Comics Roundup. Don't forget, tomorrow starts Haiku-A-Day.

Superman: Secret Origin #2 (of 6) - This origin series for Superman definitely justifies itself by this issue. Not only does it get a bit more into who Lex Luthor is, but it ties in all of the Superboy and the Legion of Superheroes stuff into the origin story. Not only that, but it's a fun read that focuses on character just like all of Geoff Johns' best stuff does. Plus, Gary Frank is doing a beautiful job with the art.

Spider-Man: Clone Saga #2 (of 6) - They're really fast-forwarding through the story here, and I doubt that anybody who didn't read the original clone saga could really appreciate what's going on here. We already have Ben with blonde hair, and we also have him as the Scarlett Spider (even though those two things didn't happen at the same time in the original series). Not only that, but we've already got the return of the Jackal, and it doesn't look like we'll see Judas Traveler in this series - which is too bad, as I thought that he was interesting but turned lame in the end. There's also a third clone, and I really hope that they don't make him "Spider-Cide" like they did originally. I just might stop reading in the middle of the series if that happens.

Hulk #16 - This issue debuts the Red She-Hulk, which is a silly idea, but this is a silly series. Still, the intrigue gets ratcheted up a notch, and even more hints are dropped as to what the Red Hulk was really all about. I'm just hoping that they eventually bring the real Hulk back into this series sometime soon. I hear that there's going to be a "World War Hulks" which may or may not be interesting.

Blackest Night #4 (of 8) - The mastermind behind the rise of the dead reveals himself, and it's a fella named Nekron (who was in an old Tales of the Green Lantern Corps story that was recently reprinted). Other than that, this issue focuses on what's going on with all the rest of the DC Universe - The Flash in particular - as the Green Lanterns deal with the crisis out in space. I really think that if you're only reading this, you should also pick up Green Lantern to get a better picture of things. Speaking of which:

Green Lantern #47 - By the end of this issue, five of the seven corps are finally united, and the last two (red/hate and orange/avarice) look like they're getting together as well. That's going to be interesting, and the thing that I like best about this whole storyline is that it makes Sinestro into one of the best comic book villains around. The guy really thinks that he's a good guy, and he's willing to set aside old feuds to fix this whole Black Lantern mess. And of course, when you have a great villain, the hero gets even better. Hal lets Sinestro know that there's no way that he's going to let him be in charge - and he actually gets him to back down. Hal is also a really great character in the way that he's so forward-thinking. While his good name had been tarnished in both the destruction of Coast City and his being taken over by Parallax, he's refusing to dwell on any of that. That's something that I could take a lesson from, as I tend to dwell on every mistake I've ever made.

Batman #692 - I wasn't that big of a fan of Tony Daniel's art when he was simply drawing the book with Grant Morrison writing it, but what he's doing here is certainly a step up. Maybe it's because he's writing the series now too. Anyway, this was a great setup with some good character moments between Dick Grayson (former Robin, now Batman) and Selina Kyle (Catwoman). It also has a pretty interesting ending, even though I feel like I'm supposed to know who that guy is in the last panel - and yet I don't. Yeah, I was lamenting that Judd Winick was leaving the book (although that seems to be temporary) but I'll keep getting it if it's like this.

The New Avengers #58 - This was some pretty fun stuff, and it's good to see the New and Dark Avengers really having it out. Basically, this one ends with Luke Cage being indebted to Norman Osborn, which should be pretty interesting considering that he already was when Osborn helped to get his kid back for him. This time though, Osborn has him in custody, so it's not looking too good for him. I'm really hoping that when this is all said and done, we'll get a proper Avengers team again, although I think that Marvel is going to want to keep having as many series going so long as they sell.

Astro City Special: Astra #2 (of 2) - This was pretty good - nothing fantastic, but a solid read. Kurt Busiek has gone over this territory before (even with this character) that it would be pretty hard for a public superhero to have any sense of a normal life. This one just focuses on what their relationships would be like.

Star Wars: Legacy #41 - I'm starting to think that I should just buy every other issue of this series. This one was pretty much just filler, and even though there have been a lot of really good filler issues in this series, this one just didn't grab me. I was expecting it to since it focuses on the Mandalorians (think Jango/Boba Fett) but it left me cold. I'm guessing that I'm going to love the next issue, as that's how it seems to go with this series.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Lance, the Conqueror!

While doing the grocery shopping today, a stranger stopped me to congratulate me on yet another well-done Blog a Day month. I get this a lot. He said that his personal favorite was the one where I wrote about how I'm dressing up a little bit more for work. He shook my hand and thanked me for "all the wisdom and good times", but before he walked away, he had a question for me. Apparently, the man was confused, as he's been checking out the blogs of Scott C. Harris and Andrew Nolan, and both of them have made claims that they've been the winners.

He told me that it seemed to be pretty clear to everybody in his family and circle of friends that I was once again the winner. After all, there couldn't possibly be THREE winners, now can there? Still, he said that he had a nagging feeling that maybe there was something that he just wasn't understanding. Rest assured, I set the man straight. After all, I have a completely scientific™ method of determining who the winner is. Rest assured, my personal feelings and biases play absolutely no part in determining the winner. It's a mathematical formula that's as reliable as the Child Care Action Project's Entertainment Media Analysis Reports. Basically, it breaks down like so:

1. Did the person blog every day? In all three cases, this is indeed true. However, I can only say with certainty that I have every intention of blogging again tomorrow for the final entry. I cannot say the same for either Scott or Andrew.

Advantage? Lance

2. What about "Namaste It!"? While Scott feels as though he's been really clever by pointing out that I'm cheating by eating on the 31st, you will see that he has allowed himself to eat fish this whole time. Even if he hasn't, he has had the intention of eating it from the very beginning, whereas I have only had the intention of eating meat on the last day. Andrew eats a raw chicken every day for lunch.

Advantage? Lance

3. How about the "Stan Lee Challenge"? Andrew wouldn't know the difference between Stan Lee and Stanley Lieber, so he's out. Scott has done admirably, but I have been indicating exactly which title I've alluded to at the bottom of every post. Sure, my "Comics Roundup" posts don't have a "Stan Lee Challenge" title, but if you click on those, you'll see that Scott himself accepts my rational as to why I didn't do it.

Advantage? Lance

4. Who blasphemes more? Both Andrew and Scott have some impressive posts to rankle the religious, but come on, you just can't top Comics, Beer, and Shakespeare for regular doses of religion-bashing.

Advantage? Lance

I pulled out a diagram that showed these findings to the fella that I met at the store. Never fear, as he quickly realized the error of his ways for ever doubting that there can only be one true winner of Blog A Day Month, and that is Lance Christian Johnson. Because if you think about it, this blog really proves itself, whereas Andrew's insists upon itself, and Scott's cannot account for its standards. Just think about it and open your heart to this blog, and you'll see the truth for yourself.

This "Stan Lee Challenge" is a tribute to The Avengers #8: "Kang, the Conqueror!"

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Just a Guy Named Nobody!

When I was gearing up to teach The Odyssey again this year, I was really concerned that I wasn't going to be able to drum up the same enthusiasm that I have in years past. It's easily one of my favorite things to teach, but this would be the eighth year doing it - and I've averaged 2-3 freshmen classes every year, so that's a whole lot o' Homer. I am glad to report that not only did I once again drum up some enthusiasm, but I think that I love this epic poem more now than I ever did before.

That brings me to today's blog. I had been toying with the idea of writing an entry about why Superman is better than Jesus for some time now, but then I found out that "The Good Atheist" beat me to it. So much for that. Instead, I'm going to give my five reasons why Odysseus and The Odyssey are better than Jesus and The Bible.

5. Odysseus is more human. Sure, he's the great-grandson of Zeus (or is it Hermes?), which gives him a little bit of divine cred, but he's much more relatable than somebody who's either the son of Yaweh or Yaweh himself (or both or neither or one or the other - who the hell can figure it out?) For me, the best part of the Jesus story is when he gets ticked off and starts tossing out the money lenders from the temple. That shows that Jesus has some human characteristics and emotions. However, how can Jesus say that he's ever experienced the human condition when he's never known physical love? Sexuality is a big part of what it is to be human, and how can MacYaweh ever say that he knew what it was to be human if he refused to experience that? Odysseus? He's getting laid left and right - by a goddess, a sorceress, and his wife too, no doubt. Oh, and he also owns a dog. That alone makes him better than Jesus, who only had a donkey. Donkeys suck.

4. More consistent values. Read The Odyssey and it's very clear where the gods stand. Be a good host. Be a good guest. Be kind to old beggars and care for them. There's nothing more important than your home and family. Sure, Jesus has a lot of good things to say with things like how the meek will inherit the Earth (sounds pretty socialist to me), and it's pretty good when it stands on its own. However, when you try and reconcile it with the Bible of the Old Testament, it just doesn't make a lick of sense. The Chosen People sure as heck weren't being very meek when they took over the Promised Land, that's for damned sure.

3. Better family values. Odysseus could have spent all eternity making love to the goddess Calypso, but all he wanted to do was go home. She had him under a spell, but whenever he was free to be by himself, he'd cry and wish that he was with his wife. Not only that, but we learn what it means to be a good son and a good father. What does Jesus say? He says that you have to abandon your family in order to follow him. Odysseus doesn't even insist that you follow him; he just sets a good example.

2. The Odyssey promotes a love for life. When in the underworld, Achilles tells Odysseus that he'd rather be alive and a poor man's slave than the King of the Underworld. The message that many Christians take away from The Bible is that things will be better when you die. I've even had Christians tell me that they "look forward" to dying because they'll be in a better place. Too bad they didn't have Achilles around to tell them much it sucks.

1. The Odyssey promotes being smart. Jesus encourages his followers to be like sheep, but Odysseus gets out of trouble by using his brains and having Athena, the goddess of wisdom, on his side. Sure, you got that bit about Solomon in The Bible and his bright idea to cut a baby in half, but for the most part, The Bible just wants you to believe and shut the hell up. The Odyssey just tells a good story and shows that using your brain is the best way to solve problems.

BONUS REASON: Nobody's trying to tell you that The Odyssey should be used as a guidebook to modern living. It's just a good story (and a much better read than all that "begat" crap in The Bible).

This "Stan Lee Challenge" is a tribute to The Amazing Spider-Man #38: "Just a Guy Named Joe!" It's also a nod to my favorite part of The Odyssey where Odysseus tricks the Cyclops by telling him that his name is "Nobody". (Read the thing to find out why that's so clever.)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

There Shall Come Some Meat!

I've decided that I'm officially ending my vegetarian experiment on Saturday the 31st. Yeah, sure, it's technically still October. However, my goal was to go a month, and if you ask somebody how long a month is they'll tell you that it's thirty days unless they're totally obsessed with accuracy and feel the need to point out that some months have 31 days. The point is, if I had decided to do this last month, this wouldn't have even been an issue. Therefore, mission accomplished.

The way I see it, I only have to really tough it out for just one more day. Friday night, Kirsti and I are going to the Indian buffet. Honestly, when I go there I usually mostly eat the vegetarian dishes and just get some of the Chicken Tikka Masala if they have it. So, eating vegetarian there will actually be a pleasure as I'll only have to pass up on one of my favorite dishes.

All this has got me to thinking what I should do next. I honestly don't know if I want to try the Ramadan thing again, although I might try and do Lent and maybe even Yom Kippur. (Just the eating part, of course.) However, I'm skipping the Kosher month, as for all intents and purposes, I was Kosher this month. (And yes, I know that there is a lot more to being Kosher than not eating pork and not mixing meat and dairy or chicken and eggs.)

Maybe I should try something that doesn't involve food. This might be a bit tougher in a lot of ways, depending on what I decide to try. Here are some ideas that I'm toying around with:

1. Volunteer a certain number of hours a week.
2. Avoid saying anything negative for a month. (No doubt I would slip on this, but it would be interesting to at least try.)
3. Only use the internet for email and my blog for a month. (So - no Facebook, YouTube, etcetera - you know, the total time-wasters.)
4. Finish reading Moby Dick within a month! (Bwah ha ha ha ha ha!!!)
5. Strive to become even more awesome.

Those are the ideas. I might give myself a break though next month, as it is my birthday month.

This "Stan Lee Challenge" is a tribute to a story from the "Tales of Asgard" stories from Journey Into Mystery: "There Shall Come a Miracle!"

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Lance Battles The Mysterious Masked Jehovah!

My friend Andrew Nolan recently wrote a couple of blogs on the Mormon religion. He's jumping on board with Blog a Day Month, and you really have to admire his perseverance even though he's clearly losing to me. (He's probably still beating Scott by a slim margin.) Anyway, I'm glad that he wrote those because he basically saved me the trouble. I've been wanting take on those pesky Mormons for some time, and just like Andrew, I have a bizarre love/hate relationship with them. (I love the people, hate the institution.)

Still, I just could never really get around to it. After all, I'm still stuck on the story in the Bible where a guy loses his superhuman strength by getting a haircut. I'll need to work my way around that one before I take on The Bible's thrilling American sequel/prequel/retcon. Anyway, Andrew pretty thoroughly dissected the absurdities, so I imagine that if I ever got around to it, it would pretty much be an echo of what he wrote.

I guess that leaves me with the Jehovah's Witnesses. I've already written a bit about them, as I've had some experiences with their religion while I was growing up. To not beat a dead horse, let me just sum up by saying that my parents spent a lot of time with them while never officially joining their organization (thank Thor for that!) They did have a heavy influence on my early theology, and I grew up thinking that darned near everything was "demonized". To me, a movie like The Excorcist was something that could actually happen. (And the movie still freaks me out to this day even though I know better - that bit of rewiring hasn't been 100% repaired, apparently.) I believed that Led Zeppelin was hiding tributes to Satan on their records. (We even played one of their albums that my sister owned backwards and heard the word "Satan!" Never mind the fact that if you tried really hard, you could probably also hear them say "Rutabega". You kind of hear what you're listening for.) I also believed ('cause the Witnesses done said) that KISS stood for "Knights in Satan's Service". Yes indeed, ol' Beelzebub was a constant threat.

The funny thing is, the one thing that people criticize the most about the Witnesses is the fact that they don't celebrate Christmas. (We kind of half-assed it - we got rid of the tree and stuff, but we continued to get presents.) I remember a lady asking, "Don't you believe in Da Jeebus?" when I told her that we didn't celebrate Christmas. (Okay, maybe she didn't call him "Da Jeebus". I just keep writing that because my mom asked me to stop.) I tried to explain to her the situation, but she didn't get it.

The thing is, there is a certain amount of logic to the Witnesses and their rejection of holidays. The fact of the matter is that Christmas, Easter, birthday parties, etcetera all have pagan origins. They are not Biblical whatsoever. At least they're being consistent. However, we can file this under the cliche of broken clocks and their ability to be right twice a day.

The fact of the matter? The Jehovah's Witnesses are an evil, twisted, foul little cult. I suppose that I started to suspect this long before I ever became an atheist, and I recall telling my parents that I believed that when I was in my mid-teens. (And honestly, by that point, they didn't really disagree. My mom was being a bit more measured with her response, but she didn't really try to convince me otherwise.) When I got a bit older, and I really got into skepticism and the works of James Randi, I purchased an "encyclopedia" of the paranormal by him, and there was an entry on the Witnesses, where I learned that they were even more bat-crap crazy than I ever realized.

Why are they nuts? Oh, let me count the ways:

1. They are obsessed with the end of the world. These people are practically looking forward to it, and they're relishing the fact that they're going to be the ones who are spared all of the awful things that will happen to all the evil, non-JW's in the world. They predicted the end of the world in 1914, 1915, 1918, 1920, 1925, 1932, 1941, and 1975. After that, they got smart and finally started being more vague, talking about how we're in the "end times". When I'd point out their failed prophecies (and this was when I only knew about the 1975 debacle) I got the response from somebody that they "admitted their mistake". Oh, wonderful of them. I'd be more impressed if they all admitted that they were full of crap and disbanded the congregation.

2. They refuse to take blood transfusions. Oh, they can make a compelling-sounding argument if you're inclined to agree with them in the first place. They point out to some passage in the Bible about how you're not supposed to "consume" blood. They also point out how some people have gotten AIDS through blood transfusions. Good point - if you overlook the fact that blood transfusions save lives (like mine) and that Biblical science consists of showing a lamb in heat sticks with spots on them to influence what her babies will look like. I once had a JW student write in an essay the argument for refusing transfusions. I don't remember now if I did or not, but I was tempted to write that I wouldn't be alive to grade her paper if they didn't exist.

3. Excommunication. Nolan took this on in his post on Mormons, and it's basically the same idea with the Witnesses. Talk about the most un-Jesusy (See, Mom, I didn't write un-Da Jeebusy!) practice.

4. Their founder and his beliefs. Charles Taze Russell's wacky beliefs would give L. Ron Hubbard a run for his money in the Department of Kooks and Nutbars. It's been a while since I read it in detail, but it has something to do with the pyramids and how you can tell the future through them. Umm...okay. (And just like Xenu is to the Scientologists, you don't find a lot of Witnesses talking too much about this particular aspect of their nutbaggery.)

5. Frikken' EVERYTHING'S "Satanic" or "demonized". I already covered this in this blog and on other posts. Everything's demonized from Santa Claus to my sister's Michael Jackson's poster to some pinatas that my parents brought back from Cancun. That's right - pinatas are trying to turn you away from God. I always knew that was true of "Precious Moments" statuettes...but pinatas? They have candy in them (usually). Candy is good. Praise Odin.

6. They actively discourage one from being educated. When my dad told the Witnesses that my sister was going off to college, they expressed dismay, hoping that my sister was going to "find the truth". (You'd have to ask my dad, but I think that this was the moment when they pretty much lost any credibility with him.) PZ Myers also recently posted some JW propaganda that listed a college education as something that's evil in their sight. Geez, at least the Mormons have BYU.

I realize that this is all really negative. Do I have anything good to say? Well, I remember the My Book of Bible Stories very fondly from when I was a kid. I liked it so much, that I took a free copy from them when they had a table at the mall. I had a nice conversation with the fella there, as I told him about that, and I said that I hope to give it to my kid some day. (And it'll be right next to the books of Greek and Norse myths - where it belongs.)

Some time ago, I came across the YouTube channel of a lady who goes by the handle of VanCoffeeChick. She's a former JW, and here are some of her videos dealing with that. It's pretty compelling stuff, and I recommend them wholeheartedly:

This "Stan Lee Challenge" is a tribute to Daredevil #5: "Daredevil Battles 'The Mysterious Masked Matador!'"

Monday, October 26, 2009

Movies in the Night!

As Blog A Day Month starts to wind down, it's time to start looking toward the future. I'd like to say that this whole Blog A Day month was the idea of Scott C. Harris. Bless his heart, he continues to try year after year, despite the fact that I'm always the clear winner. Not only that, but I continue to trounce him every year with Haiku A Day, which starts in November.

Well, it looks like Scott has yet another idea. December will be Movie A Day month. At first, I thought he was suggesting that we watch a movie every day and then write about it. Well, that's crazy, and it's a good thing that he wasn't saying that. Instead, all you have to do is write about a movie every day.

I almost wish that I could reverse November and December, as I'm really looking forward to doing that. I'm also glad that he made that post before I wrote a couple of movie reviews. There are quite a few movies that I'd like to write about, and those ideas are just going to have to swim around until the time comes.

What I really want to do is keep Movie A Month positive for the most part. I'm hoping to have the vast majority of my reviews be positive ones. After all, I'm not a professional critic, so I don't need to have some kind of balance to it. I'd also rather write about things that I like than things I don't like, as I think that the internet is already filled with too many negative types when it comes to things like movies, comics, etcetera.

Don't get me wrong, if I see something that I think is absolute crap, then I'll write about it. The thing is though that I tend to read reviews before seeing a movie, and I usually have a good sense of what I'll like before I see it. Sometimes I'm disappointed, but I rarely leave a film thinking that it's absolute garbage. The last time that happened was with Transformers, and I've already beaten that horse to death. Aside from that, I might force myself to dredge up memories of Bicentennial Man if I feel like writing about movies that I felt were an absolute waste.

What movies do I want to write about? Well, I'd like to write about movies that for the most part got good reviews, yet I still don't have many friends who like them as much as I do. For this, I'm thinking of Superman Returns and the recent King Kong. I'd also like to write about some movies that I think are great, but I don't know many people who have seen them. That topic would cover Pan's Labyrinth and Bridge to Terabithia. I might even tackle some films that everybody gushes over all the time, and yet I'll try and find something new to say about them. I'm thinking Casablanca, Citizen Kane, and Bridge on the River Kwai. Lastly, I'll write about some movies that I don't actually think are good, and yet I love them anyway. That'd be stuff like Blade II, and Predator 2. Too bad I already wrote my Punisher War Zone review.

I just hope that Scott can handle losing at another one of his ideas yet AGAIN.

This "Stan Lee Challenge" is a tribute to The Amazing Spider-Man #63
"Wings in the Night"

Sunday, October 25, 2009

When Strikes the Obfuscation!

I should probably rename my blog to Comics, Beer, Shakespeare, and Blasphemy. What can I say? I didn't realize when I set it up that I'd still have this much to say about religion by this point. I guess it's just the topic that keeps on giving.

Now I've spent some time poking fun at the likes of dimwits like Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort. I've even gone after Intelligent Design and its supporters like Ben Stein. Just recently, I did a somewhat veiled spoof on the circular reasoning of apologists like Lee Strobel. That's easy stuff though. It's like bragging that you can reach a higher shelf than a two year old. How about trying somebody who's not quite so obviously intellectually bankrupt?

I came across this article on the Huffington Post. It's two articles, actually. The first one is by Christopher Hitchens, and the second one is by Pastor Douglas Wilson. Apparently, the two of them are in a movie together called Collision where they debate the issue of God. I figured that if somebody like Hitchens respects the guy enough to debate him, then maybe I should give a shot at Wilson's arguments as well. I'm not going to copy and paste the entire article here, but I encourage you to read the whole thing for yourself. You'll have to scroll past Hitchens' article (which I haven't read yet in fear of me just parroting his points if I read it first) to find it.

After reading Wilson's article, a good part of me worried that maybe I'm just not smart enough to understand what he's saying. After all, I often feel like the problem I get into when I debate people sometimes is simply that they're not even able to grasp what my argument is well enough in order to even properly debate it. I will concede that this is a possibility here. However, I am a reasonably intelligent person, and from what I can tell, the man is simply engaging in obfuscation (the concealment of intended meaning in communication, making communication confusing, intentionally ambiguous, and more difficult to interpret - definition provided by Wikipedia). Okay, I'm done. No, wait, I should probably make a case for that assertion.

First of all, have a look through Wilson's entire article. Does he, anywhere, make a case for the existence of a god (or more specifically - HIS God)? Of course he doesn't. His whole point is to tear down the atheists. He can't defend his own position, so instead he has to tear down. But this is the thing that theists never seem to understand - we atheists don't have to prove anything. All we're saying is that the theistic point of view doesn't make sense. We're not the one asserting a claim. Just as you don't have to disprove the Flying Spaghetti Monster, we don't have to disprove your faith.

Anyway, he makes a lot of the same illogical conclusions that you see from the dim bulbs like Ray Comfort, only he's a lot better at disguising it amidst intellectual-sounding discourse. Wilson states that according to the atheist worldview:
Time and chance acting on matter have brought about, in equally aimless fashion, the 1927 New York Yankees, yesterday's foam on a New Jersey beach, Princess Di, the arrangement of pebbles on the back side of the moon, the music of John Cage, the Fourth Crusade, and the current gaggle representing us all in Congress. The foam on the Jersey beach and the arrangement of pebbles on the back side of the moon? Yes. Everything else? No. "Chance" did not create the Fourth Crusade (to pick just one of those examples). The decisions on the part of human beings led to that. The votes that people cast led to the "current gaggle" representing us all in Congress.

Sure, theists like to say that according to atheistic evolution, the fact that we're all here is a product of time and chance, so things like what Wilson listed are all ultimately a result of that. Once again though, that's a misunderstanding of what evolution is. Read up on the subject, and you'll find out that evolution is anything BUT chance. The only thing that's random are the mutations. The question of which mutations survive and get passed on though? That's about as un-random as a thing can be.

When he starts to wrap it all up, he gives us the standard Jesus 101 and claims that he's just sharing it to show that:
important point that such a set of convictions makes it possible for us to believe that reason can be trusted, that goodness does not change with the evolutionary times, and that beauty is grounded in the very heart of God.
I always love this argument. So many Christians really seem to be under this delusion that what was considered good and moral amongst Christians has remained ever consistent for the past two thousand years. Are some things the same? Sure. What about that whole polygamy thing? Slavery? Having women shut the hell up and be subservient? Give me a break. Christianity is just as much of a product of a changing environment as anything else is. Once you realize that, it becomes pretty hard to accept.

He then of course ends with a complete strawman, which only makes sense if you read the entire article.

Do I think that Wilson is a moron ala Kirk Cameron? No, I don't. I believe that the man is actually pretty smart. He's at least as smart as me - maybe even smarter. I don't think that I could write the way he does. But here's the thing - it takes a smart person to obfuscate. He's convinced himself of something, and he's too smart to try and use the tired-old arguments that get blown apart like the proverbial fish in the barrel. He knows how to take them and make them sound like something that hasn't been heard before, but the bottom line is that it's the same old crap. Good show of making it sound smart though, Wilson.

Okay, I'm off to read the article by Christopher Hitchens. I can't imagine that he's saying anything new either though.

This "Stan Lee Challenge" is a tribute to The Fantastic Four#55: "When Strikes the Silver Surfer!"

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Where Walks the Grandfather!

See the bald guy in the photo above there? That's Julius Streicher, publisher of the Nazi propaganda newspaper known as Der Stuermer. I scanned this photo some time ago from the original. Why would I have a photo of Julius Streicher? It's because the guy to the left is my grandfather, Hans Meyer.

Several years ago now, I worked for an search engine known as LookSmart. (It still exists, apparently, but it doesn't resemble the company that I once worked for.) On one of my assignments, I was searching for and organizing a list of sites related to World War II. One of the coolest ones I saw was a tribute that a guy did to his grandfather who fought in the war. I had the idea of doing the same thing, only mine would have a bit of a twist to it as I'd be representing "the bad guys". I figured that I'd eventually make one on my other grandfather (everybody's entitled to two, as Paul McCartney points out in A Hard Day's Night), but I didn't have nearly as many photos as I did of my German one. I figured that this would be a site that would interest people, as it contained a lot of historically significant photos.

Of course, I wanted to make sure that nobody got the wrong idea and felt that I was endorsing Nazi ideals. I just wanted to make a site about my grandfather and the tumultuous times in which he lived. It was also my way of getting to know him, as I only met him once when I was three years old, and I only have a fuzzy memory of him. So, the first page started with a disclaimer, pointing out that the site was for historical purposes only, and I was in no way endorsing Nazi beliefs.

I'm ashamed to admit it now, but I was concerned that I'd get a lot of hate mail from Jews who didn't understand what I was trying to do. The worst that ever happened was that a Jewish coworker told me that he didn't want to look at it, but he understood that I wasn't trying to glamorize it. Every other response that I received from Jewish friends and strangers has been positive.

There was, however, a huge problem. And the problem came from my family. In my naivete, I thought that this would be a cool forum to connect with my relatives in Germany. While I did get some positive responses from some of my cousins, I got a fiercely negative reaction from some others. Immediately after I put it up, I got an email from a cousin of mine who translated a letter from my aunt to me. It basically stated that I had no right to post these photos, as my grandfather was a "private citizen". me crazy, but once you march in a parade next to Julius Streicher, you're not exactly a "private citizen" any more. Not only that, but he was the adjutant to the mayor of his hometown, Erlangen. He was important enough to be on the wanted list of the Allies, and he wound up doing three years in prison. I don't think that I was exactly unearthing some kind of dark secret there.

I resented being told what to do, so I kept it up. It later got back to me that much of their problems had to do with my mother and a story of hers that I put up on the site. I guessed she aired too much of the family dirty laundry, and some of my aunts were worried about their reputations. Because, you know, the whole world is constantly looking for dirt on my family because they're all so damned important. It also came back to me that a big problem was that some of them were too god damned stupid to even understand what I was doing in the first place.

I had posted a piece that I did for a creative writing class entitled "Is a Hot Potato Evil?" Basically, it was about confronting who my grandfather was and what that means to me. I wrote about how supposedly I have a lot of his idiosyncrasies, so that means that even though I never knew him, he still has some influence over me. I also wrote about how I'd like to think that I would have stood up against Hitler's regime, but the sad fact is that I probably would have fallen in line just like he did. Anyway, the story began with this absurd scenario about how when I saw him on his deathbed, he took me aside and instructed me on how you should wipe your knife off after cutting into a potato and before cutting into the butter, so you don't get potato gunk all over the butter. The whole scenario was deliberately absurd, and I assumed that everybody was smart enough to know that I was joking. Turns out, some of these relatives thought that I was ACTUALLY trying to write about some memory that I had. "How could he have possibly remembered something like that?" Morons.

I also received an email from my aunt's lawyer, instructing me to take down the site or face legal action. I wrote him back, asking him what he was going to do - extradite me to Germany? For making a website about MY GRANDFATHER? For publishing photos that I owned? (Technically, they were my mom's, but she gave me permission to use them.) He tried to bluff his way through and say that he "wasn't going to discuss legal strategy" with me. I wrote back to him that the reason why was because he had no strategy. (It later got back to me that I was perceived as being arrogant. Yeah...right. I wasn't the one threatening a phony lawsuit and telling people what they can and cannot say in a public forum. Oh yeah, I'M the arrogant one in this scenario!)

The website itself is down, but I'll probably write about my grandfather some more. Maybe I can even dig up that old hot potato story, and a new generation of people can miss the damned point. (According to Google Analytics, I'm getting some visitors from Germany. I know that my mom reads this blog, and I'd hope that some of my more reasonable relatives check it out from time to time...but hopefully I can piss off the right people too.)

This "Stan Lee Challenge" was inspired by The X-Men #13: "Where Walks the Juggernaut!"

Friday, October 23, 2009

Comics Roundup for 10/21/09

The Amazing Spider-Man #609 - Now that Kaine is back, is it only a matter of time before they bring back Ben Reilly? Last time I saw, he pretty much melted in the arms of Peter Parker, so you gotta wonder how they'd pull of that trick. Anyway, this issue is mostly one big fight scene, but there is some fun developments between Peter and his roommate, Michelle. That's certainly a storyline that could not have been done with a married Peter Parker. (Yes, that means that they've made the beast with two backs. And one of those times, it was really The Chameleon!)

Adventure Comics #3 - I hear that Geoff Johns is only going to be on this book for a few more issues. Honestly, I'm not sure if I'll keep getting it after then. I'm still so surprised that I keep coming back to it, but after I'm done with every issue, I keep saying, "Yeah, that was good." I never thought I'd say that about a Superboy comic. Anyway, I think what makes Johns' work stand out is that it's always grounded in character, and that's the kind of stuff I like. Plus, it was nice to see him reunite with Tim Drake/Robin in this one.

Spider-Woman #2 - Okay, I'll be back for the third issue. This was a fun read, and Alex Maleev is a great artist. There certainly is a lot that can be done with this character, and I hope that this series can live up to that potential.

Batman: Streets of Gotham #5 - This issue focused on The Huntress, who I've always liked. (And I still think that her previous costume was much better than what she currently wears.) That was cool enough on its own, but this also had a subplot about a priest who starts out idealistic but then goes totally evil. What's not to like about that?

Justice League of America #38 - This series was easily one of my favorites back when Grant Morrison was writing it years and years ago. I've tried picking it up again for its various reboots, and I've always been disappointed. What did I think of this one? It was okay. The next issue is a Blackest Night tie-in, so I'll check that out. I like James Robinson's writing, and I like Mark Bagley's art. I'll give this one a few issues before I make up my mind.

Dark Avengers #10 - This was a great issue, and it's good to see that Brian Michael Bendis is running with the ball that Warren Ellis started with Norman Osborn in Thunderbolts. The man is crazy with a split personality, and I'm eagerly awaiting for the moment when he cracks yet again. Not only that, but there was some great character interaction in this one, and the threat they're facing seems pretty cool. The next issue can't come soon enough.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Namaste It! - Trapped by the Vegetarian Challenge!

I realize that I was Mr. Big Talker just a few days ago, writing about how well my vegetarian month is going. No, I haven't slipped, but I am officially tired of this now. I just ate, and I'm full, but I'm not satisfied because I want some frikken' meat inside me. I must admit that I was really, really tempted to tell the wifey that I was going to pick us up a burger today instead of having our veggie tacos. If it wasn't for the fact that I'm so close to the finish on this, I think that I would have cracked.

Anyway, here are my thoughts on some meat-substitutes:


Veggie Ground Round - This experiment would have probably lasted only a week if it weren't for this stuff. I've used it in a bolognese sauce, sloppy joes, tacos, and burritos. I genuinely like the stuff, and I feel confident that I'll continue to buy it once this whole thing is over. (Although I am getting a bit sick of it - it will probably take me a few weeks into November before I'm ready to have it again.)

Soy Chorizo - Yummy stuff. It really doesn't hold together, and it basically turns into a spicy veggie ground round, but it's pretty tasty. I just had it in some tacos, and that was good. I also had some in an omelet, and I really enjoyed that. Just like the ground round, I'll probably continue to buy this stuff.

Morning Star Sausage Patties - Kirsti didn't care for it, but she's never been a big fan of breakfast sausage in the first place. I liked it quite a bit, and I'll continue to get these.


Soy hot dogs. Ugh. Even cutting them up and putting them into spaghetti-o's (that's right - want to make something of it?) didn't help them. Bottom line? If you're going vegetarian, you'll never enjoy a sausage or hot dog again. (I don't count the chorizo because that breaks up to the point where it doesn't even resemble the sausage.)


Trader Joe's Veggie Chicken in Barbecue Sauce - I didn't waste any of this, and if I was going vegetarian permanently, I'd probably continue to get it. Since I plan on eating meat again in just over a week, I just don't see myself ever wanting to get this again. I did like it enough though to try some of their other meat substitutes in the same line of products.

Tofu - I'll admit that I haven't tried more than two things with this, but it's always just "okay" at best.


Morning Star Veggie Bacon - This tastes like a piece of paper that you rubbed up against some real bacon. Absolute crap.


Veggie Burgers - I bought the "Dr. Praeger's" brand, but I have yet to try them. I remember having a veggie burger at Nation's once upon a time and liking it. Maybe I'll make my way down there before next week is over and try another. (As a lot of people have said in the past, it really doesn't taste like a hamburger, but it's good on its own terms.)

This "Stan Lee Challenge" is a tribute to Daredevil #6: "Trapped by...The Fellowship of Fear!"

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Coming of Lager!

I wrote some time ago about my third attempt to brew a lager. As anybody who homebrews knows, lagers are a bit more tricky than ales. That's why my first two attempts resulted in beer that tasted like buttered popcorn and eventually began to spray out of the bottle once I opened it. When I wrote about attempt number three, I was feeling a bit more confident.

Honestly, I don't know why this is so important to me. It probably has more to do with an obsessive/compulsive aspect to my personality than anything else. Another thing is that lagers are amongst the most famous German styles, and being half German myself, I was hoping to make a beer from "my people". (It seems as though lagers most likely began in Germany.) With that said, I probably prefer ales to lagers on the whole, even though some of my favorites are lagers. Among my favorite lagers are the ones that have a bit more flavor than the more popular lagers. So, why bother? I guess because I just want to say that I can do it, and I like the challenge.

So, that post was back in August. What's the verdict?

When I took my first taste of one, I had that diacetyl (buttery) flavor, and it had a pretty strong alcohol burn to it as well. The diacetyl was fairly mild though, and the bottles weren't gushing, so I decided to age it out at room temperature for a couple of weeks. When I finally tried another after that time had passed, the diacetyl was gone, and I had a perfectly drinkable beer. Still, something about it tasted a bit off. It had a really malty taste to it - almost like taking a bit of caramel. (And just like diacetyl, that sort of a flavor can be a good thing if there's only a hint of it.)

With the cooler temperatures, I no longer need to ferment my beers in the beer fridge, so I emptied it out and put all of my lagers into the fridge and set the temperature to 35 degrees. I had one with dinner today, and I have to say that it was pretty tasty. It still has a bit of a strong malt flavor - perhaps a bit too strong, but it's definitely mellowing out. I figure that if I let them "lager" for a few more weeks, they should be really good.

What's frustrating with lagers is that it takes so much longer to find out whether it came out right or not. I suppose that I'll try one again eventually, but I think that I'm just going to be satisfied with this one for now.

This "Stan Lee Challenge" was inspired by one of the "Tales of Asgard" stories from Journey into Mystery: "The Coming of Loki!"

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Prisoners of the Poets!

Either I'm getting old, or I've been spending too much time checking out conservative blogs. Today there was a Poetry Slam! assembly at the school where I work, and I found myself thinking thoughts that I don't normally think.

The content of the various poets was pretty diverse. One Asian guy talked about stereotypes in a pretty amusing fashion. Another guy gave a love poem to jazz music (which makes me want to start listening to some again). One that really stood out was a guy who complained about the state of hip-hop music. I would say that I genuinely enjoyed those. The others were fine, and I don't really want to spend too much time dissecting them, as it was poetry by young people and for young people, so I'm not really the target audience anyway.

The thing that started to raise my hackles just a tad was that there were a couple that were pretty down on American society. One of them even said that "American culture" was an oxymoron.

Okay now, before you freak out, I'm not saying that they shouldn't have been allowed to say what they wanted. I'm not even saying that there should have been some sort of forced "pro-America" poetry forced in there as well. After all, the sheer fact that they could come into a public school and express themselves so freely is a reason why this country is great. So, I applaud the spirit if not necessarily all of the ideas that were expressed.

First of all, I've been hearing this "America has no culture" line of crap for years. It's bad enough when some Eurotrash doofus says it, but I have to wonder about my fellow Americans sometimes. Is there a lot of American culture that's an absolute waste and serves as a black hole that destroys everything of value that comes near it? Sure. Things like most reality shows, baconnaise, and Toby Keith spring to mind.

But dammit! This country invented rock and roll! And if you want to be a pretentious highbrow type, we also invented jazz! What about Hollywood? Sure, it produces dreck like Rush Hour 3, but hasn't it also given us Casablanca, Citizen Kane, and The Godfather? We also have baseball, football, and basketball. And what really makes us awesome is that we have absorbed so much from other cultures that an enchilada plate feels just as American as General Tso's Chicken. And don't get me started on the craft beer scene in this country. I think that the American-style IPA is putting us on the beer map while Europeans increasingly drink stuff that's more and more watered down all the time.

Anyway, I just know that there will no doubt be a parent or two who will complain about the content of the presentation. If they want blindly patriotic babble, they can turn on Fox News. I think that with situations like this, we have to wonder why these kids feel the need to be so critical of the United States. I'm sure that many conservatives would chalk that up to some kind of brainwashing or indoctrination on the part of the public school system. That's too easy of an answer though. I think that a lot of it simply has to do with the fact that they're young. When you're young, you're full of passion, and you're starting to wake up to what's unfair and wrong about the world.

The other reason why they might be behaving this way is that they have something legitimate to gripe about. Maybe the best thing to do is just listen. If you disagree, don't complain to the authorities. These kids express themselves through poetry. I just expressed myself in a blog. Ain't America grand?

This "Stan Lee Challenge" was inspired by The Fantastic Four #19: "The Prisoners of the Pharaoh".

Monday, October 19, 2009

Namaste It! - To Resist a Burger!

After reviewing this, I realized that maybe I should file it under "Lance doth protest too much, methinks" but here it is anyway:

In less than two weeks, my experiment with vegetarianism will be over. Just as I suspected, this has been a much more successful experiment than the "Ramadan It!" ever was (more on that in a bit though). I can honestly say that I haven't eaten any meat since I started, and I'm quite confident that I can make it until the end of the month.

Do I get a craving for meat? Sometimes, but not every day. I know that every time I see that commercial for the Quiznos cheesesteak sandwich, I really get a hankerin' for one of those. Still, this isn't like when I was fasting during the day. It would get to the point with that where all I'd think about is food, and I just couldn't stand it any more. My thoughts about meat aren't quite as obsessive, and once I fill myself up (French Toast for dinner tonight!) it's pretty much out of my mind.

Speaking of the "Ramadan It!" experiment though, I've been getting a little annoyed at some of the comments I've gotten about it. I realize that maybe I'm just being sensitive, but I've had more than a few friends poke fun at how I "half-assed" it. Well, I never made any pretense that I was going to adhere to it 100%. Don't believe me? Read my first blog where I announced that I was going to try it.

Now, if these people were Muslims (or anybody, for that matter) who followed Ramadan to the letter of the law, then they'd have every justification for razzing me as hard as they could. (Oddly enough, the one who seemed the most impressed WAS a Muslim who was following it all the way!) Instead, these are people who didn't even do as much as I did. If I was half-assed, they were no-assed. No, it's not that I'm saying that everybody should have done it, but I don't think that one who didn't even try is any position to criticize it.

Again, I'm probably just being hyper-sensitive about it, and I'm sure those folks are just engaging in some good-natured ball-bustin'. Still, I do feel a sense of pride with what I did accomplish. I proved that I could live without one of my favorite things in the world - beer. (I'm quaffing one of my Pale Ales right now.) And as I pointed out before, if this was a winter Ramadan, then I would have successfully fasted for about 90% of the time. The biggest challenge in my mind though was when I sat there and watched everybody eat Chinese food when the English department went out for lunch. I never would have thought that I could have pulled that off.

Yeah, so, I'm a lousy Muslim, what can I say? When this "Namaste It!" month is over, I'm going to eat a sandwich with bacon and roast beef, and I'm going to eat it on a Friday so I can offend as many religious sensibilities as possible.

This "Stan Lee Challenge" was inspired by The Amazing Spider-Man #67: "To Squash a Spider!"

Sunday, October 18, 2009

...When You Lie Down with Cynics!

Probably one of the most harmful fallacies that one can engage in is the argument from authority. It's probably one of the biggest issues that I have with the religious, as many of them will cite the words of a holy book or a holy man as being all the evidence that they need - even when it contradicts the evidence that's right in front of their faces. Of course, many believers will accuse us nonbelievers of doing the same thing, but I think that generally speaking, they're wrong.

For instance, creationists like Kirk Cameron like to constantly attack Darwin's Origin of Species as though it's held up as some sort of infallible book on the part of those who accept Darwinian evolution. Well, it's not. From what I understand, there's a lot in there that Darwin got wrong (while still getting the big ideas right). You'll never hear a Christian say, "Well, Jesus got the big ideas right, but he was wrong about a few things."

Fundamentalists like to point to guys like Richard Dawkins as though he's some sort of cult leader of us atheists. Personally, I like Dawkins quite a bit. I've read one of his books, and I'm in the middle of his latest. I like the way he puts things, and I admire his dedication to intellectual honesty. However, if he were to start saying tomorrow that aliens built the pyramids, I'd dismiss him as a crackpot. I wouldn't believe it just because he's saying it. I suppose I would if he could produce some actual evidence for it. (And don't go telling me that there already is evidence for aliens building the pyramids.)

So, what do I do now that somebody whom I normally like is starting to spread some nonsense? Well, I'm going to call him out on it. (Of course, he'll likely never read this, but I'm going to add myself as one more voice of opposition on this issue.) In this case, I'm talking about Bill Maher. I think that he's a pretty funny guy, and I enjoyed his movie Religulous. Sure, sometimes he's pretty arrogant, and there are a few times when he's gone over the line (like when he made the joke about our soldiers raping women overseas). I like him because it's nice to have somebody out in the mainstream speaking on behalf of the skeptics out there.

So why does he have to get on board with this anti-vaccination bandwagon? From what I've seen, his arguments are all pretty weak. First of all, he uses the term "Western medicine". Look, there's stuff that works and stuff that doesn't work. The stuff that works is called "medicine" and it doesn't matter if a dude in America or a dude in China discovers it - they both use the scientific method to figure out how to make it.

He also uses the "I don't trust the government" line about vaccines. I guess this is one of those moments that separates the skeptics from the cynics. I'm a skeptic, and I don't necessarily trust the government either. However, I don't think that it's in the government's best interest to let a disease spread throughout the country. Even if there is some elite cabal who would save a vaccine for themselves and nobody else, by the time it had spread through the entire population, it would have evolved to the point where their vaccine might not even work any more. Plus, read some history. How many people are dying of polio in this country nowadays? Vaccines save lives, and that's a fact.

Is the field of scientific medicine perfect? Of course not, and it makes no claims to be infallible. However, spreading ignorance the way Maher is doing is a disservice to his fans and humanity in general. I hope that he wakes up and gets on the right side about all this.

If you want to read more from folks who put this argument much better than I do, read the following:

Michael Shermer's Open Letter to Bill Maher

PZ Myers - Bill Maher still doesn't get it.

PZ Myers - Another thing that annoyed me...

This "Stan Lee Challenge" is a tribute to the Captain America story in Tales of Suspense #71: "...When You Lie Down with Dogs!"

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Lo! There Shall be a Clarification!

There's an "internet me" and a "real life me". Some people have more contact with one than the other, and some people spend equal time with both. With that said, sometimes I need to realize that the "internet me" doesn't always give a true picture of who I am and what I'm all about.

This came up today, as I posted a Facebook status that read: (I'm) "glad that I didn't decide to try going Kosher this month, as I'm thinking that I might want to get a swine flu shot." Personally, I thought that I was being capital H Hilarious. After all, what a ridiculous notion - thinking that there's something unkosher about the shot because it's called the "swine flu vaccine". Instead of accolades as to how damned funny I am, I got a comment from an old friend who called me out on the fact that Jews value their overall health above following the dietary laws to the letter.

Now, the person who wrote this is somebody with a sense of humor and somebody who gets irony. He even understood that I was joking, but he didn't like the implication that there might be some Jews out there who really wouldn't get the shot for that reason. (Or other religious groups who are more concerned with dietary laws than being sensible.) Is he just being sensitive? Maybe. But maybe I'm not giving an accurate picture of what I really know and how I really feel about these things. My mind started to rattle off a bunch of times when I was informing people with my whole "Ramadan It!" experiment how most Muslims allow for all sorts of exemptions when one's health may be at risk. (Like how pregnant women, the elderly, the ill, etc. don't need to observe it.)

I even started looking for blog posts where I wrote about that very thing, but I was unable to find them. How can that be? I've expressed this to many people! The problem is that these kinds of things came out in conversations and not my blog posts.

And let's be fair - I am VERY critical of religion. Sure, I have the odd post here and there where I express how important religious stories can be. I also expressed that the idea of sacrificing something was probably more of a good thing than a bad. Still, if you could print out my anti-religious feelings and my more conciliatory feelings, the anti pile would tower over the other.

I still stand by the things that I've said. I do genuinely believe that religion is antiquated and humanity is ready to do without it. I also think that it ultimately does more harm than good. Still, I'd hate for people to think that I believe that a Jew would rather starve to death than eat a BLT. Is it possible that there are some out there who would? I suppose so, but I doubt that I've ever met one.

And I'll also continue to criticize those who DO take their religious beliefs too far and sacrifice the health of not just themselves but of children. In that case, I'm talking about the kinds of people who'd rather pray for their sick children than send them to a doctor.

So, even if I don't need to eat this crow, I'll go ahead and take a big old bite. I do realize that most religious folks will go with common sense when it comes to life-and-death decisions, and I'm sorry if I ever made it seem like I didn't acknowledge that.

This Stan Lee Challenge was inspired by Fantastic Four #43: "Lo, There Shall be an Ending!"

Friday, October 16, 2009

Comics Roundup for 10/14/09

Slow week, but here's what I got:

Web of Spider-Man #1 - Back when I first started reading comics, it was cool to be picking up Web of Spider-Man as it was the newest of the Spider-Man series. I think that my first issue was #17, so it felt like I wasn't as far behind as I was with The Amazing Spider-Man and Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man. Well, looks like they're bringing "Web" back, but this is more of a fill-in-the-blanks type of series. This one gives the backstory to why Kaine is free again. Normally, I can't stand stories where it's "all in his head", but this was pretty good. It's also nice to see that Spider-Girl is taking the spot of the backup story, which justifies the higher cover price.

The Astounding Wolf-Man #19 - This can be a pretty dark series when it wants to be, but this was a pretty straightforward superhero adventure. Wolf-Man has had so many lows, that it was cool to see him defeat a giant monster and come out as a hero that the public loves. I know that the series ends in a few issues, and I hope that they give him a happy ending - he deserves it.

Blackest Night: Batman #3 of 3 - I really enjoyed this series, but the ending felt a little weak to me. Oh well, if the rest is good, then it was worth the ride. Personally, I felt like it could have gone on another issue, as it started to add another interesting layer by getting Etrigan, The Demon, involved in this whole mess. Also, I wanted more about what was going on with Deadman. Oh well, maybe the main miniseries will tackle that issue.

Batman #691 - This marks the end of Judd Winick and Mark Bagley's current run on the series. It definitely was a fun ride, and I know that Winick is coming back eventually. Hopefully he'll pick up where he left off, as this issue ended on a pretty compelling cliffhanger.

Hellboy: The Wild Hunt #7 of 8 - As I've stated before, I'm waiting for the whole series to come out before I read it all in one sitting. I read an interview with Mike Mignola recently where he said that he was going to go back to comics full-time. That's awesome, and I hope that the next Hellboy series will be drawn by him (even though Duncan Fegredo is really good - hopefully he'll get something else that's cool for him to work on.)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Ego of Da Jeebus!

I need to hurry up and write something, and there are a lot of things I want to write about but they will require more time. So, I guess I'm stuck writing about something that comes second nature to me - picking on religion. (Sorry, religious folks.) Be forewarned, I'm not being very fair or constructive with this one. I'm just winding up my oppressed Id and letting it go:

I wrote before about how my few experiences at church were generally pretty positive. I should probably amend that in the sense that they were positive as all of the people there were very kind and loving, and I never got the judgmental vibe from any of them. I did think that most of the actual ceremony was pretty cheesy though - even when I believed. In all honesty, the only thing that I really liked in the one that I can remember best is when the minister actually gave a sermon. It was all about how Christians need to focus on loving their neighbor. Hey - good stuff. Let's get everybody to love their neighbor. I'm all for that.

The one thing that I couldn't stand though were the songs...oh, the horrible songs. Don't misunderstand me; there are plenty of religious songs that I like quite a lot. I wrote a whole blog about this one time. I shamelessly sing along with Johnny Cash when he sings "I've got Jesus and that's enough for me." (I also hum along to Wagner's "The Ride of the Valkyries", so don't go looking too much into that.) There are a lot of GREAT songs about religious faith.

But holy crap, most of the stuff they sing in church is pure dreck. If there is a God, he's going to make the people who write and sing these songs burn forever in the worst form of hell for perpetuating such garbage. Here are some sample lyrics:

Our God(our God) is an awesome God
He reigns(He reigns) from heaven above
With wisdom(with wisdom) pow'r and love
our God is an awesome God

Celebrate Jesus celebrate
Celebrate Jesus celebrate
Celebrate Jesus celebrate
Celebrate Jesus celebrate
He is risen He is risen
And He lives forevermore
He is risen He is risen
Come on and celebrate
Come on and celebrate
Come on and celebrate
The resurrection of our Lord

Shine jesus shine
Fill this land with the fathers glory
Blaze, spirit blaze,
Set our hearts on fire
Flow, river flow
Flood the nations with grace and mercy
Send forth your word
Lord and let there be light.

Here's the thing, let's all assume that Da Jeebus is real, okay? What the hell is his problem anyway that he needs his creations to sing this kind of crap to him? I'm a pretty insecure person, and I can imagine myself creating a universe and wanting my creations to praise me. But I've got problems. Isn't Jehovah-Jesus supposed to be beyond these kinds of personality quirks?

"Oh, but Lance! We do it because we want to! We do it to show our love!"

Well then, what the hell is wrong with you that this is the best you could come up with? He creates a universe, and you sing "Shine, Jesus, Shine."

Bring on the Johnny Cash and Al Green, I say.

This "Stan Lee Challenge" was inspired by The Amazing Spider-Man #41: "The Horns of the Rhino!"

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Now, By My Hand, Shall be Oppressed a Mormon!

A couple blogs ago, I asked Christians if they believed that their faith was "under attack". I was really pleased with the conversations that were created. Sometimes I need a wake up call that most Christians are pretty reasonable people, and the loudmouth fundamentalists make up a minority - it's just that they're the only ones you hear sometimes.

Speaking of THAT type of religious person, you've got Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Mormon Church whining that the anti-Mormon backlash that came about after Prop 8 passed is akin to how blacks were treated before the Civil Rights movement.

I will pause here to allow you to pick your jaw up from off the floor.

Yeah, it is just like that. After all, the reason why people were discriminating against blacks was because black people were actively engaged in preventing another group from having equal rights (let's say it was the Gypsies). Also, a Mormon can be lynched nowadays for offenses as minor as whistling at a non-Mormon, and the authorities won't do anything about it. If a Mormon applies for a job, the employer can refuse to hire him based solely on the fact that the guy is a Mormon. Let's not forget the separate drinking fountains for Mormons.

Let's stop the nominating procedures and just award this Oaks guy the "Biggest Douchebag of the Universe" Award for 2009. Is he out of his mind? How are Mormons losing their religious freedoms, exactly? They're not able to do and say what they want without other people expressing the fact that they disapprove? Yeah, they should be able to do whatever they want in the public square without any consequences.

As I mentioned in the aforementioned post, much of this "we're under attack" nonsense comes solely from people like this who can clearly dish it out but can't take it. The guy is whining that people are upset that he's working to take away equal rights.

It's so surprising that he's even allowed to say such a thing, considering how his religion is practically outlawed by now, huh?

Oh, and I'd just like to point out that when I attended one of the anti-Prop 8 rallies, I saw a lady with a sign that read "This Mormon voted against Prop 8." That lady rocks, and I have more respect for her conviction than I do for mine - at least she's going against the grain.

This "Stan Lee Challenge" was inspired by The Avengers #15: "Now, By My Hand, Shall Perish a Villain!" Is that frikken' brilliant or what?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The End of Casual-Man!

There's one fact in this world that cannot be disputed, and that fact is that I'm a handsome fella. This reality has been difficult enough for my friends and coworkers in the past, as my handsomeness has acted as a distraction for so long. (The women all want me, and the men all want to be me. I suppose that some of the men want me as well.) This year, I have made things even worse for them, as I've started to dress up a little bit for work. By doing this, I have gone from handsome fella to insanely-gorgeous stud.

Why the change? Well, to get a little serious now, a lot of it is change for the sake of change. I felt like mixing things up and trying something different. I was feeling that I want to have different clothes for work than what I wear around the house. For my first eight years of teaching, I pretty much dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. When the weather got warm, I wore shorts. I used to say that I'd start dressing up as soon as we got air conditioning, but once that came around I still hadn't dressed any differently. (To be honest, if we still didn't have it, I might still be wearing the T-shirts though.)

I remember in one of my first teaching credential classes, we were having discussion groups about what we don't like seeing teachers do. One group went off on how they thought so many teachers were dressed unprofessionally, and the kids would never respect them if they continued to dress that way. I raised my hand and pointed out that I didn't dress up, and I really didn't have a lot of problems with getting kids to respect me.

The thing is, when I look back on my teachers, you couldn't tell the ones I respected and the ones that I thought were morons by the way they dressed. Some of my favorites were casual; some of the jerks were in ties. Also, I've been doing this job long enough to know that these kids don't necessarily respect a teacher by the way he or she dresses. We have had plenty of teachers who wear nice shirts and ties who have absolutely no control of the classroom. The bottom line is that the way you dress is irrelevant.

Sure, I've had a principal once suggest that I dress up a little bit more. I even had a student tell me that I should. (And he's arrogant enough to believe that he's the reason why I started wearing nicer clothes, I bet.) Beyond that though, it just hasn't been an issue.

As of now, I don't see much of a difference with the way I'm treated by the kids. I'm not sure if it's having the desired psychological effect, but I do know that I've received a lot of nice compliments from coworkers. (See: Fella, handsome). One thing's for sure though, I'm never going to wear any damn ties. I hate those things - they feel like I'm wearing a noose.

This "Stan Lee Challenge" was inspired by The Amazing Spider-Man #18: "The End of Spider-Man!"

Monday, October 12, 2009

Among Us Hide...The Christians!

Okay, Christians, I know that some of you are out there. I'm hoping that maybe you can help me with this one, as I've been mulling this particular post in my mind for a few weeks now. After reading Andrew Nolan's latest post, I decided to finally write it. What I want to know from you, Christians, is if you feel that Christianity is under attack as some people will have you believe.

Now, I'm not talking about what's going on in other countries. I'm not referring to how Christians in Muslim countries are treated. I'm talking about this country here. While I realize that it's not all Christians who are saying it, there are a lot of them out there who are claiming that Christianity is under attack. Personally, I think that's a load of bull.

However, I'm willing to admit that I could be wrong about this. Obviously, since I'm not a Christian, I just might not be as sensitive to what's going on as I should be. Perhaps there's a lot going on that I'm simply not noticing. If I'm wrong though, I want to know it.

I don't know if anybody's going to respond to this, but just in case I do get a few responses, let's get a few things out of the way. The following arguments do not count, but if you do think that they count, then you'll need to explain why:

1. Prayer is banned in school. I've covered this before. Kids can pray; it's just that mandatory prayer is illegal.

2. The Bible is banned in school. Again, this is just a total lie.

3. The 10 Commandments aren't allowed to be posted in public places. Posting it would be a blatant endorsement of religion. Yeah, sure, there are the universal laws against lying, stealing, and killing. However, you also have laws about which god to worship and what his holy day is.

4. Religious displays are banned. Again, these are banned from public places, but you are still free to have your manger scene in your front yard. Also, displays are allowed so long as other groups can put their displays up as well. It's just that you don't get to have your religion and your religion alone on public property. In other words, you probably wouldn't want a big sign reading "The Bible is Mythology" in a public park, would you? Believe it or not, I wouldn't either. (That's because I respect the First Ammendment and all.)

5. People mock Christians for their beliefs. I admit that this probably does happen in some places. However, the price you pay for living in a free country is that sometimes people are going to mock the things you like. Think of how poor Celine Dion fans feel - they're ridiculed all the time, but they don't act like an oppressed minority. I also think that it's safe to say that nonbelievers are mocked as well - and what's worse, we're told that we're going to be tortured forever for our beliefs. (This is more true in some parts of the country than others - I don't really feel very mocked where I live.)

6. There are all sorts of atheists promoting their books/lectures/etc. See above. That's the price you pay for living in a free society. You get to praise Jesus, and I get to say that's silly.

7. This country was founded on Christian traditions. I could argue this one to death. If you really think that, read up on what Thomas Jefferson had to say about Christianity just for starters. He didn't have a whole lot of kind things to say, and he wrote the Declaration of Independence. But even if you're right, it still doesn't matter. The Constitution is the law of the land, and Jesus doesn't even get a mention.

I think that pretty much covers it. I'm really trying to be fair about this, but whenever I hear Christians complain about being "under attack" it's because things are being taken away from them that they shouldn't have ever had in the first place. If there's something I'm missing though, I'd really like to know.

This "Stan Lee Challenge" was inspired by Fantastic Four #45: "Among Us Hide...The Inhumans!"

Sunday, October 11, 2009

...And Men Shall Call them Pearl Jam!

I was ready to give up on Pearl Jam back in 2002 when they released Riot Act. Thinking back on it, I really don't remember much from that particular disc. Sure, there was that one song that took a jab at George W. Bush, but that felt more like a novelty than anything else. The album before that, Binaural only had a few decent tracks on it as well, so it looked like things were going downhill. (Although I must admit that the song "Thin Air" was so good that Kirsti and I had it played at our wedding.)

So, I figured that was it. They had gone the way of so many other bands, and their moment of glory was long past them. Imagine my surprise when "World Wide Suicide" came out off of their eponymous album. That had everything that I liked in a good Pearl Jam song - loud guitars, feedback, Eddie Vedder snarling out the lyrics, and good lyrics.

I recently picked up their latest, Backspacer, and I have to say that it's a pretty good disc with a lot of solid songs on it. It's good to hear, as Pearl Jam has been one of my favorite bands for some time now.

I first discovered them late one night after coming home from an eight to midnight shift at Safeway back when I was in high school. It usually would take me a couple of hours to unwind so I could go to bed, so I'd often just watch TV until I started to feel sleepy. Back then, MTV had a show called "Headbanger's Ball", and I'd sometimes watch it.

I have to say that from the late 80s to the early 90s was not a very good time for rock and roll. Basically, hair metal dominated the scene. Now that I'm older, I'll admit that some of them definitely have their merits (Bon Jovi) but I believe that many of them sucked just as much as I insisted that they sucked even back then (Poison). Basically, I just didn't feel like there was a lot out there for me. I found myself listening to a lot of older, classic rock, and I liked bands like Metallica and Faith No More as well. When Nirvana came along, I dug them as well, but in all honesty, I don't think that I fully appreciated them until somewhat recently.

So there I was, up late at night, and I caught the video for "Alive".

And thus was born an instant fan. I loved the sound of the guitar, and I had a man-crush on the guy who was singing. (That's a bit of a retcon, of course, as I had no concept of a man-crush back then.) He didn't look like he spent hours doing his hair before he played, and dammit, he sang like a MAN, and yet he was singing about things that were obviously emotional. It was the perfect band for the angry young man that I was. (Okay, I was more frustrated and annoyed than angry back then, but it all comes out as anger when you're in your teens.)

It was probably just a few days afterward when I bought the CD, having not heard a single other song. I pretty much fell in love with it on the first listen, and it got played quite a bit. I also remember trying to turn people on to the band, but I wasn't having much luck. I remember playing them for one girl who just shrugged her shoulders and said, "They're okay." Fast forward a year, and I saw Ten in her CD collection. I told her that I was surprised that she had it, and she claimed that she always liked Pearl Jam. (And no, I'm not one of those people who feels superior when I learn about a band before they get popular. I just get frustrated at people who obviously will only like something that is already popular. If you like music, you should like it for the music and no other reason.)

I continued to be a fan through college, even though pretty much everybody I met didn't like them. I don't know what it was, but I really took a lot of flack for liking them. I never really heard a good reason why one shouldn't like them, but I have a feeling that much of it had to do with the fact that they were
so popular - which is ironic, I know. Whatever, it didn't matter to me, and I kept on being a fan even after I got out of college and worked all sorts of lame-ass jobs until I finally found my career.

It's difficult for me to explain just what Pearl Jam means to me. There have been a lot of times when their music has brought my spirits up. I remember having a crappy day at Safeway when I was a teenager and singing "Porch" in the car as loud as I could afterward. Of course, that song has nothing to do with a crappy job at a grocery store, but it sure felt good to get out all those frustrations.

A song that really holds a lot of meaning for me is "In Hiding", which is off of their Yield album. Now, I've never really analyzed the lyrics, mainly in fear of the fact that I'll discover what they're really about. For me, there are a few phrases that really resonate like "I swallowed my words just to keep from lying." Also, being somebody who tends to be a bit introverted, the chorus "I'm in hiding" is something that I often feel like I'm doing. After hearing a lot of interviews with Eddie Vedder, I get the feeling that he would be pretty cool with me making my own meaning out of his song. (Crap, I'm listening to it right now, and I'm getting all verklempt!)

I remember thinking back in 1992 that Pearl Jam was a band with some legs and that their music wouldn't just fade into obscurity. Even though I was probably wrong about a lot of things back then, I always felt that their music had a certain timeless quality to it. Turns out I was right on that one.

This "Stan Lee Challenge" was inspired by the Captain America half of Tales of Suspense #90: "...And Men Shall Call Him Traitor!"

If This be an Old Post!

Following is a post that I made on September 24, 2007 about They Might Be Giants. I am re-posting it here, as MySpace's blog is stupid and difficult to navigate. The reason why is that I'm thinking of posting some other tributes to favorite bands of mine, and I wanted this one on there as well. And no, I'm not going to count this towards Blog-a-Day. I've got something new in the works.

Oh, and it got a "Stan Lee Tribute" rechristening, and this one is inspired by Tales of Suspense #70 (The Captain America portion of the comic): "If This be Treason!" Oh, and it includes some new video links.

"I'm your only friend.
I'm not your only friend
But I'm a little glowing friend
But really I'm not actually your friend
But I am."

I was going to write a blog about The Beatles, my favorite band of all time. I was going to go on and on about how I've loved them ever since high school, and even though I'll go months and months without listening to them at times, I always seem to rediscover them and find something new in their music that I hadn't noticed before.

But writing about how great the Beatles are is like writing about how cute puppies are. Yeah, the Beatles were great. Duh. It's been said and resaid so many times that there's nothing I can contribute.

So, instead I'll write about my favorite band that I sometimes forget is my favorite band, where everything I just mentioned about The Beatles applies. That's right, I'm talking about They Might Be Giants. (Hardcore fans will understand the second part of this blog's title. Even moderate Beatle fans will understand the first part.)

"For years and years I wandered the earth
Condemned to a life of bleak despair
Then one day I looked around and found
It had disappeared.

Hopeless bleak despair
It was always there
And then one day it disappeared
In a puff of smoke
In an unceremonious way
One day it disappeared"

I've always liked these guys since I first heard them when I was in junior high. Their quirky lyrics instantly appealed to a quirky guy like me. But even then, I understood that their lyrics weren't odd just for the sake of being odd, and I could tell that oftentimes they really were saying something. Sure, they often just say things that are silly, but what's wrong with silly? I mean, do we really need another generic love song that essentially says the exact same thing that's been said thousands of times ad nauseum? Why NOT write songs about shoehorns, purple toupees, metal detectors, and not being able to hear somebody very well because you're on a plane?

And dammit, why NOT sing a song about the sun? Crap, it makes more sense than singing songs about some carpenter who walked on water two thousand years ago. Shoot, you can SEE the sun. You can FEEL the sun. We know what it is and why it's important. Seems like it would be a pretty crappy world without it.

"I can't hide from my mind
Though I try, try, try
I can't hide from my mind
And you know why"

So, they're certainly offbeat, but they honestly do have songs that are relatable. In fact, no song better expresses how I've felt before than their song "Your Racist Friend." Personally, I have been at parties hosted by friends and family where I've had to listen to moron racists talk all their crap. What's worse is that my friends and family will defend them and their rantings!

"It was the loveliest party that I've ever attended
If anything was broken I'm sure it could be mended
My head can't tolerate this bobbing and pretending
Listen to some bullet-head and the madness that he's saying"

I could write on and on about their lyrics and how much fun they are, but that would be nothing it weren't for the fact that their music is endlessly inventive. These guys have been at it for twenty years now and their songs continue to have catchy melodies. What's better, if you're willing to pay attention, there's a lot of interesting stuff all happening at the same time.

Their newest CD is unbelievable. I'll admit to picking up new cd's by washed-up bands like The Who, Velvet Revolver (a mix of washed-up bands), etc. While those CDs aren't out-and-out BAD, the magic really is gone with them. This is hardly true for TMBG though. I've had their latest on continuous shuffle in my car, as it continues to surprise me and entertain me.

To wrap this up, I've also seen them live twice. Both experiences were completely different, but equally awesome. They're not a huge band by any means, but they have a loyal fan following, and you don't have lame-os shouting out at them to play whatever their hit song is.

Pick up some TMBG. You won't regret it, unless you suck. Shoot, they wrote the theme to The Daily Show, so you know that there's gotta be something right about them.

And for my fellow They Might Be Giants fans out there (I know there's a few of you!) Please post all the cool stuff about them that I forgot.

"I was grinding my teeth, I was wasting my youth
And using up my teeth
Now I'm done chewing my nails
Hanging my head, chasing my tail
It got so bad I quit my job
Then I got a new job climbing the walls"