Sunday, September 27, 2009

How about a completely useless explanation?

I just recently finished reading Columbine by Dave Cullen. It's a pretty compelling, while oftentimes thoroughly depressing, read. The point of the book is to try and separate fact from fiction regarding what happened at the Columbine Massacre of 1999. Basically, there was a whole lot of misinformation out there. Harris and Klebold weren't picked on, they weren't part of the "Trench Coat Mafia", they weren't targeting specific groups of students, and they weren't fans of Marilyn Manson. Not only that, remember the whole story about the girl who answered yes when one of the killers asked her if she believed in God right before shooting her? Turns out that didn't even happen. (She was praying for God to save her right before she was killed though.)

The hardest thing to deal with in this case is that there simply aren't any easy answers. The problem wasn't that they were into violent video games. (Perhaps the one who really did, Eric Harris, liked violent video games due to the type of person he was and not the other way around.) The problem wasn't bullying (which isn't to say that's not a problem). It wasn't that they didn't have any sort of religious upbringing either. (Klebold seemed to be a believer, while not being a church goer. However, if you want to argue that regular visits to church prevent homicidal tendencies, then might I direct your attention to Dennis Rader, the BTK Strangler?)

While there does seem to be some negligence on the part of the local police, there probably wasn't anything that could be done to prevent a kid like Eric Harris from wanting to do what he did in the first place. He was a psycopath, which means that his brain just didn't work the way a normal person's does. He lacked empathy, and he knew how to manipulate people to get what he wanted. As for Dylan Klebold, he was suicidal, and Harris was the exact wrong kind of kid for him to be hanging out with - which isn't to shift any blame around.

While the book was delving into how the community was reacting to what happened, there was one explanation that I found to not only be inappropriate but also completely counter-productive. See, it turns out that there are a lot of evangelicals living in that area, and a handy explanation became the Prince of Darkness himself - Satan.

I found this to be one of the most depressing aspects of the whole story. Satan. Seriously? Is this the explanation that we want to go with here? What exactly do we do about it then? Of course, their solution was to pray, but how could it have happened in such a religious community as that if prayer wards of Be'elzebub in the first place?

Blaming this whole thing on Satan is about as useful as blaming it on Darth Vader, fer Pete's sakes. It's basically just throwing your hands up in the air and saying, "You know what? We're not even going to TRY and solve this, as it's obviously the doing of some evil spirit who makes people do bad things even though they can choose to not do bad things but still somehow it's his fault. (That run-on was deliberate, by the way.)

Sure, identifying Harris as a psychopath doesn't exactly present an easy solution either. However, at least it points us in the right direction. If we can recognize and understand psychopaths better, then we can get them into treatment before they do something dangerous. Understanding them will lead to solving the problem. Blaming it all on some fictional evil spirit is completely counter-productive.

And whom do I blame for all these people blaming Satan? Loki, of course. Tricky guy, that Loki. (And the sad thing is, there are people who would dismiss that statement as a joke but still accept Satan as an explanation while not seeing the disconnect.)

This Blog, This Challenge!

I already copy/pasted Scott C. Harris's Blog-a-Day announcement, but I want to add an additional challenge! (Even though it seems like Scott and I are the only ones who do this. What's the matter, cowards?)

Of course, it will be slightly easier for me to do it this month, since I'm going to be doing my "Namaste It!" posts. I don't think though that I'll be doing a daily update on that one. I had more to say with the Ramadan experiment, but that's because it was more of a struggle. We'll see about this one.

So, this means that I'll have to pad the blog with other topics. And this is where the challenge comes in. All "Namaste It!" posts will be labeled as such. However, I intend to make every other post title in the style of a Stan Lee comic book story title. What do I mean by that? Well, by flipping through the "Tales of Asgard" collection, we can see story titles like "The Hordes of Horikin!" "When Speaks the Dragon!" and "The Fiery Breath of Fafnir!" I suppose that I could make this simple and just end every title with an exclamation point, but that would be lame.

Here's what I'm thinking. If I'm going to write on the troubling discourse of the health care debate, I'll call it something like "Lo, There Shall Come Vitriol!" If I'm writing about how dumb Kirk Cameron is, I'd call it "This Man, This Moron!" I could call a post about buying a new refrigerator "When Comes the Refrigerator!"

Get the point? I want all of you (Scott) to do the same! Do it for Stan!


You don't win friends with salad

I have just a few more days until October starts, and then I begin my newest experiment - going Hindu. To be more specific, I'm going with the version of Hinduism that forbids the eating of meat. Oh, and that's it. I don't plan on praying to Vishnu, Ganesha, Krishna, etcetera. (Well, maybe Ganesha. He's got an elephant head. Does Jesus have an elephant head? Not really.)

As I've mentioned before, my original plan was to start slow. I was going to give up meat on Fridays (Catholicism) for a month, and then I would go Kosher for a month. Following that, I'd go Hindu, and then I'd wrap it all up with Ramadan. Things took a turn though when I discovered that Ramadan was starting in August, and now everything's turned around.

I don't think that I'm going to bother with the Kosher and Good Friday things after this. After all, I'll be pretty Kosher by default for my Hindu month. Obviously, I won't be eating pork, but I also won't have milk with steak or chicken dipped in egg batter. Oh, and shellfish is off the menu as well. I think that I'm killing two birds with one stone with this. As for Good Friday, that will feel pretty anticlimactic. I was also thinking of giving up beer for Lent, but how big of a deal is that considering that I didn't drink alcohol for a month? (Okay, I cheated on two of those days, but that's still impressive, I think.)

If I were to give myself a grade on my Ramadan experiment, I'd give myself a C+. Considering that I felt that an F- was a likely result, that's pretty good. As for being a Hindu, I think that I'll do a lot better. After all, I can still EAT. Not only that, beer is just fine and dandy. (Okay, there are some versions of Hinduism that forbid it, but they also forbid spicy food. On the other hand, there are versions that just say that you can't eat beef. I'm aiming for the middle here.)

I think that it will be easier for me to do this than it would have been ten years ago. I enjoy a lot more vegetarian foods than I used to. Also, I don't like meat as much as I once did. Don't get me wrong, I still eat it. However, I used to like eating steak, and now that just rarely appeals to me. I'll eat it if it's served to me, but when I go with my in-laws to Black Angus, I wind up getting the Ahi Tuna instead of some red meat. While I still crave a good burger (I eat more buffalo burgers than beef burgers) once a week, there's still going to be a lot of food that I like. Vegetarian burritos are good. I also like pizza with artichoke hearts, onion mix, and jalapenos. I figure that I can also make some yellow curry but just use tofu instead of the usual chicken. And let's not forget falafel - I've made that a couple of times now, and it turned out pretty good.

In other words, I don't see any reason to score anything less than an A. I suppose that if some friends invite me over to dinner, and they're making meat, I wouldn't want to be rude about it. Still, my friends know about this whole thing, so I doubt that they'd try to sabotage it. Plus, by the time Thursday rolls along, I won't even have any meat in the fridge, so even if that breaks down on me, I won't have the same excuse to quit early like I did with Ramadan.

What's also going to be fun about this is that my wife is on board. We've been talking about it quite a bit, and the consensus is that it's going to be a lot tougher for her than it will be for me. I'm not exactly the biggest veggie lover, but I'll eat stuff like eggplant Parmesan. Kirsti's not having any of that, and she hasn't been too interested in falafel. Maybe when she gets sick of eating the same thing day-in and day-out, she'll be more willing to give it a try.

Oh, and I think with this one, I'd like to issue a challenge to all of my carnivorous (omnivorous, really) friends out there. Can you Namaste It! with me for a month? I double-dog dare ya! You wouldn't want to have bad karma now because you accidentally ate a relative who was reincarnated into your cheeseburger, would you?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Comics Roundup for 9/23/09

I devoured these all last night, but it was too late to write the Roundup. Here goes:

New Avengers #57 - This issue really picks up the pace from the last one, and it's good to see the two Avengers teams really coming to a head. Also, it was nice seeing Spider-Man knocking Norman "Iron Patriot" Osborn down. It also ended with a nice cliffhanger, and Stuart Immonen's art just looks better and better.

The Amazing Spider-Man #606 - Guess who else is more interesting now that Spidey is single? The Black Cat, that's who. Once again she can act as a femme fatale figure in the story, and Mike McKone does a really great job of drawing her. Oh, and the bad luck powers are fun to have back, especially in Joe Kelly's hands. I have to say, I've never been a big Joe Kelly fan, and his first few issues of Amazing didn't do much for me. Now, however, I look forward to his story arcs. This was fun stuff, especially when Black Cat's powers kept kicking in around him.

Giant Sized Wolverine: Old Man Logan - This wraps up a story arc that began in Wolverine's regular series some time ago. I've never been able to sustain a long interest in Wolverine's solo book (or books, as he has now) but I really dug Mark Millar's "Enemy of the State" storyline. When I heard he was coming back for this dystopian alternate-future of Wolverine, I had to come back for that. This has been a great read, and the ending is pretty satisfying. It finally answered the question as to what would happen if The Hulk ate and swallowed Wolverine. Nice.

Echo #15 - Word is that Terry Moore has signed a movie deal for this property. Not only that, but supposedly we're at the halfway point for the entire series. While I'll be sorry to see it go, it's nice to know that this story has a planned beginning, middle and end. Not only that, but I'm confident that I'll stick around for whatever Moore does next. As always, it was a great mix of character moments and action.

Superman: Secret Origin #1 - They're telling Superman's origin AGAIN? How many times is this now? And yet, here I am buying it because of the creative team of Geoff Johns and Gary Frank. Sure, we've seen the story a million times, but it's one of those stories that's so archetypal that it be retold constantly and with a fresh take each time. This time, I hope that they get right what I felt was lacking with Mark Waid's Superman: Birthright - namely, they explain why Clark Kent would have ever been friends with Lex Luthor in the first place. Anyway, this was a great read, and it dealt nicely with the one thing about Superman that's central to who he is as a person - he's an orphan with adopted parents.

Spider-Woman #1 - I figured that I'd give this one a chance since I like her in the New Avengers book. I had picked up the limited series of a couple years back, but that really didn't do too much for me. With this one, I definitely liked the art better, and the story is a bit more compelling. See, Spider-Woman had been kidnapped by the Skrulls only to have the Skrull Queen impersonate her for several years. Now the real deal is back, and she's on the hunt for Skrulls in a mission of revenge. Not bad, and I'll give it a couple more issues at least.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Feel free to convert me

I've heard a few Christians tell me while we're talking about faith-related matters that they're "not trying to convert me" or preach at me. My response? Don't worry about it if you are. By that same token, I've heard nonbelievers say, "It's okay for them to believe whatever they want so long as they don't preach to me." Personally, I don't have a problem if they do. Now, if they want to preach creationism in a science classroom and push their beliefs THAT way, then I have a problem. However, just having a conversation with me where they try and convince me to become a Christian as well? I have no problem with it. In fact, I sort of relish it.

Why should I worry about it? Sure, people like that might be annoying when they bring it up at the wrong time, but if we're sitting down to have a conversation, then go ahead and give me your best pitch for faith. After all, what's the worst thing that could happen? You could say something that might convince me? Oh, Heimdall forbid that would happen!

For me, I'm secure with my position. If there's an argument for faith that I haven't heard, then I'd love to finally hear it. Unfortunately, I keep getting the same thing over and over again. Honestly though, it's fun for me to give the counter arguments. There have been a couple of times where I've had fundamentalists get all bent out of shape when I refused to play along with their little script. I practically drove one guy crazy when I kept turning all of his arguments for Jesus into arguments for the existence of Superman. He kept trying to tell me that we KNOW that the planet Krypton doesn't exist. I told him that there's no way to know that, as we have not explored the entire universe. (And I was basically just doing the same argument as him - as he told me that there was no way that I could KNOW that God doesn't exist - even though I made no such claim to begin with.)

Kirsti has said that her birthday wish is for my "brother Angus" to try and proselytize to me. He's already made it abundantly clear that he knows jack-squat about the faith he supposedly professes. (He thinks that Jesus wrote the Bible, for instance.) For some reason, it hasn't happened. Strange, because he's done it with complete strangers and other family members...but never me. I've heard that he's said that he "loves me even though" I'm an atheist. Geez, the way he says that, you'd think I was running a still or something! (To Kill a Mockingbird reference there.)

Personally, I think that people usually don't preach to me for a couple of reasons. Number one, I don't get it from strangers much because they tend to target young people. I certainly got it a lot more when I was in my teens and early twenties, back when I didn't have a whole lot to say on the issue (and still believed in God, but was smart enough to know that their arguments were full of crap). Number two, as for the people who know me, they're probably afraid of what will happen. I'll listen to everything they have to say, but I won't play along if you're giving me that long-since rejected spiel. (Try a new one though! That might get you somewhere!) I think it might be even fair to say that I get somewhat...ummm... "disagreeable" when people tell me things that don't make sense to me. I kind of get like a dog with a piece of rope - I just ain't lettin' go, and the harder you pull, the harder I'll pull back.

I guess the opportunity just won't come up very much for me. Sure, I have this blog, but this is for my personal thoughts and I don't force anybody to come here and read it. Sure, I link each new post to Facebook and MySpace, but again, I'm not making anybody click on the links. In person, I really don't try and go around converting, or de-converting people - honestly! (I know that some of you know me best through my internet persona.) The way I explain it is that in person, I don't have an offense. I do, however, have one hell of a defense.

Kirk Cameron - Liar for Jesus

Looks like old Mike Seaver is up to his old tricks again. No, he's not doing the things he used to do that made Mr. and Mrs. Seaver mad (whatever that was - didn't he not do his homework and stuff?). Instead, he's lying in the name of Jesus. What's better, he's also lying in an attempt to undermine science education (which too many liars for Jesus seem to do).

Here's his video, and then I'll break down the lies and/or distortions:

1. Kids are not allowed to pray in public. Huh? What? Since when? The Christian club at my school meets in front of the flag in the morning and prays. (I don't know if they do this every day or what - I really don't pay that close attention to what they do so long as it doesn't aeffct me.) There's nothing anybody can do to stop them.

2. Kids can't open a Bible in schools. Bullcrap. I'm doing a unit on the Bible right now with my seniors. I've had kids read it for their outside reading.

3. The 10 Commandments are no longer allowed to be displayed in public spaces. Wrong again, Mike Seaver. They just can't be displayed on government property. Personally, I think that the faithful oversell those ten rules. Why didn't "no raping" or "no slavery" make the list but "no carving wood into an idol" made it?

4. The Gideons are not allowed to give away Bibles. I've never heard this. Maybe it's true, but I doubt it. I had some students giving away Bibles a few years ago, and considering how spectacularly wrong he was on the first three points, I'm not even going to bother researching this one.

5. Over 60% of psychologists and biologists are atheists. Hmmm...maybe that oughtta tell you something, Kirky.

6. Atheism is on the rise and people aren't hearing the alternative. It's true. Most people don't even know about the Frost Giant in the Ginungagap anymore.

7. Only God can make people love what's good and just. Then why are you such a damned liar, Kirk? You obviously don't value the truth.

8. Ray Comfort's "introduction" to Darwin's Book. You might want to know that Ray Comfort is the same guy who thinks that the banana is the "atheist's worst nightmare". I wrote about that guy some time ago. That guy writing an intro to Darwin's book is like me writing an intro to Greatest NASCAR Moments. He either doesn't understand evolution, or he lies about what it even says.

9. Hitler's connection to Darwin - Funny how Hitler didn't mention him. I wonder if these people think that Jews were treated really well up until the point that Darwin wrote his book, and that's when everything went south. Hitler invoked God a lot, but I don't blame Christianity for Hitler either, even though you can find more similarities between Hitler and Martin Luther if you really want to look them up.

10. Darwin's racism and attitudes towards women - From what I can tell, they're pretty consistent with a man from the late 19th Century. Even if they were behind the times though, what does that have to do with his theory? Nothing.

11. The "hoaxes" and how "nothing created everything" - Fail, Kirk. Look, if you're going to criticize evolution, at least know what it is, okay? Evolution has nothing to do with the origins of the universe.

12. Absence of transitional forms - Lie. Look it up if you don't believe me. Search for "whale evolution" or "horse evolution" for some really amazing examples.

13. Einstein believed that God created the universe - It would be wrong for me to say that Kirk is 100% wrong on this, but he is if he's talking about a personal God - which Einstein definitely did not believe in.

14. Big list of other scientists - So what? That doesn't mean that if they were alive today that they'd be creationists.

Final thought - What these creationists (and I don't want to blame all Christians for guys like Cameron and Comfort) don't seem to get is that atheism is not a religion. Atheists do not hold Darwin's book up as some sort of infallible text. In fact, those who have bothered to look into the issue KNOW that there are problems with what he wrote. It is NOT a perfect book, and Darwin himself made no pretense of it being so.

With that said, over the nearly 150 years since its publication, more and more evidence has been uncovered that backs up his basic premise - that species evolve from lower forms through the process of natural selection. If something comes along to disprove it, most scientists will want to know about it. I know that I'd want to know about it, and I'm not even a scientist. Shoot, once they started analyzing DNA, the whole theory could have been thrown out the window, but what they discovered was that it only supports Darwin's basic premise.

Ironically, I'm glad that these guys are doing what they're doing. I hope that students present their arguments to their science teachers, so they can watch each one get torn down quite dramatically. (Of course, any biology majors will be able to do that just fine on their own.)

Still, Kirk, why all the lies? If you're really so moral and righteous, why would you need to do that?

Oh, and here's a video response from my favorite Romanian atheist:

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Your kid is not spiritual

The following is completely true despite the fact that it never actually happened. In order to prevent friends and family from maybe getting mad at me, I've changed some names and relationships. Not only that, but I've taken two nearly identical stories and smashed them together into one and created completely fictional relatives of mine. I'm going to try my best to represent what the real people actually said without erecting some sort of strawman that misrepresents anybody's views. With that said, here is my fictional true story:

My brother, Angus, converted to Christianity recently. That's not necessarily such a big deal, but he's part of the really judgmental brand of the Christian faith that even many Christians find annoying. I also get the sneaking suspicion that he knows very little about The Bible itself. Instead, his head is just filled with dogma about being "saved" and how those who aren't are going to Hell ("eternal damnation" is what he calls it).

That's fine, I suppose - live your life the way you want to live it. The problem is that he's obviously brainwashed his children. Now, I realize that there's always going to be a certain degree of indoctrination that parents do with their children. It's inevitable, and for the most part, it's a good thing. After all, how can anybody fault it if you teach them things like the Golden Rule and other universally human values? I also don't fault a person for sharing their faith with their kids. Personally, I think that it's best to let kids make up their own minds, but sharing your faith and letting them think for themselves are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

This is different though. The kids are obsessed with Jesus and making sure that people are "saved". They annoy people with self-righteous platitudes. For instance, my nephew Seamus was getting on my Aunt Bridget's case about her smoking. My niece, Sabrina, always asks me if I believe in Jesus. When I say that I don't, she asks me why. My reply to her is that it simply doesn't make sense to me, but I tell her that it's okay with me that she believes. It's not like this was a one-time thing - she insists on talking about it every time she sees me. Oh, and I should also mention that Sabrina and Seamus pray for every little thing - including things as trivial as me finding a parking space when I take them out to see a movie.

When asked about whether he's brainwashing his kids, Angus replies that he's done no such thing. "They're just deep kids." he says. He saw my look of incredulity and insisted that "Maybe they've experienced something that you don't understand. You're not giving them enough credit."

Okay, let's have a little reality check here. Sabrina is five and Seamus is seven. I like little kids, but one thing they are not is "deep". Shoot, I like teenagers too, but it's a really rare case when I meet a "deep" one in my line of work. Sure, sometimes they're deep for their age, but generally speaking, kids do not comprehend profundity. I'd even go so far as to say that some adults can't either, but kids most definitely can't by the reality of the fact that their brains are still developing - well into their early twenties, in fact.

Your children will believe anything you tell them. Even if you try and get them to think for themselves, when they're little kids they'll pretty much just repeat what you think. I have another friend who tried this with her daughter on the subject of God's existence. She asked her daughter what she thought, to which her daughter asked mom what she believed. Mom said, "Well, I don't believe in one." Her daughter insisted, "I don't either." Of course, this might start to change by the time she becomes a teenager, but that's just the nature of little kids.

Let's face reality on this, okay? Kids will believe in the Tooth Fairy because their parents tell them about it. They believe in Santa. And when they believe in Jesus, they believe it for the EXACT SAME REASON. Sure, they outgrow the Santa and Tooth Fairy stories (some of us outgrow the Jesus one too) but when they stop believing, nobody threatens them with eternal torment for it. Also, it's not like their parents believe it, so the pressure isn't exactly the same.

The bottom line is that if you told a kid the stories of Samson and Achilles, Jesus and Dionysus, Satan and Loki, and then asked them to differentiate between which ones are "real" and which ones are fairy tales, they will not be able to tell the difference. Again, I'm not saying that you shouldn't share your faith, but don't be so delusional to think that it means the same thing to your kids as it does to you. It might mean something to them, but a kid's brain is not an adult's brain.

Blog-a-day month Rules

This is a copy/paste from Scott C. Harris' blog:

October 1 begins the third annual Blog-a-Day month. Here are the rules.

1. As there is no prize or reward for following the rules, you may bend all rules. But because if you break the rules you aren't playing the game, no breaking the rules. Example of bending the rules: You go to bed at 2 AM, so before you go to bed you blog for the previous day. Breaking the rules: Skipping four days and blogging five times to make up for it.

2. A blog entry must be created everyday. More than one blog a day is encouraged.

3. No copy/paste blogs. You may copy/paste as back up or supplemental information, but not as the blog itself.

4. No journaling. If anyone wants to know how your day was, they are kindly making small talk. You must talk about shit. It CAN be about something that happened to you, but it must be an interesting or unique event OR used as a springboard to a discussion.

5. Every blog must have a subject or title.

6. Every blog must have substance. Can't post "I'm tired" and count it as a blog (hate people that do that). That can be a start, but you had better tell why and it had better be fascinating (or at least mildly interesting). I don't want to put a minimum number of sentences or words - make it worth clicking on your blog.

7. The occasional blog (and I leave it up to you to define occasional on your own) can be strictly photos if they are photos that you took and if they tell a story or show several things of special interest. Make it worth more than a glance.

8. The rare blog can be a video blog. But because I can read faster than you can talk, make it short and interesting.

9. If you use more than one blog, either double post or dedicate one blog. Don't make people search to see if you are cool enough to be a part of Blog-a-day October.

10. Proper GRAMMAR and SPELLING should be used as much as possible. Typos and errors, OK. Being an idiot, not OK. None of this text talk crap. If you wouldn't say it in real life (stupid commercials don't count), don't blog it. (BS is OK. OK is OK. IDK is not). Emoticons are OK.

My comment: Considering that I'm going to go vegetarian for a month, I think that I'll have a lot to write about. Let's see if "Namaste It!" is as fertile for ideas as "Ramadan It!" was.

Rama done did it!

So much for my big plan for yesterday. The only thing I did was wait until the sun went down until I cracked open the homebrews. (Tried the Vienna Lager - while it's not a failure like my other lagers, it definitely doesn't taste right. I'm thinking that maybe if I age it out a bit and then lager them all in the beer fridge during the summer, I might have something pretty good.)

Basically, I opted to have lunch for the simple reason that I didn't want to think about food all day. I had other things with which to concern myself. I think that once I started eating lunch again due to my fridge problems, the genie had officially come out of the bottle, and there was no going back. Well, at least until next year, as I think that I might try it again.

So, I have ten days to eat whatever the hell I want whenever the hell I want. October will be my Hindu month, and for as tough as that's going to be, I think it will be easier than Ramadan - even the half-assed version that I was doing.

Did I learn anything? You betcha. Here are some thoughts:

1. Starving yourself is not a good way to lose weight. At the very least, it's not a pleasant way to lose weight. I haven't weighed myself lately, but at most I've dropped ten pounds. I suspect that it might come back to me.

2. The amount of beer I drink is negligible to the amount I weigh. I would have thought that if it wasn't for skipping lunch, the skipping of beer would make me slim down. Well, that doesn't seem to be the case either. It shouldn't be too surprising considering that on average, I still drink a bit less than what's considered "moderate alcohol consumption", which would be two beers a day.

3. "Angry hungry" is B.S. I think that I've gotten over that. I might have to do an annual reminder, but this has taught me that I need to just calm down and put things in perspective the next time I start getting hungry. Shoot, I was able to sit there with my coworkers while they all ate Chinese food and I handled myself just fine, despite the fact that my stomach was rumbling.

4. Bacon continues to be delicious. Burp!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Comics Roundup for 9/16/09

A lot of cool stuff this week. Let's get to it:

Daredevil: The List - This issue marks Andy Diggle's first full issue as the new writer for Daredevil. As far as I'm concerned, this could have just been a regular issue of the ongoing series, or issue #500.5 or something like that. Honestly, I was expecting to drop the title when Ed Brubaker left, but I wanted to give the new guy a try. I have to say, this was a fun read. Diggle's really running with the new status quo and making it even more interesting. What convinces me even more is the preview of the next issue, and this series still looks like a winner. Unlike Fantastic Four, I'll continue to pick this one up.

Blackest Night #3 - Another solid issue, and I'm realizing that Geoff Johns is a master at doing exposition. There really is a lot of it in this issue, but it never feels forced or labored. We finally learn a little bit more about the "Indigo Lanterns" who represent compassion, and there finally seems to be a way to defeat the Black Lanterns. However, making that happen is going to be tough, as ALL the lanterns are going to have to work together. Pretty easy for Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet, but Red, Yellow, and Orange are probably going to be a problem. I also like the notion that it isn't the Black that's invading, it's that the Black is fighting back, as light invades the darkness.

Batman: Streets of Gotham #4 - I didn't really get into this issue for some reason, but considering how much I dug the first three, I'm not too worried about it. I figure that by issue 10 or so, I'll sit down and re-read the whole run. It's good to see that Hush is still playing a part in all this, but I have to think that he's going to pull something from up his sleeve soon, as right now he's just being owned by Batman.

Batman and Robin #4 - Nothing special going on here, but it's a solid superhero read. I continue to enjoy the Dick Grayson as Batman storyline, and I like the new Robin more and more all the time. I also think that this new version of the Red Hood who Batman is dealing with is interesting, and I hope that there will be a good payoff to all this. Just like that other Batman title, I think that this one will be better when I read a bunch of issues in a row.

Captain America Reborn #3 of 5 - The story doesn't move too far forward here, but I didn't mind as it was still a fun issue. I'm realizing that this story belongs to the new Cap just as much as the old Cap. I was a bit disappointed that Bucky-Cap needed to be rescued, but it was still pretty cool to see him whale on that Scourge guy after warning him to get his hands off of the shield. Here's hoping that this will have a satisfying ending.

The Amazing Spider-Man #605 - And yet again, I have to say that Mary Jane is more interesting than she has been in a long time. This double-length issue delves into answering some of the questions as to what happened to Peter and MJ's relationship. Obviously, the marriage never happened, but just as Joe Quesada was saying, not much else other than that has changed. Personally, I still don't think that it would have been so awful for him to get divorced, but whatever, the fact is that this remains a fun title, and one can definitely say that the last half dozen issues contain stories that definitely could NOT work with a married Peter Parker.

Dark Avengers #9 - I skipped a couple issues due to a crossover that I didn't really care about, but now that Bendis is back to writing it, I'm back as well. I'm glad that I am, as this might very well be the best issue of the series so far. It focuses on Ares, who has been prominent in the Marvel Universe ever since the first issue of Mighty Avengers, but he really hasn't had all that much to do. With this issue, we get to know him a bit more, and he's a pretty complex guy. I hope to see more.

Ramadan It! - Day 29

Well, this thing sure has fizzled out. The only thing I can say is that I once again passed on having a beer. Tomorrow, I'm going to try and swing for the fences and eat as early as possible and then eat as late as possible. I don't think that it's the official end of Ramadan, but it's going to be MY end of Ramadan. What do I mean? I mean that I'm having a beer (or two or three) gosh darnit. My new fridge is coming in the morning, and that will give it plenty of time to get my beers cold and ready to go once again.

Overall, this has been an interesting experiment. Considering that I half expected to just completely give up on it after a few days, I think that I did rather well.

What's next? Well, I'm going to eat whatever the hell I want for the rest of September. For the month of October, I'm going Hindu. Now, that has a lot of wiggle room, as there are many different schools of thought on Hindu dietary laws. I could just make it easy on myself and avoid beef, but I'm going to go vegetarian for the month. I'm not going to bother with avoiding garlic and spicy foods like some sects apparently do. I'm also not going to go vegan for the simple fact that I don't want to spend a month eating nothing but tree bark, moss, and small rocks.

And what shall I call those blog updates? Namaste It! of course.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Ramadan It! - Day 28

Of course, I had lunch yet again today - just a salad and some mixed nuts for me though (not together!) Other than that, I'm starting to get a little bit lazier about this as I approach the end, as I went ahead and had a glass of juice when I got home. I also ate early, but that's because it was Back to School Night.

I usually have a beer after Back to School Night, but I managed to resist the urge. I'm going to go shopping on Saturday, and I'm going to buy myself something special for Sunday. Hmmm...what to get, what to get?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Ramadan It! - Day 27

Not much to say, considering that I had lunch once again. I'm thinking that a salad is the way to go from now on, but I'm not quite sure what I'll have tomorrow. I've got some stew, but I think that would just make me groggy.

Ugh...and tomorrow's back to school night. I usually go out for drinks afterward, but this will make for a nice excuse to not spend $5 on a beer. I really wish that it was on a Friday, as when I get back to work Friday morning, it always feels like I just left the damned place.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The various steps to believing - addendum

I wrote recently about all of the hurdles that I'd have to go through in order to go back to believing in Jesus. That was a few days ago, and my mind's been buzzing on this issue off and on this whole time. I realize that for as much as I wrote, I barely scratched the surface as to what exactly it would mean for me to believe again. So, here are some more thoughts on that:

I mentioned that I give Christianity a greater chance at being valid than I do The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and Scientology, and I was sincere when I said that. However, I give it equal weight with Islam, Zoroastrianism, Shinto, Judaism and the Bahai Faith. (Probably a few others that I don't know about in order to really say one way or the other.) That said, I give it less of a chance of being the one, true religion than the following:

1. Hinduism - The thing with Hinduism is that it's a henotheistic religion. In other words, they have their god that they worship, but they allow for the possibility of other gods existing as well. That's the thing with Christianity that comes off as being intellectually dishonest to me. To pick on just one example, there are many surviving stories of gods who father a son with a mortal woman. However, Christianity would have you believe that Hercules, Dionysus, Perseus, etcetera are all just stories, and yet the Jesus one is real even though there is no more evidence for it than the other stories.

With Hinduism, you can believe the Jesus story and not reject other stories of various gods and supernatural occurrences. For me, accepting one is simply opening up the floodgates for all of them.

2. Buddhism - I realize that I'm not putting these in any particular order, but I have an easier time with Buddhism than any of the other religions. Well, let me clarify - there's a certain type of Buddhism that I can get behind. Of course, the versions that venerate him as divine and worship him as a god are just as improbable as any other myth. However, much of modern Buddhist thought doesn't require you to believe in any of the supernatural aspects of the Buddha story. Shoot, from what I've read of the Dalai Lama, even he doesn't literally accept the story that he's a reincarnated Buddha. The thing is with Buddhism is that it's more of a philosophy, and you can follow the philosophy without having to accept the supernatural baggage that might come with it.

3. Odin & the Norse Gods - I wrote about this already, but here is my point in a nutshell: Odin makes more sense than Jesus. I simply cannot look at the world that we live in and accept the notion that there's a loving, caring god who cares about all of us. Every explanation that tries to reconcile a loving god with the cruelties of this world involves so many mental backflips that I get dizzy just thinking about them. As for Odin, nobody ever said that he gave a crap about you. He'll bless you and damn you all in the same day. If a god exists, then that's what he's like.

Okay, so let's say that I manage to get over all of those hurdles in addition to all of the hurdles that I mentioned in the previous blog. There's still one huge problem! What version of Christianity do I go with?

I could go old school and be a gnostic. I could be a Mormon. I could be Latvian Orthodox. How about the Jehovah's Witnesses? Seventh Day Adventists? Baptist? Southern Baptist? Anglican? Snake Handler? Let me try and break down THIS conundrum as well:

1. Biblical literalism traditions - Ever notice that even the literalists can't agree on what The Bible is actually trying to say? Anyway, I give this a leap factor of 9.999 - even if you take it from the point where I've already supposedly accepted Jesus. I accept science. I don't believe that a snake ever talked. I don't think that a guy lost his super strength when he got a haircut. The thing is, I don't even believe that the people who wrote the Bible ever even INTENDED for people to take it all so literally. It's not that they were confused - it's that people today are confused and don't understand symbolism when they see it.

2. "Inspired" Biblical traditions - I have less of a problem with those who can accept things like evolution and the big bang while still believing that The Bible is the inspired word of God. At least they're dealing in reality. However, The Bible still has too many problems for me to believe that it's even inspired by a divine being. I could go on and on about this, but here's a major problem - it condones slavery. I'd be much more impressed if "You shall not own people" made it in the 10 Commandments over a rule about me carving a block of wood into an idol. Leap factor? I'll give that an 8.

3. "Flawed" Biblical traditions - Of course, I'm completely making these terms up, but I'm basing this on the works of some Christians I've read where they don't take The Bible literally at all, and instead they view it as the product of its time. I'm thinking of fellas like John Dominic Crossan when I refer to this. Basically, the man still considers himself a Christian and a Catholic, but he doesn't take any of the stories at face value. Instead, he looks for the deeper messages within them. Now, this is the kind of Christianity I can get behind if I ever went back to believing in Jesus. Shoot, this comes rather close to how I feel about Christianity - it's mythology, and the thing with mythology is that all myths are true stories of things that never really happened.

Ramadan It! - Day 26

Oh, why even call this a Ramadan It anymore? I ate lunch. As I stated in previous posts, I have the choice to keep going with this until the end and waste a lot of food, or I can eat what's in my fridge and not have all that waste on my conscience.

I did keep it pretty light though. I had a chicken caesar salad. I grilled up the two chicken breasts last night that had thawed out after taking them out of the freezer and putting them in my little beer fridge. This morning I chopped them up and put them in a salad.

It was pretty good, and I think that this is the type of lunch I should eat more often. It didn't make me full and sleepy, and it kept me nicely satisfied until I was finally able to get around to making dinner at 6:00.

Oh, and no beer and no pork today. I'm going to break the pork rule again before I finally open another beer. (That will be on Sunday.)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Ramadan It! - Day 25

If Allah and Odin went to war over my eternal soul today, Odin definitely came out on top. I went with a friend to court today as he's going through with a divorce, and I was there for moral support. I figured that afterwards, we'd just do whatever the heck he felt like doing.

What did he feel like doing? We went out for breakfast first. Now, I already had a bowl of cereal, so this was second breakfast for me (I guess I'm a Hobbit). And yes, I wound up having some bacon. I really can't think of any way to justify this. After all, there is other stuff to eat there, and I could have just had my French Toast instead, but what's done is done.

After that, he felt like having a few beers. Again, this may be justifying things to myself a bit too much, but I know that if I was in his shoes, I'd want to have a few beers as well. Also, if I'm going to have a few beers, I prefer to have them with a friend who's also having a few. Hey, I'm just following the Golden Rule here! (Buddha said it first, Christians!)

So, we wound up splitting a six-pack of Acme Pale Ale. (All of my homebrews are a bit too warm to drink right now.) It was a good choice, as it's not only one tasty brew, but it's not so heavy on alcohol. We were able to have three each and not feel completely blitzed afterwards. It was just enough to keep a nice buzz while we played Beatles Rock Band.

Things worked out well for my friend (as well as something like a divorce possibly could) and I was happy to not just be there for him while in court, but to be able to relax and have a good time with him afterward. Odin be praised!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Ramadan It! - Day 24

Well, not much of a Ramadan at all considering that I ate lunch. As I mentioned before, I had to thaw out everything from my freezer, so I'm stuck with a whole bunch of food that needs to be eaten before it goes bad. There's no way that I'm going to get to all of it if I'm only eating two meals a day - especially when the only thing I can choke down in the morning is cereal.

That's the irony of this whole experiment. Normally, I'd feel pretty bad to waste so much food. However, now that I've spent over twenty days skipping lunch, I feel even worse about throwing food away. So, my Ramadan experiment led to me having to end my Ramadan experiment early. Well, that and some unfortunate luck with the refrigerator.

I have to say, I've never enjoyed being able to eat lunch more than I did today. I had some of my homemade Swedish meatballs, and I savored every last bite. It also felt great to not feel my stomach caving in on itself at 2:00 in the afternoon. At about that time, I actually found myself craving a little piece of chocolate. However, I resisted the urge. I can justify allowing myself to eat lunch so long as I have leftovers to eat. There's no way I can reconcile eating a piece of chocolate though.

Unfortunately, I'm going to wind up breaking the no pork rule before the week is over. I think that I can hold out on the alcohol thing until Sunday. However, tomorrow I'm going to be doing a favor for a friend, and there's a chance that he might feel like having a drink or two afterward (and I wouldn't blame him for it). If that's the case, I'll break that rule too, as sometimes having a drink with a friend is the kind of thing a friend needs to do. We'll see though, and I won't be the one to suggest it.

So, I'm going to avoid giving my final thoughts on all this just yet, but even with me aborting the experiment a little early, I still think that it's been a worthwhile experiment, and I definitely can say that it's been enough to have an impact. I'm sure that I'll have more to reflect on as the days roll by.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Ramadan It! - Day 23

I definitely cheated today, but not too bad. Since all of the stuff in my freezer is defrosted, I figured that I'd eat the stuff that's likely to go bad first - so I decided to try the seafood sausage. I've been informed that the notion of seafood sausage sounds disgusting by more than one person. Personally, I think it was not bad. I don't know if I'd ever get it again, but I ate two of them.

I tried removing them from the pork casing though, but that didn't work so well. So, I wound up eating a little bit of pork today - hardly enough to satisfy the craving that I've been having for about a week now. I think that I'm going to eat a pound of bacon on the 20th, and I'm not going to bother frying it. I'll chase it with one of my big bottles of IPA.

Speaking of beer, I bottled my Vienna Lager today. Here's hoping that my third lager attempt works. I also cheated a bit by taking a sip of it. What can I say? I always take a sip for a little quality control. I want to make sure that there aren't any off-flavors before I let it age a week so it can carbonate. I figure that one sip of warm, flat beer hardly counts as some kind of indulgence. It's about as indulgent as pork casing on a sausage, I suppose.

Comics Roundup for 9/10/09

No, I didn't forget about this last week. There were only two comics out that I wanted, and since I was dealing with the first week back at work, I didn't bother to go. It's a little later than usual today because the comics were delayed a day, and with work it takes me a bit longer to get through them. (Beatles Rock Band also took up some of my time.)

Kick-Ass #7 - I've been doing this Comics Roundup thing for a while now, but I don't think that I've ever written about this series. I guess that it's been a while since the last issue. The good thing about this series is that I was able to get right back into the story without missing a beat. This is some pretty twisted stuff, as it's another one of those "what if people really tried to be superheroes" stories, and it's a pretty fun read with a new twist on that old idea. Another thing is that John Romita, Jr.'s art is much stronger than his recent Spider-Man stuff. I wonder if it's because he has Tom Palmer on inks on this series. Maybe Klaus Janson isn't a good fit for him anymore.

Avengers: The List - This could have easily been a regular issue of New Avengers, but I didn't mind picking up an extra book, as it's some pretty good stuff. It starts off with the heroes debating what to do about Norman Osborn, with Hawkeye being the only one who's sure that Osborn should be killed. He eventually goes out to take him down on his own, with some pretty disasterous results. I'm eager for more, and I can't wait to see how this over-arching story finally gets resolved.

Hellboy: The Wild Hunt #6 of 8 - I'm waiting for the whole series to come out before I sit down and read it all the way through. I flipped through this one though, and it's making me really look forward to that. I'm sorry to see that Mike Mignola isn't drawing this series himself, but Duncan Fegredo is a nice substitute. The colors by Dave Stewart are really nicely done as well.

Adventure Comics #2 - I guess that this book could also be called "Superboy Team-Up". I mentioned with the first issue that I only picked it up because Geoff Johns was writing it, and I didn't really ever care that much for the character. Well, I fully expected to be writing that this would be my last issue of this series, but guess what? It's a thoroughly compelling read, and the character bits between him and Wonder Girl are really nicely done. Johns has also capitalized on the one thing that's ripe for drama about this incarnation of Superboy - he's cloned from both Superman AND Lex Luthor. That could mess with a guy's head. I'm definitely back for the next issue. Oh, and the Legion of Superheroes backup wasn't bad either.

Trojan War #5 of 5 - Everything in this issue felt really rushed - especially considering the fact that the story of Agamemnon's murder at the hands of the man who was boinking his wife while was away only got one page. Oh well, I thoroughly enjoyed this telling of the non-Homeric Trojan War stories, and the last issue being a bit of a bum note doesn't ruin the rest of the series for me.

The Amazing Spider-Man #604 - I've said it before, and I'll say it again - Mary Jane is a lot more interesting than she has been in some time. Supposedly next issue will fill in some of the gaps as to what she's been up to between "One More Day" and "Brand New Day". Also, this issue dealt nicely with the fallout of The Chameleon having impersonated Peter. Basically, lots of people are ticked off at him, and as of right now, he has no idea why.

Blackest Night - Batman #2 of 3 - I was worried that I'd regret getting this series, as these sorts of spinoffs tend to just be a way to sucker fans into buying even more books. Well, that may have very well been the intention, but this is still a really fun read. The Black Lanterns still seem pretty damned unstoppable, and I look forward to seeing how a non-powered hero like Batman deals with them in the next issue.

Batman #690 - I just noticed the number of this issue. Is Bruce Wayne going to return for #700? I'd be shocked if he didn't, but in the meantime I'm still enjoying seeing Dick Grayson as Batman. The current creative team has one more issue, and I'm hoping that Tony Daniel keeps me interested enough for me to stick around after that.

Thor: Tales of Asgard #5 of 6 - As always, it's reprinting Stan Lee and Jack Kirby backup stories featuring their unique take on the Norse gods. 'Nuff said.

The various steps to believing

I've been having a lot of good conversations regarding faith lately. (Some of them right here on this blog! Well, the blogspot version of my blog, anyway.) I like that, because it keeps me thinking. Hopefully I'm not simply chasing my tail here, as I'm sure I've covered some of this stuff before, but I've had this particular post brewing in my head for several weeks now.

I've had a few people express to me that they hope that Jesus would eventually reveal himself to me. Honestly, I hope that if Jesus is indeed real, he'd get to it and start with the revealing already. I also hope that it can happen without me undergoing some sort of horribly traumatic incident. Honestly, if it were to happen that way, then I'd be less likely to believe. I wrote about this before, but stressful situations only tend to make people less rational, and I trust my own judgment much less when I'm in such a state. I hope that if such a thing happens that it occurs when I'm doing something really intellectual like reading The Canterbury Tales or something like that.

But what exactly would me converting to Christianity even entail? It would be a rather huge leap going from where I am now to something like that. Here's the breakdown, along with a ranking on a scale of 1 to 10 how big of a leap it would be for me:

#1. I'd have to start accepting supernatural causes. In one of my conversations, a friend said that she didn't like using the word "supernatural" to describe Jesus. After all, it probably sounds dismissive and condescending. However, that's the word I have to use unless somebody thinks of a better one. The bottom line is that I believe that we live in a natural world with natural causes. Any sort of spirit, whether it directly involves itself with the daily affairs of human beings or not, constitutes as supernatural. This has a Leap Factor of 8.

#2. I'd have to accept the notion of a "creator". Even if we take it from the deistic sense, where the creator made everything and then stepped away, this is still a huge problem for me. After all, it complicates the issue. Sure, wondering how we got here is baffling and confounding, but when you introduce a creator, all you've done is make something that demands even MORE questions - like who created the creator. And if the creator doesn't need a creator, then why can't the universe not need a creator? Leap Factor of 8.

#3. I'd have to believe that the creator has meddled in the affairs of human beings. This is essentially the same problem as #1. Stories this, whether from the past or the present, tend to fall apart under close scrutiny. The only ones that haven't are the ones that haven't been subjected to close scrutiny. Leap Factor of 8.

#4. Of all the creators out there, I have to believe in the Christian version. Not only that, but according to Christian doctrine, I have to believe in that one and ONLY that one. This is the thing that I think a lot of Christians don't get. Even if I get past the first three, and I do start believing in an active God, Christianity doesn't instantly become the default choice for me. As of right now, I give Jesus the exact same probability that I give any other god that people either once believed in or currently believe in. I suppose he gets more credibility than The Flying Spaghetti Monster, where the inventor of that admits that it's a joke (in fact, that's the point of the FSM). Maybe I'll even give him a little bit more credence than the tenets of Scientology as well, as the evidence is really strong that Hubbard is nothing more than a huckster. With Jesus, I don't believe he was that, but he does come from an era of myth making.

I could elaborate on and on, and I know that there are all sorts of Christian apologetic arguments where they try their darndest to make the Jesus story gel with the historical record. In fact, I satirized this recently in my "Star Wars apologetic". One of the best arguments is the "five hundred eye witnesses" to Jesus' resurrection. Who are these 500 eye witnesses? We don't know, but there's a line in the Bible that says that there are 500 eyewitnesses! Funny how NOT A SINGLE ONE left any sort of a written record outside The Bible, isn't it? It's also funny that the Romans, who kept pretty good records, failed to mention the zombies that rose from the grave after Jesus' crucifixion. Strange how that seemed to escape the notice of everybody except for the writer of the Matthew Gospel. (Who wasn't an eyewitness - sorry, apologists.)

My leap factor has been a pretty consistent 8 on everything so far. I don't believe that one should have absolute certainty about certain things - especially when we're dealing with issues as big and near-incomprehensible as this. Still, accepting Jesus and only Jesus? That's a 9.8 on the Leap Factor.

What exactly would Jesus need to do in order for me to accept him? Well, it's going to require something so huge that I can make all of those leaps at once. I've heard that he can do anything though, so I reckon that shouldn't be a problem.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Ramadan It! - Day 22

Today I got to talk to a former student who happens to be a Muslim. She's doing the full-on Ramadan, and she's not even drinking any water. Basically, I feel like a complete wuss that a 15-year old can do this, but I have to do a half-baked version of it because I'm afraid of getting headaches. Good thing I believe in Odin, who doesn't require all of these dietary restrictions. (In fact, I'm pretty sure he actively encourages the eating of pork.)

Speaking of pork, I just might have to break that rule. The thing is, I have to defrost my refrigerator. No, it's not some old fridge, but it's a long story to explain why I have to do this, and "defrost" is as short and concise a way to put it as I can come up with. What's the problem? Well, I have some pork products that are in there, including some hot dogs that I got at IKEA (and those seafood sausages in the pork casing I mentioned before).

So, what's worse? Breaking the rules of the experiment or throwing away food? Ironically enough, this whole thing has made me feel even worse when I waste food, so it's actually going to drive me to eat pork. I suppose that I'll remove the casing, but I don't know how to just eat the beef part of those hot dogs.

One way or the other, a lot of food is going to go to waste, which really is a shame. What's worse is that we're going out to eat Sunday night. It's for my father-in-law's birthday, but it feels really wrong to be buying food when I have so much that I'm going to just toss.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Ramadan It! - Day 21

Kirsti and I had a class today, so I ate at about 5:15. I also cheated and had a glass of juice at about 4:00 because I was really craving it. I guess since I'm on the home stretch now, I feel a little less bad when I do cheat a bit.

There's a chance I'm totally going to blow it this coming Monday. More on that if and when it happens.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Ramadan It! - Day 20

Made it to 6:00. Too busy playing Beatles Rock Band to report anything else.

The Big Bang and other "theories"

I'll be honest here. I don't feel that I completely understand the concept of The Big Bang. But here's another thing - I don't feel that I'm alone in this.

Here's how I understand it, and I won't feel embarrassed if somebody who's more scientifically-inclined corrects me. Apparently, there was an explosion billions of years ago that created the universe as we know it. Now, this is accurate, I believe, but the words aren't accurately demonstrating what it really is. First of all, when we think of an "explosion" we think that there was something that had to blow up. We also think of fire and destruction, not something that creates any sort of order (which isn't to say that everything in the universe is perfectly ordered). So, it's not THAT kind of explosion. Also, the word "create" implies an intelligence, which confuses the issue. I suppose that it "created" the universe in the same sense that rain "creates" puddles.

Why am I trying to define this? Well, it's because it's a subject that comes up quite a bit while debating theists. As woefully ignorant as I feel that I am, I often feel that they're getting the concept even less. Here's the breakdown of the confusion that I'm sensing from them:

1. They think that the Big Bang serves as an alternate explanation for God. From what I understand, this is simply not the case. There are plenty of theist scientists out there who simply view the Big Bang as the method in which God used to create the universe. The theory has nothing to say about what came before it and what caused it.

2. They don't get the word "theory". I've had to explain this to people before. Sometimes, they're willing to be corrected; other times they insist on remaining obtuse about it. The bottom line though is that when scientists speak of a "theory" they don't mean the same thing that you and I do in casual conversation. It's not a guess or even a hypothesis. It's an explanation of the existing evidence. Generally speaking, a theory is the closest thing that you can get to a fact in science, as it has stood up to a lot of scrutiny. Sure, it's possible that it can get thrown out when more evidence comes along, but things like The Big Bang, evolution, and gravity have all stood up to some pretty rigorous examination.

3. They think that people who accept the Big Bang approach evidence the same way that they do. Okay, this will no doubt tick some people off, but what I used to do, and what I see a lot of theists do, is that they start with their conclusion and then gather evidence to support the conclusion - conveniently ignoring what contradicts their conclusion. The scientific method doesn't work this way. Is it possible that there are some people who are going to keep believing in evolution and the Big Bang even if new evidence comes that disproves the theory? Sure. I can speak for myself though - if both of these things aren't true, then I want to know about it. Unfortunately, all of the evidence that supposedly disprove these things don't really hold a lot of water.

It was once suggested to me that I have "faith" in The Big Bang. I had to correct that, as it's really not the right way to look at it. I accept The Big Bang as the best explanation for the evidence. What evidence, you may ask? Well, Wikipedia's article seems to do a pretty good job of laying it out. If evidence comes out that throws all that out, then that's fine with me. I don't personally have anything riding on it.

A mistake that theists seem to make about The Big Bang (and evolution - but I want to make it clear that the two are COMPLETELY DIFFERENT THEORIES) is that they think that if they disprove it somehow, that will make their god of choice suddenly the best alternative answer. Well, disproving one thing and proving another thing isn't exactly the same now is it?

I've also heard theists say that The Big Bang theory is "full of holes". I've asked them what those holes are. What kind of reactions do I get? Well, either non-reactions or supposed "holes" that indicate that the person doesn't seem to have a very good grasp on what it is in the first place. Oftentimes, that confusion comes along when they speak of The Big Bang, abiogenesis and evolution as though they are all one and the same thing.

I suppose that if I do have any faith, it's that I have faith in science and scientists on this issue. From what I've read, the vast majority of them accept the theory. As for any controversies amongst scientists, it wasn't because a good number of them thought that "Goddidit" was somehow a better explanation. Why would I put my faith in science and scientists though? Well, I'm sitting here typing my thoughts and sending it out for anybody in the world to instantly access it through a screen in their home. I drive a car to work. I have lights in my house. I own a TV. I take medicine when I'm sick.

Get the point? It's all part of the same process. The same mode of thinking that is giving you the ability to read this also produced the explanations of supposedly "controversial" topics like evolution and The Big Bang. For some reason though, there's a disconnect where people just don't see that. Personally, I think that we can blame the politicization of everything in this society on that. Somehow, it's "conservative" to not accept the evidence for these things but to tout something like Intelligent Design, which has produced absolutely no experiments and research (which was admitted by one of the leading ID proponents in the Dover trial!) to further itself as any kind of actual scientific theory.

Is it just me, or should things like what's real and what isn't be something that transcends being conservative and liberal?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Ramadan It! - Day 19

Not much to say this time. Once again, it's much easier to skip lunch while I'm at work, and it's actually nice to not get the post-meal sleepiness that I usually get. I made it to 5:45 today when the wifey and I went out for Mexican food.

Ahh...tomorrow I get into the twenties, and that means that the finish line is in sight. I'm going to bottle my Vienna lager (let's hope it turns out right!) this weekend, so I can have some when this is all over.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Ramadan It! - Day 18

I've been a blogging maniac today. This makes for my fourth post of the day. Yeehaw!

Not much to report though. I made it to about 5:30, but I cheated a bit. I ate a small piece of cheese at around 3:30, and I had a small piece of curry chicken at about 4:30. I've done better, but I've done worse.

I'm not sure exactly how this works, but September 20th is the last day of Ramadan. As far as I'm concerned, since this marks the end of my Islam experiment, I'm going to eat pork and wash it down with a beer (or two...three?) that night. What kind of pork? I don't know. Maybe I'll get one of those pork chops wrapped in bacon that I see at Trader Joe's.

And I plan on starting my Hindu experiment at the beginning of October. I want at least a week where I can eat what I want before I go vegetarian.

Obama's speech

Looks like some folks had a bit of a problem getting to the link of Obama's speech. Here's a copy/paste for all of you:

As salaam alaikum. That's how we Muslims say hello. I learned that when I was a little kid growing up in Kenya. Now, I know that there are a lot of people who think that I was born in Kenya, so let me just get this out of the way: I was not born in Kenya. I was born in Indonesia. Supposedly, it's against the Constitution for me to be President as a result. Well, I can assure you that this little "Constitution" thing is going to be pretty irrelevant soon enough.

I'm also aware that many of you are confused as to exactly what a Muslim is. Well, let's just say that it's some kind of Voodoo-Buddha thing that you rubes aren't smart enough to understand. Then again, all of you yokels aren't watching this anyway, so what does it really matter anyway? Don't worry - we'll get them soon enough.

Back when I was a young man, I had a lot of heroes. Sure, some of them were baseball players and movie stars, but the one who really meant the most to me was Karl Marx. He was the inventor of Communism, and his book, The Communist Manifesto inspired me to become the man that I am today. Not only was he a communist, but he was a socialist. That's what I am. How do you know? It's because that's what people keep saying that I am. Pretty simple, isn't it?

I also really liked Hitler and Stalin. I couldn't quite decide which one I liked better. As far as I was concerned, the two of them should have been great pals. Unfortunately, they hated each other. It didn't make sense. Supposedly they were both socialists, but they had problems with one another. Oh well, I guess that just because they didn't like each other, that doesn't mean that I can't love them both.

What I really want to talk to you kids about is my health care reform package. Basically, the main point of it is to kill grandparents. Let's face it. Grandparents are old. Sometimes they don't smell very good. A lot of them like Fox News, which won't be a problem once I institute the Fairness Doctrine. Still, they're old, they get in the way, and they need to be removed to make room for my army of Ubermenschen Nubian Super Soldiers that's getting ready to police every aspect of your society.

I also love abortions. They're great. Under my health care plan, women can't receive health care unless they've had at least one abortion. Also, I plan on making sure that every abortion doctor gets to live in a palace made of gold.

I suppose that I should also take the time to talk about how stupid Jesus is. In my religion, Scientology, we think that Jesus was an alien who had a mild case of retardation. He had a wonderful message, but it was perverted by Thetans who were lied to when they arrived on Venus.

But hey, enough of me. What about you? What are you going to do to help my new regime? Are you planning on telling your parents off tonight and reporting any of their suspicious activities to the hotline that I'm presenting at the end of this address? That'd be a good start. Are you going to bug your house? Organize a "Communist Party" party? Read Marx's speeches out loud on the street corner? That's a good start.

My point, children, is to tell you that I'm a socialist who wants to kill grandmothers and take away all of your freedoms? Which freedoms? Well...don't you feel a little less free now than you did before? This is just the beginning.

I'm going to leave now, but you'll see once I move that I have Lee Greenwood on a crucifix. Yeah, THAT Lee Greenwood. You know, the "Proud to be an American" guy. From now on, anybody who sings that song will be sent to a "Re-education Center" overseen by Rosie O'Donnel and Keith Olbermann. We shall replace that song with "Proud to be a Marxist Muslim".

Enjoy the rest of your day. Hail Satan.

Star Wars apologetic

I've been a big fan of Star Wars ever since I can remember. I loved it before I even saw the movies. Hey, give me a break, I was four years old when I first heard of it. I recall seeing photos of it in magazines, and I just knew that I had to see it.

And what drew me to it? Well, it was the fact that I opened my heart to The Force, and the movie spoke its truth to me. Now, I know that there are a lot of nonbelievers out there who think that they're just movies. I'll even admit, during my twenties, I thought that The Force wasn't real either. I used to say, "Aw, I don't believe in that!" or "It's just a ripoff of Zen Buddhism that an inspired hack put in his B-movie sci-fi films!" When people would say, "May the Force be with you," I'd say, "And may The Shwartz be with you!" That's right. I gave more credence to Spaceballs than Star Wars.

I realize now it's because I was lured by the Dark Side of The Force. I didn't like working hard, and as Yoda said, the Dark Side is "quicker, easier, more seductive". My non-Jedi lifestyle couldn't make room for all the peaceful contemplation that The Force requires. I was more interested in mind tricks, force chokes, and lightning coming from my hands than I was in accepting the truth of the Star Wars movies.

Finally, one day I decided that I'd re-examine belief in The Force. I decided that I was going to research it like an intellectual and consider the evidence the same way that I would anything else. I consulted experts ranging from Comic-Con attendees to Wondercon attendees so I could get as wide a variety of scholarly insight that I possibly could. I then went ahead and took on all the objections one by one.

#1. The technology in Star Wars couldn't have possibly existed "a long time ago".

I'll admit it; I was pretty hung up on this one. Then I realized that the next line was "in a galaxy far, far away". That just shoots that objection right out of the park, doesn't it? After all, not every society today has achieved the same technological level of sophistication, have they? Why should we hold a different standard when we're talking about a different galaxy?

#2. The Death Star couldn't possibly be real. There's no way to make a space station that big, and there's no way to create a laser that destroy a planet.

This seems to be a pretty good point. However, you'd have to be pretty credulous to accept it as an explanation. After all, if they couldn't build a Death Star in the first place, then why would they have ever started construction on a new one? A more powerful one nonetheless! Not only that, but how do you account for all of the eye witnesses who saw it themselves? Think about all of those rebels who watched the second one explode from the moon of Endor. Think about it. Seriously. Think about it.

Are you going to try and tell me that it's all some big conspiracy? That all of these rebels banded together to destroy something that didn't even exist in the first place?

#3. All this stuff about Anakin Skywalker being "the chosen one" is just a legend!

This was the last thing that I got hung up on. After all, legends are formed all the time. Somebody could have just said that Anakin was the chosen one, and then by word of mouth people would have eventually believed it!

But there's something that I had overlooked. There's one piece of irrefutable evidence that completely throws that notion out the window. In The Phantom Menace, Anakin is called "the chosen one". By the last episode, Return of the Jedi, Anakin restores balance to The Force by defeating Emperor Palpatine. In other words, he fulfilled the prophecy! What more evidence do you need?

Obama's coming for your children!

Unless you live in a cave on Mars with your eyes closed and fingers inserted in your ears at all times, you've heard about this whole flap regarding Obama's speech to schoolchildren. It looks like a lot of people are having their kids pulled out of class that day because they're afraid that they're going to be indoctrinated.

You can read his speech here:

Seriously - read it. Don't just take my word for what it says. Read it.

And then if you have something negative to say about it, go ahead. Otherwise, admit that pulling kids out of the classroom is an absolutely insane response to this.

On a friend's Facebook page, a debate started where a conservative said that liberals would have acted the same way if a conservative President was giving the address. Well, I'm always accused of being a liberal, but I don't care who's giving that particular speech - I'm in favor of it. (Well, maybe I'd care if "The Nanny" gave it. Her voice is annoying.)

The thing is, I can't remember a time where liberals have done something so drastic that's on any kind of equivalent level. Did they protest Bush? Sure - but they protested specific issues regarding his presidency. I just can't see him making the same kind of speech to schoolchildren and liberals getting all crazy about it. Sure, there's always a couple here and there, but I can't imagine it being such a brouhaha like this has become.

Personally, I think that the speech is pretty good, and it acknowledges the one thing that nobody wants to talk about lately. Obama brings up the fact that parents and teachers are only one component in a student's education. The bottom line is that the student has to take responsibility for his or her education. Shoot, isn't self-responsibility pretty much a go-to conservative talking point?

This whole thing is depressing. I check out conservative blogs sometimes, and they're so full of the most irrational kinds of fear. There are plenty of legitimate things to critique about Obama, but they've gone so overboard with all this rhetoric about him being a "socialist" (without ever explaining what that means and why it's bad) and simultaneously a communist and a Nazi. I suppose that Fox News is mostly to blame for stirring up this kind of bile, but I can't just blame them. I have to blame people who are gullible enough to believe all their lies and propaganda in the first place.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Ramadan It! - Day 17

I made it to a quarter after five today, and that probably had to do with the fact that I had pancakes for breakfast with a glass of milk. Not only that, but I wound up eating about an hour later than I usually do.

In order to distract myself from hunger pangs, I went for a walk across the recently-opened pedestrian/bike path that goes across the Benicia Bridge. I walked from the Martinez side all the way to Vista Point in Benicia. That's somewhere between four and five miles from what I can tell, and I certainly felt pooped (and still do, actually). This was an effective distraction, but I really wish that I had brought some water with me.

The big disappointment for today was that even though I was originally planning on making a couple hot dogs for myself, I had remembered that I had bought some Trader Joe's Seafood Sausage. I thought that sounded a little bit more interesting, and I had the idea that I'd make them instead. Unfortunately, when I looked at the ingredients I saw that the sausages may be made of seafood, but the casing is made of pork. I suppose that I could make them and then slice off the casing, but that kind of feels like cheating, so I'll just have to wait two more weeks.

Okay, I'm over the hump. Next weekend I'm going to bottle my beer. I'll cheat a little and give it a taste to make sure that nothing went wrong. I guess I'll do it wine-tasting style and spit it out though.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Ramadan It! - Day 16

Major failure today. I think that I made it until 3:00 before I just couldn't take it any more. By that point, I went a bit overboard too, as I first had a salad, but I didn't feel full, so I had some cheese as well. Then I had a little bit of ice cream. Then I had a glass of milk. My stomach was in a lot of pain, and I just couldn't take it anymore.

I think that there were two major problems. First of all, for some reason I thought that oatmeal sounded like a good idea. Unlike when I have cereal, I didn't have any milk with it. I think that the milk gives me some fat and calories that I can slowly burn through the day to ease off the hunger pangs. The other problem is that I had too much free time on my hands. I thought that doing this at work would be harder, but it turns out that's an easier trick to pull off. When all you have to do is sit around and think of food, it's pretty hard to not go and grab some food.

The thing is, I felt really bad when I decided to go ahead and eat. I thought about the fact that there are people out there who feel like this all the time, and they don't have a fridge full of food that they can turn to when it gets to be too much. What's even worse, my cat knocked over the cheese on to the floor, and I had to throw away a big chunk of it. It really didn't feel right to waste food like that.

It's pretty amazing how spoiled I really am.

The traumatic experience

With some of the conversations I've been having (mostly online) regarding why I stopped believing in God, there is often this assumption that something happened that made me turn away. In other words, there was some sort of bad experience that soured me on Christianity. I always insist that this isn't true and that I turned away for purely rational, logic-based reasons. Still, I like to be honest in what I say, especially when I'm trying to present my case for something. As a result, I've been mulling over my reasons for turning away from belief.

Part of me resists even contemplating this, as the whole argument is somewhat annoying for a couple of reasons. For one thing, whether I've had some kind of bad experience with Christians is irrelevant to the point of whether I'm right or not. My decision could be purely based on emotions, yet I could still be right. Another thing is that I find that believers often approach from a sense of certainty. After all, there IS a God, so there has to be something to make me not believe, but it can't possibly be because I actually have a good reason and I'm right.

Anyway, I realize that my story, just like everybody's story, is subject to subjective editing. No doubt I'm focusing on certain events and leaving out others as much as I try not to do that. Still, I'm going to try and be completely honest with myself.

There's only one thing about my belief that raises up an emotional response in me. When I was little, I was constantly afraid of demons. Everything had the potential to be "demonized". My family had been in contact with the Jehovah's Witnesses, and according to them, everything from a pinata that my parents got in Cancun for me to a poster of Michael Jackson on my sister's wall was probably demonized. I even remember them coming in to my sister's room and examining the poster to determine whether it was or not as though they were some kind of antique expert who was determining its value.

I was told though that demons could not harm me. Oh, they would certainly try, but all I had to do was say the name of God, and I'd be okay. I suppose that this is their to make a little kid feel secure. After all, if you have the creator of all existence on your side, you're probably going to be okay. Unfortunately, this all seemed to have the opposite effect on me. Instead of feeling safe, I felt like I had to always be vigilant whenever I heard some noise at night or had some sort of troubling thought.

My mom gets defensive when I talk about this, because it often sounds like I'm blaming her for allowing these people to teach this to me. I suppose in some ways I did, but now that I understand myself, I realize that it's just the way my particular mind reacted to that sort of a thing. I tend to be a bit obsessive, and if I wasn't, it probably wouldn't have been much of a problem. Instead, I found myself saying the name of God many times during the night, and I continued to believe in this until my early twenties.

The most jarring experience was when I was about 19 or 20 and I was taking a nap on the couch. I felt a presence walk into the room, and I couldn't move as I felt somebody push my face down into the cushions and growl into my ear that I had better not move. I struggled to get up, and I tried to say God's name, but I was completely frozen. When I finally was able to get up, the experience disturbed me so badly that I had trouble sleeping for a few days in fear that it would happen again.

Cut to years later and I was really getting into the subject of skepticism. Basically, I had always found things like astrology to be bull, and that was what got me started. After that, I started to read about UFO abductions. The thing is with those stories is that the people who experience them talk about it as though it was a very real experience. However, I learned about something called sleep paralysis. It's a condition where you're stuck between being awake and asleep, and your body gets frozen. It also is usually accompanied by very vivid hallucinations and a sense of being in danger. This, of course, is a much more logical alternative than believing that somehow a space ship lands in a suburb and probes a person without anybody noticing.

And guess what else? It's also a better explanation as to what I experienced than some demon came in and pushed my head in a pillow. I suppose that this was all the beginning of the end of belief for me. Once I was armed with a more logical explanation, I stopped being afraid, even when I had another bout of it. That time, I was sleeping in my bed and I was not only being pushed down, but I could see a dark shape hovering next to my bed. I was freaked out for a moment, but then my brain quickly sent myself the message "sleep paralysis". I then remember punching at that specter before me, and it went away. (It's unlikely that I actually was able to move my arm, but the point is still the same - I defeated it.) Honestly, it's never happened since then, and that's been more than a decade ago now. The thing is, rational thinking made me more secure in the dark than believing that God was on my side EVER did. Now when I have some sort of bad feeling, I quickly get over it by telling myself it's all in my head rather than worry that there's some sort of a presence in the room. Of course, this involves admitting that my brain's not perfect and it's subject to misinterpreting what's going on. I'm not sure that everybody's willing to do that.

So, any believer who's reading this might be feeling pretty smug. "Ah ha! That's it! If only he could understand the love of Jesus and know that it's not about fear!" Well, like I said, that was over ten years ago, but I've only admitted to being an atheist for a bit less than ten years now. To me, the belief in demons and the belief in Jesus were separate things. I still believed in God, and I leaned toward the Christian interpretation of what God is.

What were my experiences with Jesus then? Honestly, they were pretty good. I remember reading the stories about him in My Book of Bible Stories when I was little. I remember loving the thought that he stood by me while I was in the hospital and whenever I was sick. Jesus was a cool guy. Shoot, I still think he's pretty cool, only I think he is in the same way that I think that Superman is a cool guy.

What about my experiences with the faithful? I'll be honest - I never went to church regularly. When I did, I always felt really uncomfortable. But here's the thing - the experiences that I had weren't with some dogmatic, hate-spewing congregations. Most of those experiences were with Justin McRoberts, whom I hung out with a lot in high school and my early college years. People were cool at his church, and he was never judgmental towards me or made me feel like I was going to hell if I didn't believe what he did. Shoot, if you're looking at my Blogspot version of this page, you'll find that I link his blog to mine! Yeah, so I don't agree with his faith, but I obviously don't find anything particularly offensive about it. The man was a friend of mine - and still is, and he's about as positive an example of the Christian faith as you can get.

I suppose that I also had a problem when I joined a Bible study group. I genuinely liked it the first few times that I went, and I only got fed up with it when it became more about getting more people to join than studying The Bible. So, I guess there's that.

As to why I felt uncomfortable while in a church as decent as Justin's? (I believe it's called The Hope Center.) I guess something in my brain was telling me that something just wasn't sitting right. Maybe it was all those cheesy songs. I don't know, but it just wasn't for me.

So there's the truth as best as I can recall it. My reasons for abandoning faith are varied, and if you have to tie it with the whole demon thing, I guess it started when I learned the power of a logical, rational explanation. Ultimately, when I examined my own beliefs, I determined that it was more important to accept what IS real rather than what I wanted to be real. From what I could tell, and what I can still tell, is that the existence of God just doesn't pass the logic test. People keep trying to make a logical argument, but every one that I've heard falls apart.

I'm still eager to hear a good logical argument, but until then, I can't pretend to believe something that I don't.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Ramadan It! - Day 15

Not much new to say. Looks like I'm halfway there now, so it would be stupid for me to just totally give up now even though it's tempting.

Oh, and I only made it to 5:30 today, but that's still respectable. The hard thing was that when I went to the store today, I kept seeing a lot of stuff that looked really good. The only problem? When am I going to actually eat all that stuff? Oh well, that probably explains why the grocery bill was so much lower than normal.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Ramadan It! - Day 14

I figured that with this little experiment, some things would be hard and others would be easy. What did I think would be the hardest? Skipping lunch, definitely. What did I think would be the easiest? Not eating camel meat. I can totally handle that one.

As for the easier parts, not drinking alcohol is somewhat hard, but it's a bigger sacrifice than not eating pork. I mean, I have one beer a day except for weekends where I indulge in two. I consider Friday to be the weekend, of course. Also, I can vary from time to time and have more, but generally speaking, it's fair to say that I average 1-2 beers a day. It's a nice way to cap off the day, and the fact that 90% of the beer I drink is my own home-made brew, it's even more of a special treat.

So, no beer is easier than no lunch, but it's harder than no pork. That said, today was the first day where I missed pork. I was planning a simple dinner, as I went to the store and bought some buns for Kirsti and I to enjoy some Trader Joe's All Beef Hot Dogs. I came across some nice looking buns (and then I went to the bread aisle! BA-dum-PUM) but they were too big for the hot dogs. (Is there any way to tell this without it sounding dirty?) Anyway, the thought crossed my mind that I could get something bigger, like bratwurst.

And that's the moment when I was sad to not eat pork.

Oh, and I started snacking a bit at 5:30. I've found that a movie is not sufficient distraction when I'm hungry.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Ramadan It! - Day 13

I don't know if I'm going to keep up with the daily updates, as I'm running out of new stuff to say. Let's just leave it at:

Made it to six - missing lunch was no big deal - getting used to it - a beer would be good on a hot day like this.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Ramadan It! - Day 12

I'm tired, and I want to go to bed, so here it is: I made it to 6:00 today, and my wife and I went to Fuddrucker's. Mmmmm...buffalo burger.

I'm actually starting to like the whole skipping lunch thing in a perverse way. It's one less thing to worry about. I know what some of you are thinking, and I can even imagine Andrew Nolan saying, "Why are you worried about lunch?" Yeah, it's weird, but it's just one of those weird things that I can't help. "Worry" is probably too strong a word, but I can't seem to come up with a more appropriate one right now.

On another note, the big disappointment is that even though I seemed to have lost a bit of weight, I may have been premature. It's really having little effect on my weight. I think it's some metabolism thingee. Maybe when this is all over, I'll just go for a light lunch - maybe a salad with some chicken or fish with no carbs. (That's just for lunch - I'm not doing a no carb diet.)

Oh, and I bought Braveheart and Gladiator on Blu-Ray today. I was just going to get Gladiator even though Best Buy had an offer that if you bought them both, you'd save $10. When I got there though, I saw that with each one of them, you can get a mail-in rebate for $10. Basically, when it's all said and done, I will have only paid about $10 for each of them. (This only works if you have the DVD version where you can send in the UPC.) These are definitely the kinds of movies that I'll continue to watch at least once every couple of years, and they're definitely the kinds where you notice a big difference with Blu-Ray. What does that have to do with my Ramadan experiment? Nothing. It's just that a good deal makes me giddy.