Friday, December 24, 2010

Comics Roundup for 12/22/10

Batman, Inc. #2 - This was a fun issue establishing the new Japanese Batman. Basically, Bruce Wayne is taking his crimefighting efforts global, and he's establishing a Batman in various cities throughout the world. It's an interesting idea, but where is all this going? Considering that it's Grant Morrison, I'm going to assume that it's not just going to be issue after issue of a new Batman in a new country. Surely there's going to be some kind of payoff to the whole thing.

Secret Avengers #8 - It looks like Ed Brubaker is building on stuff he established in The Marvels Project, which rewrote Marvel's Golden Age history. That makes me want to go back and re-read that particular book. Anyway, Mike Deodato is still on a roll, and this continues to be a great 2nd Captain America book moreso than an Avengers book. I think I need to sit down and re-read the entire series though, as I'm no doubt missing some stuff.

Larfleeze Christmas Special - Larfleeze is a supporting character in the Green Lantern series. Basically, he's an "Orange Lantern" who instead of harnessing willpower, harnesses the power of avarice. His orange lantern tends to make him rather obsessive, and this issue deals with what happens when he finds out about Santa Claus. Basically, it's another one of those "true meaning of Christmas" types of stories, and guess what? I totally fell for it. It's a more sincere salute to the holiday than those dopes at Fox News will ever give.

Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine #2 & #3 - I passed up on the last two issues because I was buying too much stuff. Well, I've cut back and this series seems to be coming out bimonthly at best, so I figured that I could start picking it up again. I'm glad, as this certainly doesn't feel like shelf-filler. It has a pretty complex story, and it really gets to the heart of these two characters and why they'd get on each other's nerves. It's kind of the "World's Finest" of the Marvel Universe.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Adventures in Christianity - Part III

Because I just couldn't get enough Christianity on Saturday night, I just had to go to church on Sunday morning. This time, I went to Sanctuary Ministries Church in Concord, California. Why? Because I said that I would. Actually, I wrote about my decision making process regarding this some time ago, and now I finally went.

How the heck did this all happen? That there is a story unto itself. I'll give a very brief version of the story. A few years ago, a guy I knew in high school posted on Facebook a story about somebody who was "miraculously" healed. I wrote a response, spelling out all the problems that I had with the story. Much to my surprise, I got a response from the woman herself. We then went and had a conversation about it that turned into a face-to-face meeting. It was a good conversation, and even though I still don't believe in the supernatural or miracles, I felt like I had a better sense as to where she was coming from.

A few years and a few Facebook debates later (with some of them actually having the two of us being on the same side against somebody else) I have found myself to be Facebook friends with her sister, and more recently, her mother. It was actually her sister who invited Kirsti and I over for dinner and to their church. (I'm still trying to figure out the deal with the sister. While I'm certain that she's not a faithless heathen like yours truly, I'm not so sure that she's on the same page as the rest of her family.) Eventually "Facebook friends" turned into "friends" and I figured that I'd go ahead and go to church. I wasn't expecting some sort of revelation or conversion, and I don't think that they were either. They just wanted to invite a friend to something that they like, the same way I've invited friends to Free Comic Book Day.

At the risk of sounding like I'm making some kind of desperate plea for validation, I'm always somewhat surprised when I find out that people like me. The reason why is that I'm critical of everything, but I'm the most critical when it comes to myself. Whenever I hear my wife or somebody tell me about how so-and-so likes me, my reaction is always "Really?" When it comes to these folks, I'm doubly shocked. The way I see it, I can come off as rather abrasive, especially in my online persona. I'm the kind of guy who says things that people don't want to hear, and I don't have any qualms about telling a person that they're wrong when they clearly are. I don't always get good reactions from that sort of a thing, but obviously it's not so bad if people are inviting me over to dinner.

So, how was it? Ironically, I probably felt more comfortable in church than I ever did as a believer. See, as a believer, I never really felt all that connected to what the people were saying in church, and I felt bad about that. I figured that I was supposed to feel some connection. Shoot, maybe that should have been my first clue that atheism was the way to go for me. It took nearly a decade to finally figure that one out. Anyway, now that I don't feel like I need to believe any of it, I can just sit back and nod my head at the stuff that I like. As for the stuff that I don't like, I feel like I'm just an observer, so what's the harm?

Was there stuff I didn't like? Well, nothing that doesn't touch on my basic problems with the Christian faith - or faith in general, even. Overall, it was pretty nice. I actually like the sense of community that these folks have. One lady talked about how when she was having some tough times, everybody in that church was there for her and helped her out. How could I be against something like that?

Other than that, it was a tad bit long - two hours. The sister told me that it wasn't a typical service, and she told me that I "needed" to come back. I told her not to push her luck. Also, one of the pastors spoke about how he was having difficulty finding a nativity scene. I was tempted to raise my hand and say that I saw some at Costco. One of the places he mentioned that supposedly doesn't carry them is Target, but a quick check on their website shows that they have quite a few to choose from. Maybe he was getting at some bigger point that my analytical mind just refused to notice though. Lastly, something that could have been a problem was that during one of the prayers, we were asked to hold hands. This could have resulted in a mini freak-out for me if not for the fact that my wife was on one side of me and the sister (I wonder if she would be cool if I just used her name?) was on the other. If it was a complete stranger, I might have had some issues with that, but this is more of a matter of me being weird than a problem with the church.

The head pastor happens to be the father of my two friends. He's a nice guy, and he talked about us having some kind of debate (although I don't think that's the actual word he used) as he knew me through my online arguments. I told him that letting me get up there and debate would probably be the best way to get me to come back. In all seriousness, I don't think that it would be appropriate for me to come to one of their services and stand up there and give all my snarky comments about Thor and Frost Giants when those folks are there for their Jesus fix. Still, perhaps we can work something else out for a time other than their regular Sunday service. (This is assuming that he really meant it and wasn't just being folksy.) Personally, I think that a conversation would be better than a debate and maybe we can just let other people sit and listen.

The thing is, most people of faith really just don't get us atheists. This is mainly because there just aren't that many of us. It's also because some of the atheists they know might be in the closet about it. While I'd be a fool to expect to deconvert anybody, it would be nice if I could have at least one less person say things like "Oh, you must be angry at God!"

Adventures in Christianity - Part II

Every year, an old high school friend of mine, Justin McRoberts, puts on a benefit show for Christmas for Everyone at the Hope Center in Pleasant Hill, California that he calls McChristmas. Apparently, this was the ninth time he did this show, but it was the first time that I went. Why haven't I gone before? Well, I don't really do the whole church thing. Still, some other non-religious friends from those high school days have gone, and they convinced me that it's a good show. Basically, they told me that it was more about helping the poor and acting like Jesus than anything else, and I really don't have any problem with that sort of a thing.

I actually figured that I'd go last year, but something came up so Kirsti and I couldn't make it. This year though, we were able to go especially since Logan's aunty was able to take care of him for the evening. We were supposed to meet up with some of those aforementioned non-religious friends, but they flaked out on us, which made me suspect that the whole thing was a trap.

Well, it wasn't. Overall, it was a pretty good show. The music was enjoyable, and Justin's lyrics tend toward the more thoughtful/introspective than the overt deity butt-kissing that some religious music is. It's also impressive to see how far he's come, as it's been some time since I've seen him live. Despite his claim to be more of a music fan than an actual musician, he came off polished and professional, no doubt some of the credit going to his backup band. He also did a nice job with a few covers like "You Can't Always Get What You Want" and Aimee Mann's "Save Me."

Justin also talks a lot with his audience between songs, and it's usually pretty funny stuff, as he's a gifted storyteller. Sure, I don't always relate to the overall message, but I definitely related to a bit of what was said. The stuff that really hit home with me was when he talked about his son. See, Justin had a son just a few months before mine was born. I also found out that like me, he was hoping for a girl, but now that he has a son, his attitude is "All right! I have a son!" That's pretty much how I feel as well.

For the most part, I was just able to go with it and enjoy the show. I did have a bit of an issue when Justin handed over the stage to a gospel choir. It wasn't that the choir wasn't good. They were pretty damned entertaining. It's just that the leader talked to the audience a bit before about a personal experience of his before they went into a song about how God's going to "work it out" (or something along those lines). As I stated in my last post, I'm not going to get into all my objections to Christianity, so let's just say that this was a moment when all of my issues started racing around the forefront of my brain, making it difficult for me to just enjoy the music.

Will I go again? I think it's a definite possibility. After all, it helps a good cause, and I definitely enjoyed most of it.

I'd like to point out that Justin and I have had discussions about having some sort of a debate between our two blogs. These conversations have stopped, and I'm guessing that it stopped for him for the same reason that it stopped for me - being a father takes away from blogging time. I'm hoping that we can get back to it someday though, as it should be interesting. The thing is, Justin's beliefs are definitely Christian, but he definitely doesn't go along with a lot of the dogma that you typically hear from Christians. I have a feeling that he just might upset the Christians more than I will. Hopefully we'll get to find out someday.

Adventures in Christianity - Part I

This weekend, I went to not just one, but two churches. Was I there to vote? Was it a wedding? Was it a funeral? Was I just looking for a bathroom? Nope. I actually deliberately went into two different churches to sit amongst the faithful when they do that faith-y thing they do.

Before I start, I just want to relate a little story. Let's call it a parable. I think that there was some guy who used to speak in parables. He had long hair and some wild ideas. He didn't always do what other people thought was right. And that man's name was...I forget. But the point is... I forget that, too. You know what I'm talking about. He used to drive that blue car?*

Anyway, there's this project that I have my students do called a "Cultural Excursion" where they have to do a speech and write a paper on some sort of cultural experience. It can be a visit to a museum or a religious service (that's not their own) amongst other options. I had one student, who was a Christian, join a Jewish family for the Passover Seder. Basically, his presentation and paper were both rather offensive. Sure, the experience was new to him, but he pretty much mocked the whole thing and called the food "disgusting" amongst other things. I pretty much told him, in so many words, that his presentation made him come off as a grade-A asshole. I'm not sure if he got what I was even talking about. After all, them Jews are weird and not normal like Christians are.

So, I want to write about my experiences, but I don't want to be like that guy. Yes, I have my issues with Christianity and neither of these two experiences did anything to change that. If you really want to know what my problems are, I'm sure that I've written about them three or four times on my blog already. Go read the stuff that all the other atheists say; it's not too different from what I have to say. At the same time, I do want to be honest about how I felt, but I think that I can do that while still being respectful and not beating a dead horse.

Anyway, I think that I'll write about both experiences in two separate entries from this one, as I'm not sure that I want to stay up much longer. The first one was Justin McRobert's McChristmas benefit concert at the Hope Center in Pleasant Hill. The second was a Sunday service at Sanctuary in Concord. As to why I was there and what I thought, that's for the next couple of posts...

*This is a reference to an episode of The Simpsons called "Homer the Heretic".

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Comics Roundup for 12/15/10

The Amazing Spider-Man #650 - Spidey has a new suit! Looks pretty cool, and I'm fine with it so long as it's a temporary change, which is the implication here. He created it solely to take on the new Hobgoblin, and he shouldn't need it beyond that. As far as I'm concerned, Spidey's best costume is his original, followed closely by the black costume. I like this one better than the one he wore during the first half of Civil War, and that's probably because it's so close to the black one. Anyway, speaking of The Hobgoblin, I like this current story, but it's not sitting right with me how seemingly permanently Roderick Kingsley was dispatched in the first chapter. I think that he still has some potential and any writer who wants to bring him back will have to do it in a rather lame way (considering that he had his head removed).

Wolverine #4 - This issue was nothing special, but the last page, where Wolverine meets his dad in hell, is setting up some interesting possibilities. I don't have much else to say than that, other than the fact that part of this story is similar to what Mark Millar did in his "Enemy of the State" story arc. We once again have a Wolverine who's not in charge of his own actions wreaking havoc. Let's hope the whole hell situation has enough payoff to make it stand out.

Green Lantern #60 - Has this series really been running for that long? It still feels brand-new to me, and I'd be surprised that I stuck with it for so long if it wasn't for the fact that I'm enjoying it so much. This has everything you want in a comic - good art, a bit of character development, some action, and a shocking reveal that makes you want to read the next issue. Here's to another 60 issues!

Boycott Thor? I say thee nay!

Perhaps you've heard that a group of white supremacists called the Council of Conservative Citizens is planning a boycott of Marvel's upcoming Thor movie. What's the reason? Apparently Iris Elba, a black man, is going to play the part of Heimdall, the watchman of the gods. This is bad because the gods from the comics are based from the gods of Norse mythology, and the Norsemen were white people, after all.

Yeah, okay, so what? It's a bunch of idiotic white supremacists getting all mad over something unimportant. That's not so much what prompted me to want to write about this. What made me want to write about it is that some fans of the comics are complaining about this particular bit of color-blind casting as well. To be fair, they're not calling for a boycott or using racist language to make their point, but the accusations are along the lines that this is political correctness run amock.

I disagree with this assertion, and I think that when it comes to casting somebody to be a god, then you want to go with the best actor, period. I should point out that I once wrote about how I thought it would be a bad idea to cast a black man as Captain America, so you can't accuse me of being PC when it comes to this issue. With the whole Heimdall issue, it's different for a number of reasons.

First of all, Heimdall isn't the main character. Nobody picks up an issue of Thor because they can't wait to see what Heimdall is up to. The title character is the main one, and if you're going to make a movie, it's important to at least have the title character look right. From what I've seen, Chris Hemsworth definitely looks like the Thor from the comics. Everybody else from Loki to Odin look as they did in the comics. Why would it be a big deal to change one supporting character's ethnicity?

The thing is, gods aren't human. Something like race seems to be a petty, human concern, doesn't it? I can't imagine the other gods treating Heimdall differently just because he has darker skin than them. It's not like if you had a black Captain America fighting in WWII and all the white soldiers, who were used to racial segregation, acting like there's nothing seriously strange about that. And yeah, I know, Captain America isn't real either, but that time period is real, and if you're going to have a fictional story take place in a real time period, it's disrespectful to pretend like it was some sort of prejudice-free zone. When you have the gods of Asgard, it's not even a real place and it doesn't have a real history, so if there's one random black guy, then hey, that's not any stranger than anything else that goes on there. In fact, I'll submit that it's LESS strange than Loki having a child that's a serpent that circles the Earth's oceans. (Just a bit.)

Lastly, I have to wonder: why is nobody complaining that the Thor of the comics doesn't have the proper red hair that the god was said to have? Is this some sort of prejudice against gingers? And let's not get started on how many white guys have played Jesus. When they finally get a guy with a bit more melanin to play the son of Yahweh, then we can talk about the accuracy of Heimdall's skin tone.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Get thee to an eReader

I don't read nearly as much as I feel that I should, even though I know that I read a whole hell of a lot more than most people do. Shoot, even if you only count the comic books I read, I still read a whole hell of a lot more than most people do. With that said, I recently started counting in my head how many books I've read since last June. Sure, a lot of those books remain unfinished, as I lost interest about halfway through. Not counting those, I've read about six or seven (can't remember off the top of my head) entire books since then. That's not too shabby, I'd say.

Why would I pick such an arbitrary starting point as June? See, June is when I bought my eReader, or my Nook, to be specific. I think it's pretty safe to say that having bought this trusty little device has led to me reading much more than I probably would have normally. Although I already wrote about it, I just have to say that if you like to read at all, you really need to get one of these things. I'm happy with my Nook, but I imagine that the Kindle or Sony's eReader are just fine as well. Even though the Kindle doesn't read ePub files, I'm starting to see Kindle-specific files and PDF's on some of the sites that offer public domain books.

Somehow, I doubt that I'm the only person with an eReader who now reads more. One of the reasons is that it's so darned handy. It's far easier to read the Nook at the dinner table than an actual book, as I don't have to hold any pages down. It's also easy to read while I'm feeding/burping Logan. The size is also nice, as it's smaller than an average book. That will make it nice to carry with me the next time I go out of town for a few days.

Even though I'd recommend one to anybody who likes to read, I have to give a warning about the Nookcolor. When I first heard about it, I was contemplating getting one. After all, it can do all the things that my Nook can do, but it's all in color, and users can subscribe to magazines like National Geographic. I got a chance to check one out at Best Buy though, and I'd have to recommend against it. At least, if all you want to do is read books, then your more standard eReader is the way to go. With those, it's as easy on your eyes as reading a real book. With this new color device, it's like looking at a computer screen. I can't imagine reading an entire novel this way.

What I'm really hoping for is that one day these will come down so much in price that they'll be used in the classroom. Imagine a student having all of the novels and textbooks on one eReader. Sound expensive? How much do you think all of those books cost? Shoot, I know that students are fined about $100 if they lose the literature book - and that's just one of them. Yeah, I know, those textbook companies have quite a hold on the school system, but how can they maintain it when budgets are constantly cut back? Getting the kids eReaders might be the only way to go.

It was once said that you could get a good sense for how a kid is going to do in school based on whether or not their parents had a bookshelf full of books in the house. While I think that I will always want to have some old fashioned copies of certain books, I know that an eReader will be one of the first things that I'll make sure my son has when he's old enough to read.

Oh, and for eReader newbies, here are some great places for free books:

Comics Roundup for 12/8/10

If this is your first "Comics Roundup", then here's the deal: I'm not attempting to write detailed reviews. I basically do this for myself, as when I force myself to write about what I'm reading, I tend to be a little bit more cautious with my comics buying habits. If you find it interesting at all, then that's fantastic.

The New Avengers #7 - I complained a bit about last issue, but this one more than made up for it. Now that I think about it, it was really heavy on dialogue, and I don't think that there was even a moment of action. That's okay though, there was plenty in the last several issues. I especially loved how this addressed one of the big problems with Spider-Man serving as a member of The Avengers. I remember writers saying years ago that having him be on the team would take away from what's appealing about the character - namely, it would solve all of his money problems. When he first joined, nobody was getting paid, so that wasn't a problem. Now that he's on an official (two, actually) team, he's still not getting paid because he hasn't revealed his identity. Considering everything that happened during "Civil War" and "One Moment in Time" it makes perfect sense that he wouldn't even reveal his identity to get a decent paycheck. Not only was this issue resolved, but it was resolved in a fun way. Good stuff.

The Flash #7 - This issue revolved around Captain Boomerang, one of The Flash's villains. It was fine as far as a villain origin is concerned, and it set things up nicely for issues to come. Nothing special with this issue, but considering how much I've enjoyed every other issue of this series, there's no way I'm dropping it.

Wolverine #3 - Damn, but there are a lot of Wolverine books out on the shelf nowadays. I'm not just talking about all the team books in which he appears. He also has about a billion solo books. Hopefully this is the best one because I just can't commit to much more. Anyway, I enjoyed this one as well, and I loved the cameo by Spider-Man. While this is quite different from any Wolverine story I've read before, it's doing the one thing any good Wolverine story does - and that's dishing out some serious abuse to old Logan.

Echo #26 - I just finished re-reading all of The Astounding Wolf-Man, and I'm thinking that it's going to be time to start going through this entire series again. I enjoyed it the last time I did it when it was on the 14th issue or so, and I reckon that I will again. The problem is that I just don't remember a lot of stuff from issue to issue. This particular one didn't have much going on in it, but it was good enough to keep me reading through to the end and wanting to re-read everything, so that's saying something.

Superior #2 - Did I dream it, or was this supposed to be an all-ages book? It sure as heck isn't that, as there's a lot of harsh language going on in it. It's not that I mind it at all, it just seems to me that the subject matter of this series doesn't lend itself to that. Basically it's like the plot of Big only the boy is in a wheelchair and instead of just becoming an adult, he becomes a comic book superhero. (The comic itself even makes reference to this similarity.) That said, this was an entertaining read, just like pretty much everything Mark Millar's been writing nowadays.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The problem with "hating the sin"

I've heard the term "love the sinner, hate the sin" for some time now. Usually it comes up when Christians discuss homosexuality. Shoot, there was probably even a time when I either said the same thing or something very similar. Basically, it's a way for Christians to handle the cognitive dissonance that they experience when they know that it's wrong to discriminate against people, yet they feel that they should follow the rules of their holy book which tells them that dudes shouldn't do it with dudes.

It sounds kind of nice, right? Love the sinner? Who can be against love? Christians will tell you that we're all sinners, and according to their mythology, we are. It's impossible to not be a sinner, really. Homosexuality is just one more sin, kind of like lying, cheating, or stealing. In this light, homosexuals aren't any better or worse than anybody else.

Here's the problem - it's bullcrap, and it's still hateful. If you have a son/daughter who tells you that he/she is gay, are you going to say this to them? Of course, you love your kid, but are you going to say that you "hate" their "sin"? Do you really think that's somehow better?

Most people in the world want to do the right thing. We want to do what our parents think is right. It's good to know that they still love us when we screw up, but there's a serious problem with calling homosexuality a sin. We've learned a few things over the past few decades. We understand that it is not chosen. Calling it a sin is telling somebody that they're doing something bad just for being who they are. Sure, this is better than telling them that you hate them, but what if my son is left handed and I told him that I loved him even though he was a southpaw? What the hell kind of love is that?

If you use that phrase in the case of homosexuals, you're not "loving" anybody. Maybe it makes you feel better, but I doubt that it does a whole lot of good for gay people out there. How about we just accept them and don't get too concerned over what some ancient book of mythology tells us? You know, the same book that can't be bothered to tell us that it's not okay to own people as property.

Limbaugh is a racist, end of debate

I realize that a lot of people are writing about this particular issue, but in case you haven't heard, Rush Limbaugh recently accused Native Americans of doing far worse to those of European descent than the other way around. He asks the question, "How many people have died since the wm arrived due to lung cancer, thanks to the Indian custom of smoking? Who are the real killers here?"

He has a good point. After all, Native Americans run all the tobacco industries and are responsible for most of the cigarette advertising. Let's also not forget that most people who smoke had their first one when a gang of injuns tackled 'em down and forced a peace-pipe into their mouths. Damn you, Native Americans! Will there ever be an end to your atrocities? We oughtta force them off their lands and make them live in areas that are reserved especially for them! That'll show 'em!

Seriously though, I've talked to many people about Limbaugh. By this point, anybody who doesn't see him for the evil little troll that he is simply never will. His supporters will hem and haw yet again despite the fact that this is probably the millionth racist thing that he's said. The guy could put on a pointy white hood and they'll still defend him.

Anybody who excuses him by this point is either a racist or so blindly loyal to the "conservative" cause that they push their own values to the side. Seriously, the man is a troll. He eats billy goats, lives under a bridge and turns to stone in the sunlight.

EDIT: Between the two blogs where I’ve posted this, I’ve already received the usual lame-ass excuse about how Limbaugh is joking and somehow I’m missing that it’s all done as entertainment. I declare horsecrap on this excuse. Do Limbaugh’s fans hear this and laugh at it, saying, “Wow! What a ridiculous thing to say! It’s funny because it’s so absurd!” I doubt it. The man is not a comedian. In order for him to be one, he’d have to be funny. He just says horrible things and then when he gets called out on his vileness, his fans use the old “It’s humor” excuse. Bull and crap.