Saturday, February 26, 2011

Comics Roundup for 2/23/11

The Amazing Spider-Man #654.1 - This issue was more of a preview for the new Venom series than anything else. The setup for this new version of the character has me intrigued enough to check it out. I never bought any of the other Venom solo series, mainly because I thought it was a bad idea to make him into a hero. This, of course, was when Venom was still Eddie Brock, who had more than a few loose screws. It was obvious that they were just trying to capitalize on the fact that he's a popular character. With this version though, we have Flash Thompson, somebody who is basically a good guy, and he's trying to control something that's clearly evil. Basically, he gets bonded with the suit for a limited time period in order to go on secretive government operations, and then he has to be removed from it before it completely takes him over. Of course, that's going to be easier said than done.

The Amazing Spider-Man #655 - I read recently that writer Dan Slott considers this to be his best work on the character yet. I'm not sure about that, but this was a damn fine issue. It's really extraordinary that I think this considering that the whole thing is a big dream sequence, and I really despise dream sequences. Shoot, there was an episode of The Sopranos that was a big dream sequence once, and I fast-forwarded through the whole thing. Basically, that kind of thing always feels like such a gimmick. "Let's see what's going on in his head!" Why not just write stories that give us a clear sense of this through actions that reveal his personality?

With that said though, I still found myself really getting into this one. I think it works for a few reasons. For starters, it makes it seem like all the stories that have come before really matter. I was really shocked to see that it made a reference to the now-classic Spider-Man Versus Wolverine, where Spider-Man inadvertently killed somebody. I remember buying that issue back when I was in junior high! Another thing that works is that Peter comes out of the sequence having changed, and if Slott follows up on this in the following issues, then it really will justify this entire dream sequence. Lastly, it works because Marcos Martin is one of the best artists to come around in a while. I've described him before as a perfect mix of Steve Ditko and John Romita, Sr. I'm going to stick with that description.

Wolverine #6 - This starts off with a rather brutal death for old Logan, and then it turns out it's just a simulation that Cyclops has created should Wolverine ever get out of control again (which he has been known to do). That sets things up rather nicely, as it seems by the end of the issue that Wolverine is indeed out of control, and Cyclops is going to have to make that simulation a reality.

Green Lantern #62 - Hal Jordan is a member of the Justice League, but he was a member of the Green Lantern Corps long before that. Now he's also part of a group that has representatives from the variously colored Lantern Corps from across the universe. Essentially this issue deals with where his true loyalties are, and it seems like the Justice League isn't really liking the answer.

The Avengers #10 - I suppose that if you're going to have ALL the various Avengers teams in one book, this is the title to do it. This issue was decent, as it's moving the story along, and it looks like the Red Hood is doing a pretty good job of becoming really powerful what with all those Infinity Gems. I also like the fact that the backup feature is an entire issue of the new Heroes for Hire. I haven't read it yet, but it looks like fun as it has one of my current-favorite characters, The Falcon.

Echo #28 - The world of Strangers in Paradise comes crashing into this issue, as the crime syndicate from that series plays a part in this one, and we even see the muscular Tambi in it. I guess that this is fine, but I really hope we don't see Francine and Katchoo in all this. As much as I loved those characters, they don't really belong in this world. Other than that? Another fine issue.

Secret Avengers #10 - Looks like Ed Brubaker's gonna bail on this series after the twelfth issue. That's too bad, as this feels like such an extension on his Captain America series. I'll give the new writer a chance, as there seems to be some good buzz on him, and maybe this will feel like more of a team book then. Aside from all that, this was a good issue, and I find John Steele to be an interesting character - next issue promises more of him, so that's good.

Detective Comics #874 - I actually found myself more drawn into the story involving Jim Gordon's son than what was going on with Batman. Still, that stuff was pretty good, and it's good to see him interacting with Tim Drake/Red Robin again, as these two characters always had an interesting dynamic.

Captain America #615 - Bucky gets himself out of one mess - jail time in America - and the end puts him in an even bigger mess. This was a solid installment of a great series, and I didn't even mind the "Nomad" backup, as at least it had some decent art this time, although it felt more like an advertisement for a new series starring the character. I wonder if they'll have a new backup feature next issue.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Knock 'Em Down Brown Ale

I've concocted a new beer, but before I write about it, I'd like to add this little addendum to the last time I wrote about a custom homebrew. See, the thing is with homebrew is that when you let it sit for a while, it can taste a bit different. I had mentioned that while I could definitely taste the coriander in my ginger-coriander Saison, I could barely taste the ginger, and I suggested that next time I should add some more. Funny thing is that now I can taste the ginger just fine, and I think that adding some more would ruin it.

Anyway, my latest brew came as a result of trying Wilco Tango Foxtrot from the Lagunitas Brewery. It's been some time, but I remember it as a nice, strong, hoppy brown ale. Unfortunately, it was a limited edition, so I was unable to get my hands on any more. Still, as a homebrewer, I figured I could make something similar.

I also had this idea of putting maple syrup in my beer. I didn't want to put so much in that the beer actually tasted like maple; I just wanted to see if some syrup would compliment the flavors of beer, and I figured that a brown ale would be a good place to start. I also realized that by adding syrup, you're basically adding to the alcohol content, as it would provide more sugars for the yeast to eat and convert to alcohol.

So, I took my idea of making a strong brown ale and my idea of using maple syrup and put them together. I started with MoreFlavor's American Brown Ale kit and made some adjustments. The first thing I did was add another two pounds of malt extract to the recipe, making for nine total. Here's the thing though, if you add more malt/sweetness, you want to add some more hops to balance the flavor. I didn't want something super-hoppy, so I figured another two ounces of Cascade Hops would do it, bringing the total to six ounces. (I should note that all this is for a five gallon batch.)

I added the extra two ounces of hops at the last twenty minutes of the boil. Basically, the longer you have it in there, the less pronounced the flavor will be. I figured that was enough time to mellow it just a bit while still significantly adding to the hop flavor of the beer. I had the same thought with the maple syrup. I put it in at the same time, figuring that would be enough for it to convert to a fermentable sugar and not have too much of a maple taste.

There's something that took me a while to learn when it comes to high-alcohol beers. With those, you need a lot of yeast or the fermentation will die off before it completes, which leaves you with an overly-sweet beer. To solve this, I first made a standard American Brown Ale, and then after I bottled that, I poured the unfermented strong brown ale on top of the huge yeast cake that was created by making the first beer. I suppose that one could also make a yeast starter, but that can be a pain in the butt.

The result? Fantastic. As of now, I don't really notice the maple, but it seems to have given it a nice, dry finish. The hops are definitely pronounced. It's not like an IPA, but it's definitely hoppier than your average pale ale. I broke my hydrometer some time ago, so I don't know the alcohol content, but I'd guess that it's at least 6.8% or higher. I'll need to make sure that I don't have to drive anywhere when I decide to crack open one of my 22 oz. bottles.

My brewing instincts seem to be pretty good. What's next, I wonder?

Here's the complete recipe for any homebrewers out there:

Steeping Grain:

8 oz. Crystal 60L
8 oz. Honey malt
4 oz. Chocolate malt (This is not literally chocolate, mind you. It's just malt that has a chocolate aroma)


9 lbs. light malt extract
16 oz. Grade B Maple Syrup - added at the last 20 minutes of the boil

1 oz. Northern Brewer - boiled for 60 minutes
2 oz. Cascade - added at the last 20 minutes
2 oz. Cascade - added at the last 10 minutes
1 oz. Cascade - added at the last 1 minute

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Is it okay to pray for me?

I'll be honest - sometimes I get really ticked off when people say that they'll pray for me. Other times, I have absolutely no problem with it at all. So, when is it okay and when is it not? While I certainly can't speak for all atheists/agnostics, I think that it might be safe to say that most of them would agree with my assessment of when it's okay and when it's not.

My son, Logan, has been sick lately. Poor little guy has Bronchiolitis, which involves a lot of coughing, a fever and some diarrhea. As of right now, he's on the upswing, but as we were going through this little ordeal, I'd post some status updates on how he's doing - for the benefit of family members and friends who'd like to know what's going on (anything to save me from having to talk on the phone, ya know).

Between my wife and me, we got quite a few people letting us know that they were praying for him. Both of us had no problem with it. I mean, I don't personally think that it's going to do any good, but these folks are letting us know that they care, and how am I going to fault that? What, am I going to respond, "Hey, take your bullcrap and shove it!" Absolutely not. I'd be a total monkey-butt if I did that. After all, it wouldn't really help the situation either if a person simply said "My thoughts are with you," but who in their right mind would reprimand a person for that?

Christopher Hitchens, who's known for being a somewhat pompous and occasionally surly atheist, has been rather gracious, at least in my mind, regarding all of the people who have said that they're praying for him while he battles cancer. It's been a while, and I don't remember his exact words, but he didn't have anything bad to say about people who did that. Of course, he did have something to say about those who claimed to be praying for him to die, but you can't really blame him for that.

That's my attitude as well. If something's wrong with me and you want to pray, hey, don't let me stop you. What's the worst that could happen? If I'm wrong about this whole god thing, then at least I've got some people willing to talk to the big invisible dictator in the ether on my behalf. Now, I suppose that if I had a splitting headache and somebody hid all my Tylenol and said, "No, you can't have it; I'm just gonna pray for you." then that would be another matter.

So, when do I get ticked off when somebody says that he or she will pray for me? Honestly, the only instance I can think of this is when I reveal to them that I'm an atheist and that's their immediate response. Honestly, I feel like telling those people to cram their deity up their posterior. It's just so damned condescending, isn't it? "Oh, obviously there's something wrong with you if you don't believe in the god that I was indoctrinated into believing, so I'm going to have to tell my imaginary friend to make you see things my way."

Of course, if I'd respond with, "Okay, I'll be sure to THINK for you." then I'd be regarded as the asshole of that situation. Do I respond with that? No, but it's awfully tempting. The main reason I don't is that I doubt they'd even understand what I meant.

God can do anything, but...

I've always said that even though I decided long ago (over a decade now) that I was an atheist, I would always keep my mind open to the possibility that maybe I was wrong. After all, when I believed in a god, I was pretty darned convinced that I was right, and yet eventually I came around to seeing things from a new point of view. What's to stop me from going back over to the other side again?

I've been having a lot of discussions with theists - or maybe I should just call them Christians because it's not like I'm living in an area where the predominant religion is Sikhism. Some of these discussions have been online, and some of them have been in person. They have been overwhelmingly amicable, and I seem to continue with my habit of making friends with people with whom I'm arguing (sometimes even quite vehemently). What can I say? I still find these discussions to be intriguing. One of my friends even said that I seem to be "seeking" (or a word to that effect). I had the feeling with her, as I have had before with people who have said similar things, that she's holding out some hope that I'll once again find a belief in God.

If that's so, then I'm afraid she's setting herself up for disappointment, as I think that I'm even further away than I've ever been. The thing is, there are all kinds of theists out there. There are the fundamentalists, who are easy to dismiss because their faith usually rests on a foundation of ignorance. However, there are also the smart, reasonable theists, but I'm starting realize that while they may be smart, maybe even smarter than me in a lot of respects, their determination to believe in God triggers a temporary kill switch in their brains.

I was recently told that I apparently need things to "make sense" and "be logical." I was told this as though there's something wrong with that. I was also told by one of these people that he preferred an argument based on emotion than an argument based on logic. (At this point, if I had any brains at all, I would have just stopped debating. What's the point of trying to reason with somebody who basically just admitted that reason doesn't really matter?) I even had somebody admit to being aware of the circular logic that he must employ in order to maintain his belief. In other words, it's like these people are fully aware that these beliefs don't make any sense, but for one reason or another, they are going to keep on believing it.

Ultimately the "truth" that I'm looking for is that some people just don't care about reason and logic. Oh, sure, some will use it for most of their decisions, but when it comes to the god issue, they gladly switch it off. They'll come up with all kinds of logical gymnastics to justify the most absurd things (like why God can't clearly condemn slavery in The Bible and why he allows innocents to suffer) and when you clearly point out why what they're saying doesn't make any sense, they'll fall back on their own subjective feelings - or a non sequitur about me "still being young". Perhaps I should send them over to the Rossmoor Atheists, an atheist group that's based in my local retirement community. Gonna tell those folks that they're "still young"?

I'll probably continue to have these discussions, mainly because I find them to be interesting. One of these people was actually a pastor, and he had a really great story about why he converted. Overall, I'd admit that finding Jesus was a positive thing in his life, and he's probably a better person for it. However, I recently read that article in The New Yorker about Scientology, and apparently that religion can save people from cocaine addictions (according to actress Kirstie Alley, anyway). Once again there comes that old cognitive dissonance. If I'm to accept one person's subjective story as being proof of Christianity, then I must accept all subjective accounts for all the other religions. For some reason, these folks can do that, but I just can't - and won't.

I hope that I never have to find out, but I'm at a point in my life where even if things get really bad, I can't see myself getting desperate enough to cry out to Jesus (or any other god) for help. To me, that makes about as much sense as shouting "Superman, help me!" as loud as I can in the hopes that he happens to be flying overhead at that moment.

I am a person who needs things to make sense - at least, if I'm to accept it as part of reality. I can handle the fact that some of my favorite myths make no logical sense, but they're myths, and I'm not basing my life on them. I was asked what I needed in order for God to reveal himself to me. My answer was that I wanted from him a reason to believe that didn't require circular logic or cognitive dissonance.

Because apparently God can do anything...but make sense.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Comics Roundup for 2/9/11

The Flash #9 - After two villain-centered issues, we finally get back to the life of Barry Allen. This is also the introduction to the big Flashpoint storyline that's going to involve The Flash and the rest of the DC Universe. So far, it seems interesting enough as there is some time-travel/alternate future type stuff going on here. What's better is that Geoff Johns is doing a good job of showing how all that kind of stuff would affect a person on a personal level. Oh, and it was nice to see Francis Manapul back on the art.

Carnage #3 (of 5) - I guess The Sentry can tear you in half just above Earth's orbit and still survive after all. I've mentioned before that while Carnage is not one of my favorite villains, this story by Zeb Wells is interesting enough on its own, as it involves more than just a crazy super-powered serial killer. There's also the whole bit with the rich guy who decided to bring him back in the first place. I'm also hoping that we can get some character interaction between Iron Man and Spider-Man here, as the two definitely have some history that needs addressing. Even if it doesn't, the story's still good, and the art by Clayton Crain is pretty good, if not a little too dark in spots.

Wolverine #5.1 - This is the first of Marvel's ".1" issues, and I guess it does the job that it's supposed to do by offering a good jumping-on point for new readers. Essentially, this issue has all of Wolverine's pals getting together for a surprise birthday party, only to have him miss it due to a couple of crazy cannibals. Just as I appreciate how the Spider-Man books are addressing how much Spidey interacts with the rest of the Marvel Universe, it's good to see that the same thing is happening to Wolverine.

The Amazing Spider-Man #654 - This was a decent issue, with probably the highlights being the bit where Phil "Hobgoblin" Urich tries to kill Randy Robertson and J. Jonah Jameson reluctantly admitting that the major tragedy at the end of the issue was in fact, NOT Spider-Man's fault. I think that I even enjoyed the backup story even more, as it introduces the new Venom. I suppose it's not a secret anymore that Flash Thompson is going to merge with the symbiote this time, only he's doing it as part of a military program that will strictly limit his connection with it. I hated the idea of Venom being a hero, but with this new scenario, I just might check out the new Venom series when it comes out.

Batman and Robin #20 - I passed on the few fill-in issues before the creative team took over, but I wanted to give Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason a shot before I gave up on this book all together. Basically, I couldn't get into their work on Green Lantern Corps, but I suspected that it had more to do with the fact that I didn't care enough about those characters than the talents of the creative team. I also enjoyed Tomasi's Blackest Night: Batman storyline even though it had to work within the confines of a larger crossover. So far, I think that this was a fairly solid first part, and I'll stick around for the next issue. This just might be the right fit for these two guys.

The New Avengers #9 - Hmmm...Nick Fury subplot, artwork by Mike Deodato, did I make a mistake and this is actually an issue of Secret Avengers? Nope, the Luke Cage-led team takes the forefront by the middle of the issue. Still, it feels like Bendis is horning in on Brubaker's territory a bit here. Anyway, this was another fun issue, and I'm curious as to how this Nick Fury subplot fits in with this particular group of Avengers. (It ends in the late 1950s with discussions about an "Avengers initiative". Are they also horning in on the territory of the upcoming movie? We'll see, I guess.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Comics Roundup for 2/2/11

Superior #4 - I'm liking this series more and more. I stated the last time I reviewed one of Mark Millar's comics is that the one thing he does right is that each issue significantly moves the story forward. With this one, we get introduced to the villain of the series, and we learn a little more about the mysterious space monkey who gave our hero his powers in the first place. Basically, this is just a riff on the Superman story, but it's got enough original notes to keep me buying it.

The Amazing Spider-Man #653 - I always like it when you pick up a Marvel book and feel like it's a part of a shared universe. The first issue of the new "Big Time" status quo had The Avengers, and this one has the other, "New" Avengers team that Spider-Man's on as well. Plus it's good to see that even though this issue didn't feature the new Hobgoblin, he's still lurking around the subplots.

Hellboy: The Sleeping and the Dead #2 (of 2) - I remember liking the last issue, but I don't remember much beyond that. I guess I need to go and reread it. This issue was serviceable enough, but I'd like to see some more building on the major story regarding Hellboy's ultimate decision that took a center role in some of the past miniseries.