Sunday, December 30, 2012

California Hersbrucker

This entry was originally posted as "Random German Ale" on December 30, 2012.  I'm leaving the original post intact, but below that you will find an addendum where I give the results.

Original post:

Just a short entry for today, as I wanted to write down this recipe that I concocted before I forgot all about it.  Of course, if it turns out to be crap, then I'll be glad to forget it.

I've been noticing something lately, and that something is that it's getting kind of cold.  Ever since Kirsti and I moved into our new place, I've been keeping my fermenter in the garage instead of an inside closet.  This is not a problem in the summer because I have it in a mini refrigerator, and I can make sure that it doesn't get too warm.  However, there is no "hot" setting on the fridge, so when it gets really cold, there's not much I can do about it save buying a bunch of stuff.

I figured that what I needed was to ferment a beer with a yeast that works well in cold temperatures - although not necessarily a lager yeast.  There aren't a lot of options with this.  The only ones I know are the yeasts you use for Koelsch and Altbiers or the "California Common", better known as a Steam Beer.

I checked out what yeasts were available before figuring out what I was going to make.  I saw one that I had never used before, and that was the German Ale yeast from Wyeast.  According to the handy chart that MoreBeer has on the wall, it could handle a fairly wide range of temperatures.

Then I got it in me to create my own extract kit instead of using one of the ones that are already packaged and ready to go.  Basically, I want something that's kinda like an Altbier, although maybe a little bit more hoppy.

The difficult part was in picking the flavoring grains.  There's a chart on the wall, but the numbers and names on the chart don't match up with the numbers and names on the products.  I did a little Google searching with my smart phone though, and I think that I came up with something good.  So, here are the flavoring grains:

8 oz. Koelsch malt
8 oz. Caramunich malt
4 oz. chocolate wheat

For hops, I figured that German ones would be the best way to go with this one:

2 oz. Tettnanger for bittering - one hour in the boil
1 oz. Hersbrucker for aroma - 10 minutes in the boil
1 oz. Hersbrucker for flavor - 5 minutes in the boil

I have to admit that the Hersbrucker stood out, and I was determined to use that one.  Why is that?  Well, I have some relatives in Hersbruck, Germany, and I thought it would be cool if I used hops from that area.  After all, it was a highlight of my last trip to Germany, so I guess their hops must be pretty good.

As for extract, I used 7 lbs. of Pilsner malt.

If all goes well, it will be a relatively low-alcohol, malty, sweet beer with a mild but noticeable hop aroma and flavor.  I guess I'll have to write an update in about three weeks or so.


So, how does it taste?  I must admit that I was a bit disappointed when I tried it at first, but I figured that I'd let it age out a few weeks before giving my final thoughts.  At first, it was okay, but it was probably a bit too bitter, which makes me think that if I do this one again, I should cut one ounce of the Tettnanger hops.

Still, now that it's aged a few extra weeks, I have to say that I'm really enjoying it.  I guess if I had to compare it to an official style, it's definitely more like an Altbier than anything else.  It goes down pretty smooth and compliments nearly anything that you might decide to eat with it.  I had a couple of friends try it, and they both really liked it as well.  Would I make it again?  Sure, but I would make a few tweaks to how I handle the hops.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Onward, militant atheists!

I have been accused, at least once, of being a "militant" atheist.  The reason for this is that in order to promote atheism, I shoot priests, set churches on fire, and bomb Nativity scenes.  No, wait, I don't do that.  What I do is punch priests, write graffiti on churches, and poop on Nativity scenes., that's not quite it either.  It must be because I yell at priests, protest churches, and add things that don't belong to Nativity scenes, you know, like the Rancor from Return of the Jedi.

I'm kind of stretching the meaning of the word "militant" by now though, aren't I?  The thing is, I don't even do any of those things.  What do you think when I say "Militant Muslim" or "Militant Christian" or "Militant Mary Kay Salesperson"? You're probably thinking of somebody who's willing to use weapons in order to spread their cause, right?  Wikipedia defines "militant" as "both an adjective and a noun, and is usually used to mean vigorously active, combative and aggressive, especially in support of a cause, as in 'militant reformers'."

So, what exactly is it that I do that had somebody accuse me of being "militant"?  Well, I blog about atheism.  I also blog about my objections to religion.  Not only that, but I've gotten into some arguments online with believers.  I've had some arguments in-person, but they tend to be discussions with friends more than arguments.  The only time things got loud is when some Christian proselytizer started shouting at me on a bus because I wouldn't play along with his little conversion script.  Oh, and I guess I also tend to "like" and share memes that make fun of religion on Facebook.

Does that make me militant?  Well, if I'm a militant, then the Christians who write about their beliefs online and debate me must be Christian militants then, right?  After all, they're doing the same thing - some of them even share and like Christian memes.  But who in their right mind would define these people as being militant?  I certainly don't see them that way.  Passionate, at worst, but I don't necessarily see being passionate as a bad thing - so long as it doesn't lead to militancy.

So, unless you're willing to call everybody who's passionate about their religion a militant, then that word doesn't quite fit me either.  Sure, it's annoying when somebody pushes their belief system on you, but I don't do that to people.  I never walk up to people and talk to them about atheism.  When I know that somebody is a believer, I usually just avoid the subject, but I never say, "You know, that stuff you believe is hooey, right?"  Now, I might be inclined to say that as a defense if they try and convert me, but that doesn't ever happen, so it just doesn't come up.  The way I figure, when it comes to online communication, if somebody doesn't like what I'm writing about, they can either not read my blog or they can hide my Facebook posts.  I don't walk into their house and post my blogs on their refrigerator.  This is why I don't get offended when I see religious messages on Facebook (unless they misrepresent science or are insulting to nonbelievers) nor do I get upset when people write about their faith in their own blogs.  I can either choose to read that stuff or not.

But what about the American Atheists and their campaign to get Nativity scenes out of the public square?  They're militants, right?  Well, again, let's come up with the best Christian equivalent.  I'm having kind of a tough time, but let's say that there was a town where the majority of the people are Wiccans, and they all wanted some sort of Wiccan symbol in the town square.  However, a few Christians sue to get it removed on the same grounds that the American Atheists are trying to get the Nativity scenes removed.  Would those Christians be militant?  I don't think so.  Shoot, I wouldn't even call Christians who are trying to get prayer and Bible lessons in public schools to be "militant".  Nor would I consider the ones who want creationism taught in science class to be that either.  I think that they're particularly misguided, and in the case of the creationists, profoundly ignorant, but they're not militant.

Okay, so they're not exactly militant either.  What about the Bolsheviks and Stalin's regime?  Certainly they were atheists, but spreading atheism was not their only, nor was it their prime, agenda.  After all, there are plenty of atheists who do not believe in communism.  So, in this case, they were communist militants, and part of their communist belief system included spreading atheism.  (Although they weren't exactly trying to replace religion with critical thinking.)

Basically, I'm not sure that there even is such a thing as a militant atheist.  If you have an example, give it to me, and I'll admit that I'm wrong.  And what I'm talking about is an atheist who does something that's the equivalent to what a militant Christian or militant Muslim might do - you know, like shoot a doctor or fly a plane into a building.  Also, it only counts if they commit these acts of violence (or even condone them) in the name of atheism.  In other words, it's their lack of belief in a god that motivates the act of violence.

I think that people throw around the term "militant atheist" in order to turn outspoken atheists into a sort of Boogey Man.  It makes them seem far more dangerous than they ever will be, and that way their fellow theists can outright dismiss anything that they have to say without actually paying attention to the strength of their arguments.  'Cuz call me crazy, but I think that there isn't a single Christian who has anything to fear from Richard Dawkins (or any fan of Dawkins).

Friday, December 28, 2012

Black guys playing rock music

I realize that I said a few posts ago that I've been wanting to write a post about my love for The Who, but I dug up some old music of mine recently for my mp3 player, and now I want to write about Living Colour.

This was one of the first bands that I got into on my own.  Oddly enough, it wasn't their biggest hit, "Cult of Personality" that caught my interest, but their follow-up, "Open Letter to a Landlord".  It was so completely different from everything else that was showing on MTV at the time.  (For the youngsters out there, the "M" in MTV stands for "Music" and they once played music videos almost exclusively.  Weird, huh?

Basically, the majority of the videos were either rock bands whose music was watered down for the masses or rappers whose music was watered down for the masses.  Just like with pretty much every era of music, you'd get a few original bands, and then you'd get a wave of imitators followed by a wave of imitators of the imitators.  There wasn't all that much that stood out, but this song definitely did, and I wonder sometimes how the heck it ever got any play at all, aside from the fact that it was good (not that being good is a requirement for something to be popular).

It had quite an impact on me, as it was simultaneously soulful and rocking.  And it wasn't some mamby-pamby, play it for your grandma kind of rocking.  The guitars were LOUD, just the way I like them.

Eventually, I bought their first CD, Vivid and then their second one, Time's Up.  As much as I liked the first, the second was even better, and its what made them one of my favorite bands.  While I've liked some of their other stuff (even though I seem to be a bit behind on what they've been doing lately - something I discovered after a quick Google search) this is the CD that I always dig out every now and then for a listen.

While it's a hard rock album at its core, I was - and still am - impressed by the diversity of the music.  No two songs sounded alike, and there's a good mixture of punk, soul, blues, metal, funk, and pretty much everything else.  And I must reiterate that I love Vernon Reid's guitar playing.  It's the way I'd want to play if I could play - melodic, complex, heavy, and oftentimes chaotic.  It borders on being runaway noise at times, but only at the right times.

One thing that I distinctly remember is the reaction that many people gave me when I told them that they were one of my favorite bands.  It would be something along the lines of:  "You mean those black guys who play hard rock?"  This was said in a tone similar to how one might say:  "You mean those penguins who do brain surgery?"  Some people just couldn't get their heads around the notion of black people playing rock, even though black people playing rock is about as odd as the Chinese building the Great Wall of China.  Besides, hadn't they ever heard of Jimi Hendrix?  (Maybe not.)  It seemed like for so many people, black people either rapped or made soul music (I think that's R&B now - it's hard to keep up with these meaningless distinctions nowadays.)

The only thing that's relevant about the fact that they're black guys to me is that being a white, suburban kid, I got to be exposed to some thoughts and ideas that might not have occurred to me otherwise.  While they sang about all kinds of things, some of their songs dealt with experiences that are no doubt unique to black people living in America.  Their song "Funny Vibe" woke me up to the fact that a lot of black men feel as though white people act like they're scared of them.  Not only that, but it made me empathize with how much that must, sorry for the understatement, suck.

Still, I'd have to say that lyrically speaking, my favorite song of them is "This is the Life".  It really put my feelings about reincarnation into words - and I suppose, my feelings about longing for any kind of afterlife as well.  I think I'll end with that one, along with the lyrics:

In another life
You might have been a genius
In another life
You might have been a star
In another life
Your face might have been perfect
In another life
You’d drive a better car

In another life
All your jokes are funny
In another life
Your heart is free from fear
In another life
You make a lot of money
In this other life
Everything is clear

In another life
You’re always the hero
In another life
You always win the game
In another life
No one ever cheats you
In another life
You never have to change

In another life
Your friends never desert you
In another life
You never have to cry
In another life
No one ever hurts you
In this other life
Your loved-ones never die

But this is the life you have
This is the life you have
This is the life you have
This is the life

In another life
You’re always the victim
In another life
You’re always the thief
In another life
You are always lonely
In this other life
There is no relief

In your real life
Treat it like it’s special
In your real life
Try to be more kind
In your real life
Think of those that love you
In this real life
Try to be less blind

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man #700

I'm not really doing a Comics Roundup this week, mainly because I only bought one book.  I figured that even if I had bought several though, I might have done a special blog post for this one issue alone.  At the very least, it would have taken up the bulk of the entire "Roundup".

So, before I go any further, let me put the obligatory SPOILER ALERT.  If you haven't read The Amazing Spider-Man #700, and you plan on doing so, then come back and read this after you have done so.

Still with me?  Good.  In a nutshell, what has happened is that Spider-Man's arch-nemesis, Doctor Octopus, has managed to swap brains with Peter Parker.  Of course, that involves a lot of wacky comic book logic, but the writer Dan Slott has actually done a pretty good job of setting up this superhero freaky Friday.  The real catch is though that Doctor Octopus has done this at a time when his body was giving out, and he had only moments left to live.  In this final issue of Amazing, Peter gives it one last shot to save himself and regain control over his own body, but he fails.  Otto Octavius is the new Spider-Man.

And that's where it gets interesting.  Why is he Spider-Man?  Why not just continue to be Doc Ock with even more power?  Because he not only swapped minds, but he got all of Peter's memories.  In other words, he takes Atticus Finch's advice a step further and crawls into another man's skin to see his point of view.  By the end, Otto decides that he must live up to Spider-Man's legacy.  Of course, he's still the same ego maniac though, so he's going to be a better, superior Spider-Man, which sets things up for the new series.

Most of these ideas are old.  Shoot, one of the first comic books I ever got involved a villain trying to swap his mind into Batman's youthful body before the villain's elderly body gave up on him.  Also, there's the classic Kraven's Last Hunt which saw Kraven the Hunter try to be a better Spider-Man than Spider-Man.  However, in the case of Kraven, he completely missed the point and thought it was more about kicking more ass than Spidey.  With Dr. Octopus, he's learned what it means to be a hero...or at least he has some sense of it now.

Of course, the question isn't whether Peter will eventually come back because anybody who's read comics as long as I have know that it's a foregone conclusion that it will happen.  The big question is how long will this last, and what twists and turns are going to be thrown at us along the way?  After all, look how long Bucky replaced Captain America.  Comics are still comics, but Marvel's been thinking long-term with some of their properties, and it just might be a while until we see the status quo return.  And even when Peter does come back, will things be the same?  Will he still have that good job?  Will The Avengers still want him on the team?  (Or will they think that the Otto Spidey did a better job and they're wondering why the hell he's slacking?)  And what about Mary Jane?  I think that marriage is out of the question, but this will definitely put a wrinkle or two in the relationship.

I realize that some fans are upset about all this.  For Pete(r Parker)'s sake, Dan Slott has received death threats.  I have to wonder if they really think that this is going to be permanent?  If I read online reviews, it feels like I'm the only one who enjoys Spider-Man comics sometimes.  Shoot, I liked the much-hated One More Day.  Why?  Because I felt emotionally involved in the story, and I was sad to see Peter's marriage to Mary Jane end.  In other words, it made me care.

With this issue, Slott did a great job of showing that Spidey's a true hero who never gives up, even when it's clear that he's defeated.  And even in defeat, he manages to pull out a victory.  It's not often that a comic has me turning the pages with as much anticipation as this issue did.  That, to me, is how I measure a good comic (or any kind of story).  If I care how it all turns out, then it's good.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Pumpkin Ale 2: The Secret of the Boogaloo

If I was smart, I would have written about this a few months ago when it was all fresh in my head, but it just occurred to me that I never wrote about my second attempt at a pumpkin ale.  My first attempt was a success, but I still figured that I'd try something a bit different this time just to mix things up.  I plan on trying again next year, and I've got some ideas as to how I can do it differently yet again.

Anyway, the first thing that was different this time was that I used a green pumpkin.  As you can see from the picture on the right, it's only green on the outside.  But why use that instead of the standard orange one?

My logic was this:  I wanted to get as much pumpkin flavor into this beer as possible.  When I went to my local pumpkin patch, I explained my situation to one of the guys who worked there.  Now, I knew that there was a slim chance that he'd have any experience making pumpkin ales, but I figured that he might know something about what kind of pumpkin is best to cook with in general.  So, I asked him which kind of pumpkin he'd use if he was making a pie, and he told me that the green one was easily the best choice as far as that was concerned, and I figured that would translate into it being the best kind of pumpkin for brewing as well.

Take another look at that sucker.  Unlike most pumpkins which are mostly hollow inside with some stringy guts hanging about, this sucker is full of "meat", with only a little bit of that stringy goo.  Yes, it would really suck trying to turn this thing into a Jack O' Lantern, but for sheer volume, you're going to get more pumpkin out of it.

With the pumpkin, I followed a pretty similar procedure to what I did with my first pumpkin ale, minus the stuff that didn't work and plus some stuff that works better.  I chopped up the pumpkin, baked it for an hour, and then put it in the food processor.  (The last step was a new one.)  I then let all that chopped up pumpkin soak (using a strainer bag) in some hot water for about an hour.  That resulted in some rather orangey, pumpkiny liquid.  (See the other picture.)

As for the beer itself, I was going for more of a light-brown ale this time, and I wanted a yeast that didn't create a lot of fruity flavors.  While I don't have it written down exactly what the recipe was, basically it was something like this (it's an extract recipe):

A pound and a half of steeping grains:
About half of that was Caramunich malt
About a quarter of that was German chocolate wheat malt
About a quarter of that was Castle Abbey malt

I used 7 pounds of malt extract.  (It might have been eight...didn't seem to write that down.)

For hops, I used 2 oz. Magnum hops for the one hour boil and 2 oz. Kent Goldings for the last five minutes.

In the last five minutes, I also added 2 tsp. of pumpkin spice and 1 oz. of bitter orange peel

The yeast was California Ale from White Labs (which I understand to be a clone of what Sierra Nevada uses in their Pale Ale).

The final result?  It's a pretty damned good beer.  I like it, and I've had friends and family drink it down no problem.  One friend, who isn't much of a beer drinker, even had a really tall one, so that's got to be a good sign.

The pumpkin taste really hits you when you take a sip, not in an overwhelming way, but it's there.  The bitter orange and spices kick in on the aftertaste, and honestly, I wish that I had cut back on each of those by about a half.  It doesn't ruin the beer, but it's a bit too strong for my liking.  The Kent Goldings, which are mild, give it just enough hoppiness to be noticeable but to not drown out the other flavors.

Overall, this was probably one of my most labor-intensive beers.  Just carving that damned pumpkin took a lot of time.  Good thing I had the whole day to myself when I made it.

As for the next pumpkin ale?  I'm going to do something pretty similar to this, only cut out the bitter orange, cut the spices by half, and use a Belgian Saison yeast.  I'm already looking forward to it.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

It gets better with age

When I was in my teens and early twenties, like a lot of young guys, I was pretty passionate about music.  I still enjoy music and have more passion about it than a lot of people I know, but I don't quite have the same feelings that I did when it was all still so relatively new to me.  After all, I still love The Beatles, for instance, but I'm never going to re-experience what it was like to REALLY listen to them.  It all holds up, but I rarely find myself surprised with it anymore.  (If any band sometimes does surprise me even now though, it would be the Fab Four.)

This, however, is not going to be about the bands that I loved and still love.  It almost was.  I have a blog entry about The Who that's gestating in my head, but I don't feel like I'm quite ready for that.  What I want to write about is stuff that at one time I thought was horrible and would consider passing laws against people who liked it.

The one genre of music that I absolutely detested was glam rock.  No, not the authentic stuff from the 70s, but the endless supply of interchangeable bands from the late 80s where I now realize that I was mistakenly calling them "glam".  You know, Bon Jovi, Poison, Def Leppard, Warrant, Firehouse, White Lion, Whitesnake, White Tiger, White Albino, White Caucasian, and White White White.  (I may have made a few of those up.)  Basically the thing that united them was that they were hard rock bands that weren't really all that hard.  Also, a common theme among many of them was to take a cliche and then write a song about it.  Either that, or they'd write a song about how they'd die for somebody.  Or they'd write a few about that.  (Lookin' at you, Bon Jovi.)

You won't exactly find that stuff in my collection nowadays, but when I hear it on the radio, I have to admit to myself that it's really not all that bad.  Just a little while ago, I heard Poison's "Nothing But a Good Time" and I was forced to admit to myself that while hardly an incredibly original piece of music, it's really not all that bad.  Sure, you might find something offensive in its inoffensiveness, but then you're just looking to be offended.

A big part of what got me to change some of my thoughts about this stuff is the series of Rock Band games, which included a lot of this stuff.  One thing that I had to admit was that Bon Jovi actually didn't deserve to be put in the same category as many of those other bands.  Sure, Jon Bon Jovi never met a cliche that he didn't like, and they eventually turned into a parody of themselves when he sang some stuff about needing somebody like roses need the rain, but I'll be damned if "Bad Medicine" isn't catchier than herpes.

And while we're talking about self-parody, Def Leppard was actually a pretty damned good band at one time.  Now, we might disagree as to exactly when they became a bad, high-school tribute to themselves.  I'd say that it was at the time when they did "Pour Some Sugar on Me" but I'd respect anybody who disagreed with me.  However, if you're still defending them when they did "Let's Get Rocked" then you are a ridiculous Def Leppard apologist, and you need therapy.  Anyway, Photgraph is a damn good song.

I could go on and on, and I wonder if there's some stuff out there now that I can't stand that I might like in the future - or at the very least, not think is nearly as annoying as I do now.  I'm not quite so sure.  I can't imagine my teenage self thinking that stuff like Lady Gaga, Pink, Kelly Clarkson, etc. is anything less than annoying, but I've been known to turn up a few of their songs when I hear them on the radio.  There isn't much that I hear now that I absolutely can't stand, although there's some stuff every now and then where I have to ask my wife to change the channel if I hear it.  Most of the time, I don't know what's what, but I know that I've been irritated with songs by Katy Perry and Kesha (I refuse to use the dollar sign) and some other singers who are basically designed to sound a lot like them.

I can't see myself necessarily changing my mind about them.  After all, there's some stuff that I used to think was crappy that I will go to my grave with the continued insistence that it's foul evilness.  Examples?  Milli Vanilli (no matter who sang those songs), Michael Bolton, and pretty much anything that fell under the banner of "Young Country".  Google that stuff yourself, but I will leave you with a bit of the Milli Vanilli.  Some bands age like wine.  Some like a Twinkie.  And some like a turd.  The Beatles fit the first, Bon Jovi fits the second, and this crap...ugh...

Monday, December 24, 2012

Atheist Mangers

In the media and in various blogs, much to do has been made about various atheists groups protesting manger scenes on public property.  Either they sue to get rid of them, or they sue to have decorations from other faiths put up as well.  I'm too lazy to link anything, but I'm sure a quick Google search will confirm what I'm talking about.

I really hate all this stuff because it forces me to defend something that I don't really want to defend.  The bottom line is that if we are to take the First Amendment seriously, then the government is to take absolutely no part in establishing a religion of any kind.  If public property is going to be used to endorse one religious belief over another, then that's going against the Constitution.  And you can hem and haw all you want; a manger scene is a religious symbol of Christianity.  Nobody's confused and thinking that it's Vishnu in that manger.  It's an image that's steeped in Christmas tradition.  If even one non-Christian is offended by it or feels its inappropriate, then the government has no business letting it be up there.

In other words, the atheist groups are right.

However (and you saw this coming)...

I would like to plead with my fellow non-Christians by saying that there's no reason that a manger scene should offend you.  Yes, it is a religious symbol.  Yes, it doesn't technically belong on public property.  But ya know something - if you live in California, then you should also protest all state government buildings that feature the official seal of the State of California.  Why?  Because it's got Minerva, the Roman goddess of war and wisdom on it.  And while it's true that you're pretty hard-pressed to find people who still believe in her and worship her, it's just as much of a religious symbol as any manger scene.

Now, before you go out wasting time and resources on protesting the seal of California, think about how much that actually offends you that it's there.  Well, that's how much a manger should offend you.  Whether you like it or not, we do live in a country where Christianity is a major aspect of the culture.  Manger scenes reflect that.  Sure, it doesn't represent EVERYBODY's culture, but unless we start getting a major segment of society that's not Christian, then we'll start thinking about statues of Krishna.  (And honestly, I wouldn't mind statues of him in the public square come the next Diwali.)

As atheists, we don't really have an equivalent.  I mean, do any atheists really feel anything deeply transcendent when they see an image of the Flying Spaghetti Monster?  Yeah, I like him too, and I even have  an FSM decal on my car, but come on, it's not the same thing.  And no, a statue of Darwin wouldn't do it for me either.  I like what the man has done for science, but I admire the science more than I admire the man.  His knowledge wasn't revealed from a higher power, and somebody else would have figured it out if he hadn't.

Maybe this is why these atheists groups are doing this.  I guess it's easy to feel left out.  But surely I can't be the only one who thinks that a manger scenes are nice, right?  Shoot, if I had a lawn and somebody gave me one, I just might put one out myself.  A baby is born and people come to see.  That's a nice sentiment.  Yeah, I don't buy into all the details of the story, but the thing is with symbols is that they can mean anything you want them to mean.  For me, it reminds me of life when all around things are dying off (literally - the leaves on the trees and figuratively - the sun).  Now, if the manger scene was accompanied by a message that said something like: "Don't believe He's the son of God?  Hope you like HELL!!!" then we'd have something else to talk about.  Also, I don't think that I'd care much for a cross, and I think that I'd actually get out and protest myself if it was a cross with an image of the suffering Jesus on it.  Something about public torture/execution in a public square just doesn't seem appropriate to me, and I don't care how believers interpret it.

Non-Christians, and atheists in particular, need to pick their battles more carefully.  Considering that there are so many people out there who don't trust us and think that we're immoral by nature, our first priority is just letting people know - in a positive way - that we're out there.  We're their friends, their neighbors, their co-workers, and we'll only eat their babies if the babies look REALLY tasty.  All this chickenshit stuff just serves to upset people.  What's worse, it gives the Bill O'Reilly types and various fundamentalists fuel for their fire so they can act like they're being oppressed.  The way you hear it, you'd think that atheists were making people take Christmas trees down in their own homes.

Quit helping their cause.  When atheists are given the respect they deserve throughout the country, then you won't give a crap about a manger one way or another.  It'll be like what the average Egyptian no doubt thinks of the pyramids.  Yeah, it's a religious symbol of a belief system that's not your own, but it's not coercing you into believing anything.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Santa Question

My wife and I took Logan to see Santa at our local mall a few weeks ago.  It was a lot of fun, and although he was a bit cautious at first, he quickly warmed up to old St. Nick and started talking his ear off about all the Christmas trees.  Since then, Logan has been really happy to talk about his experience, and he loves pointing out images of Santa when we pass them.

Our plan was to abort the mission/photo if he started crying and/or panicking.  For the life of me, I will never understand why some people force their kids to sit on Santa's lap even though the kid is obviously terrified.  You can explain it to me a billion times, and I'll still be dumbfounded.  Sure, I get that you want a picture with your kid and Santa, but shouldn't this sort of a thing be more about your kid and less about you?  If the kid hates it, then you're obviously not doing it for his or her benefit.

Anyway, that's not quite my point in writing this.  Some folks have asked me about how I'm going to handle the whole Santa thing with him.  Am I going to tell him that Santa is real? Am I going to tell him that Santa is a made-up guy used to sell Ice Age DVDs?  (I actually have some justification for that one if I did, as the whole display was more about advertising that movie than kids meeting Santa.  Santa even gave Logan a notebook filled with pictures of the characters from the movie.)

It is something that I have to think about, as I don't like lying unless it's absolutely necessary.  Is it necessary that kids believe in Santa?  Probably not, no.  Is it a lie to tell them that he exists?  Yes, it is - and I know that there might be some who are reading this who want to hem and haw and say that it isn't, but I'll stand by that and elaborate in a little bit.  Still, with all that said, I don't have a problem if my kid believes in Santa.

Right now, it's easy.  He's only two, so Santa is as real as Spider-Man, Mickey Mouse, and the members of the Fresh Beat Band.  Logan doesn't know the difference between "real" and "not real".  I told him that he was going to meet Santa, and even if I wanted to tell him that it was just a guy in a suit, he would have no idea what I was talking about.

However, he will get older, and soon he'll start to realize that some things aren't real like leprechauns, clean coal, and Justin Bieber.  Also, there will no doubt be kids that he'll run into who will tell him that Santa isn't real.  This is when it will get tricky.  What will I do if he asks me if Santa is real or not?

My planned response is:  "What do you think?"  The thing is, I want to teach him about Santa for the sheer fact that I want to give him something to figure out.  I want him to understand what it's like to believe something but then realize that you should change your mind according to the evidence.  He'll never do that if I simply tell him that no, Santa isn't real.  But why not just say the opposite?  Because I don't like saying things that aren't true, that's why.

And yes, I've seen some of those responses to children when they ask, "Is Santa Claus real?" where the answer has something to do with "Santa is love and kindness and cookies and stuff.  So yes, all of those things are real, ergo, Santa."  Here's my problem with that kind of answer though: it's obfuscation.  Your kid isn't asking if those things are real.  They want to know if there's a magical guy who rides on a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer who delivers toys to children all around the world.

I have a friend who doesn't like the fact that her daughter is starting to question the whole Santa thing.  I understand that, and I don't want to imply that anybody is wrong for feeling something one way or another; however, I'm just saying that's not the way that I look at it.  I don't think that it's a good thing to simply believe things.  You should have reasons for believing what you believe.  And yes, while it will be one more stage in my son's loss of innocence when he no longer believes in Santa, I will consider it to be a victory for him when he uses his brain to figure out the truth.

The only potential wrinkle in my plan that occurs to me is that I'm not entirely sure what to say if Logan asks me if I believe in Santa.  I don't want to steer him one way or another, but I'm not sure how to answer that one in a way where he has to take on the critical thinking process on his own.  Maybe I can say something along the lines of "You tell me.  If you think I should, I'll believe, but if you think I shouldn't, I won't."  Not sure how good that is, but hopefully I'll come up with some other options when that eventually comes my way.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Comics Roundup for 12/19/12

Really good stuff this week, so let's get started:

Captain America #2 - I thought the first issue was enjoyable enough, and this issue is a bit better.  Overall, I really like the concept, and I think that Rick Remender has presented a real challenge to himself by putting Cap in a very un-Cap situation (at least, what we'd come to expect from the last decade or so of Captain America comics) and yet still have it feel like a Cap story.  I also like the flashbacks to Steve's childhood, and I hope that this continues to develop and tie into the main story.

Hawkeye #6 - Damn this title for being so fun.  The last two issues were good, but I really think that even though Matt Fraction is crafting some really fun stories, this title is all about the artwork of David Aja.  You really could just sit and study what the guy is doing without even reading the story and appreciate what's going on.

All New X-Men #4 - Holy crap, but how many issues of this title will come out a month?  Well, I don't care too much either way because it's still a really good read, both art and story wise.  I, and probably many other X-Men fans no doubt, have felt like the team has gone too far away from what the original concept was.  I think by bringing back the original team from the past, this series is addressing that problem.  Besides, it creates some good drama.  I just wonder if that's always going to be the main story of this series, or if this series has a short shelf-life like the first run of Dark Avengers.

Indestructible Hulk #2 - I enjoyed this issue, but it's not blowing me away like I hoped that it would when I heard that Mark Waid would be writing it.  I'll stick around for a few more issues at least.

Thor:  God of Thunder #2 - Another solid installment of this series.  Thor asks Iron Man to warn the Greek Gods about what's going on, and I hope that they play a role in this story.  After all, if something is out there killing gods, it only makes sense to involve them, since they have a fairly prominent role in the Marvel Universe.

Green Lantern #15 - I haven't been getting any of the other Green Lantern books even though this is supposed to be some sort of a crossover.  I don't think that I'm missing all that much though, as this continues from the last issue and stands on its own.  Fun reading, like usual.  I just wonder what this new GL's role will be when Hal Jordan makes his inevitable return.

Wonder Woman #15 - Are those Frost Giants at the end of this?  Are we going to get some Norse mythology mixed up with our Greek mythology in this title?  Shoot...I can almost see a really cool team-up with Thor if they existed in the same universe.  Anyway, more good stuff, and I wonder where Brian Azarello is going with it all now that Orion of the New Gods is in the picture, especially considering that it's not clear how the Fourth World stuff fits in with the New 52.

Avengers #2 - I was sorta expecting to not like this, but I found myself enjoying it.  The story doesn't move too far ahead so much as it expands on everything that happened in the first issue.  Still, I think that I liked this villain better when he was called The High Evolutionary.

Daredevil #21 - While this is certainly true to the character, Mark Waid's run on this title feels different from any other that I've ever read - and that's a good thing.  And the new Spider-Man wants to "crush" Daredevil?  Does that mean it really is Doc Ock, or is that too easy?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Comics Roundup for 12/12/12

Batman #14 - The "Death of the Family" story continues in this issue, and while it doesn't move the story along as much as I might have liked, there were enough compelling ideas to keep me interested.  For one, does The Joker really know who Batman and his various sidekicks really are?  He claims that he does, but beating the crap out of Alfred doesn't necessarily prove anything.  I suppose the conversation would be over if he called him "Bruce" though, wouldn't it?  Anyway, I like the back up stories that this series has been featuring. They add a new dimension to the main story and don't feel like filler.

Winter Soldier #13 - Not nearly as much fun as last issue.  Looks like the next issue will be Brubaker's last.   Let's hope he can make it as poignant as his last issue of Captain America.  Let's face it; even if he didn't create Bucky, he basically defined the current incarnation of the character.

Batman and Robin #14 - As much as I liked the first couple of stories from this series, my plan was to drop the book as I've been suffering from a bit of burnout.  I figured I'd give it another try though as it's dealing with the whole "Death of the Family" story.  It's a good issue, but I don't feel particularly compelled to get the next issue.

The Amazing Spider-Man #699.1 - This was a good issue, but let's all be honest.  It's more of a zero issue for the new series featuring Morbius than it's an issue of Spider-Man.  Spidey appears at the beginning, and his story doesn't move forward at all.  Instead, we get the origin of Morbius.  Interesting, but there's a lack of truth in advertising here.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Comics Roundup for 12/5/12

Hawkeye #5 - Not quite as much fun as the first four issues, but pretty good nonetheless.  I didn't expect to still be reading by this point, so I'll at least check out the next one.

Hellboy in Hell #1 - This was a pretty trippy issue, and it's good to see Mike Mignola doing the artwork on his own character again - although I liked his two replacement artists.  So, Hellboy is in hell...and I'm sure that hell will probably want to kick him out by the end of all this.  I think that this means that we might be seeing the end of Hellboy stories once all this wraps up - because where do you go from there?

All New X-Men #3 - I'm guessing that this must be the flagship X-title, even though it has a pretty unique premise.  It's hard to imagine stuff going on in this book not affecting others, as it essentially involves every important mutant, and the fallout of Avengers Versus X-Men.  Anyway, I didn't like this one as much as the first two issues, but I liked where it ended - with the present-day Cyclops encountering his younger self.  Should make for some good reading.

Punisher War Zone #2 (of 5) - We get Punisher versus the Black Widow in this issue, which wasn't all that interesting.  Looks like the Avengers are going to send Thor after him next time.  Now that should be something.

The Amazing Spider-Man #699 - The guy over at the Spider-Man Crawlspace has been bagging on Dan Slott's run in general and this story in particular.  Damned if I wasn't rushing to turn the pages though, as it's all pretty suspenseful.  Is the new series really going to be about Doc Ock in Spidey's body?  Seems to simple, but it might be interesting for a while.

Avengers #1 - I haven't been able to get into anything by Jonathan Hickman, and I'm worried that the same thing is going to happen here.  The first issue is either setting up something epic or something ponderous.  The art sure looks good, but I don't know who many of those Avengers are on the last page.  I'll give this at least four or five issues before I pull the plug, as I know that Hickman has his fans, but I'd better see something good.

Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man Volume 2 - This is the second story arc featuring the Ultimate line's Spider-Man:  Miles Morales.  The character is really growing on me, and while I don't think that I'd ever want Peter Parker to go away, I'm enjoying reading this new guy in the Spidey suit quite a bit.  It has all of the stuff you want from a Spider-Man book, and it's true to the original concept of "the hero who could be you" while acknowledging that "you" isn't always some white guy.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Comics Roundup for 11/28/12

All New X-Men #1 & #2 - For some reason, I had told myself that I was going to hold off and maybe get this series in trade paperbacks.  When I realized that I had no desire to get the second issue of Iron Man, I figured I'd check these out, mainly because this particular creative team has been responsible for many of my favorite comics over the last several years (New Avengers and Ultimate Spider-Man).  I'm glad that I picked it up.  It's a really compelling story, and I'm hoping that it will explore what's so potentially great about the concept of the X-Men.  Basically the setup is that the original X-Men are brought into the present in order to help Scott Summers find his way again, considering that he's a bit more Magneto than Professor X lately.  It has potential, and so far it's living up to it.  And of course, Stuart Immonen is drawing some absolutely awesome stuff, like always.

Batman, Incorporated #5 - Another wild and zany Grant Morrison issue, where we find out the ultimate doom that awaits Gotham City if Damien Wayne becomes Batman...or do we?

Thor: God of Thunder #2 - Another great issue, and the art by Esad Ribic is darn-near perfect for this series.  I hear that Iron Man will be making an appearance in this series soon, but I personally hope that it stays away from the whole superhero stuff too much.  We can read The Avengers for Thor-as-superhero.  With this, and Wonder Woman, we're getting mythology comics, and that's cool enough without the trappings of superheroes.  (And just like with Thor, you can read Justice League if you want Wonder Woman as a superhero.)

Uncanny Avengers #2 - So much coolness this week that I almost forgot how cool this issue was as well.  Gotta say that I'm digging the return of the Red Skull, and I like how this team is forming in an organic fashion, rather than having them all tossed together in the first issue.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Comics Roundup for 11/21/12

Captain America #1 - A new era begins for Cap with Rick Remender at the helm.  This was pretty good, and while I really like the idea of delving into the childhood of Steve Rogers, I hope that it gets a bit more complex than what we saw in this issue.  Aside from that, I think it's smart to take such a completely different approach to the title, as we've got Captain America in some bizarre dimension where Arnim Zola is doing all sorts of funky experiments.  If Remender tried to continue what Brubaker was doing, it would have fallen flat.  So, while I didn't love this, it has potential.  Cap is one of those characters where the book has to be particularly uninspiring for me to stop reading it.

Wonder Woman #14 - Even though I've been cutting back on some books, including some that I really like, I didn't even consider dropping this title.  This series has so much of what I love - superheroes, Greek Mythology, great art, etc. that it's unlikely that I'll drop it if it keeps going like this.  Shoot, I even think that Tony Akins, the fill-in artist for Cliff Chiang, is getting a lot better.  Anyway, another solid installment on this one - glad to see that the introduction of Jack Kirby's Fourth World seems to be well thought-out and not just a gimmick.

The Avengers #34 - It's the end of this series and a departure for writer Brian Michael Bendis.  Meh.  While I've been re-reading his stuff and enjoying it tremendously, I still feel like this grand finale feels a bit rushed.  Still, I've enjoyed so much of it that I definitely won't miss that special series involving Ultron that's coming up.

The Amazing Spider-Man #698 - Managed to miss all the spoilers on this issue, which is a good thing, as the ending came as a bit of a shock.  I guess I understand what the new direction for the series will be, but it's pretty clear that it can't last for too long.

Indestructible Hulk #1 - I picked this one up because Mark Waid is writing it, and the fact that Leinil Yu is penciling it doesn't hurt matters.  It didn't blow me away, but it set up some pretty interesting possibilities, and it sure as heck looks good, so I'll definitely check out the next issue.

Daredevil #20 - Man, but there's some freaky stuff going on in this issue - namely a bunch of heads piled up in a room, and they're all still alive.  (I was going to attempt to explain the mechanics of it, but it's one of those things that works better as a visual.)  I always like this comic, but this one was a real page-turner.  I still don't know why The Spot was considered C-list, as I think a guy who can do what he does would be pretty formidable.

Hawkeye #4 - I really wish that I didn't like this book so much, but this was another really fun issue.  I'm thinking that I'm starting to like this series more and more with each issue.  I even tried to find fault because it has a guest artist, but when the guest artist is Javier Pulido, it's kinda hard to get mad.

Rachel Rising, Volume 2:  "Fear No Malus" - I pretty much devoured the first volume of this series from Terry Moore, so I was eager for the second volume.  While I had to spend some time flipping through the first to remind myself of what was going on, I quickly got back involved with this issue.  Mr. Moore is definitely setting up something cool here; I just hope that he has a good payoff in mind for the conclusion.  And I gotta say, for a somewhat macabre horror story, it had a pretty damned touching bit of human interaction in it.

The Walking Dead, Volume 17: "Something to Fear" - I usually save a trade paperback for the bottom of my stack of stuff to read, but I think that this was the second book I read this week.  The story is moving forward in the usual way where I'm stressed out over everything that happens and want more, more, MORE by the time I get to the end.  Also, just when it seemed like Rick and company were on top of things, their situation is much worse than they thought.  And then, of course, the last couple of pages let you know that what you thought was happening wasn't actually what was happening.  Dammit.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Comics Roundup for 11/14/12

I'm suffering from a bit of comic book burnout, which is affecting both my enjoyment and my wallet.  So, I'm cutting back.  I passed up on Batgirl, Batman and Robin, Avengers Assemble, and Wolverine and the X-Men.  It's not that I haven't been enjoying them; it's just that I'm reading so much that I don't remember a damned thing about the last issues of each of those series.  I have to face the fact that I'll never get to read everything I want to read.  I also passed up on the relaunched Fantastic Four, figuring that I could always pick up the trade paperback if it turns out that I've missed something special.  Anyway, with that said, I still wound up spending a bit more than usual this week, and that's mostly due to the first entry on the list:

Walt Disney's Donald Duck: "A Christmas for Shacktown" by Carl Barks - This is the third collection from Fantagraphics, and I've only read the first story so far.  However, I can tell you that it was probably one of the best Christmas stories that I've ever read.  Apparently Barks was a bit of a critic when it came to Christmas - not that he was a Scrooge (McDuck) but because he was turned off by how commercial and superficial it was.  I guess it takes a person who sees through the phoniness that can be the Christmas season to write a genuinely touching (and funny) Christmas story.

If you're a fan of the comics medium, then you really owe it to yourself to pick up at least one of these collections.  If you have kids who like to read, then you should get one of these for them.  They're great stories with compelling characters, and it's all put together in a breezy style that you can only get with comics.  I'm looking forward to reading the rest of this volume.

The New Avengers #33 - Bendis's penultimate issue is pretty compelling as it gives Dr. Strange something important to do.  Michael Avon Oeming is a good artist, but it doesn't quite fit this book, especially considering that his style is so different from the last issue's.  Oh, and it turns out that there is still a big Ultron story in Bendis's future; we just wont' see it played out in this or the other Avengers title.  A graphic novel, perhaps?

Batman #14 - This is the second part of the Joker-centric "Death of the Family" storyline.  As usual, the team of Snyder/Capullo deliver a solid read that makes me eager for more.

The Amazing Spider-Man #697 - The Hobgoblin war didn't quite work out the way I was hoping, but that's okay, it was still satisfying, and it leaves things open for some interesting possibilities.  Roderick Kingsley was always more ambitious than simply wanting to be a Green Goblin clone, and this gives him a whole new angle that fulfills that ambition while making him different enough from Norman Osborn.

Thor: God of Thunder #1 - I read about this one, and I had to pick it up.  I'm glad that I did.  I really like Jason Aaron's approach to the character.  No "he's not a god, just an alien" bullcrap.  Thor is a god, dammit.  He even answers prayers.  But now there's something that kills gods out there - looking forward to the next issue.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Some election thoughts

I'm a little late getting my thoughts down on this, but I figured that I'd write a little something about the 2012 election, as it is my understanding that it was THE MOST IMPORTANT ELECTION OF ALL TIME!!!!!!

My thoughts are all over the place, so here goes some semblance of order:

Gay marriage - Three states: Maine, Maryland, and Washington had voters approve of gay marriage, and Minnesota rejected a proposal to outlaw it.  As others have pointed out, the right-wing talking point of "The people always vote against it" is now officially dead.  They'll have to make it "The people always vote against it with four exceptions".  Shoot, if they're totally honest, it will be:  "The people always vote against it with four exceptions and probably even more, including California, if given the chance to vote on it again".

Even when Proposition 8 passed in California, it's been pretty clear where the wind is blowing on this issue.  As more and more young people reach voting age, you'll see more of what you saw in this election.  I have to wonder about people like Newt Gingrich, who called the issue of gay marriage a "temporary aberration that will dissipate".  Do these people really believe that?  Do they really think that it's going to swing the other way?

I'm really hoping that when my son gets old enough to understand these things, he will have the same reaction that I did when I learned about separate drinking fountains for black people during the Jim Crow days.  I remember thinking that it was the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard.  I'm betting he'll have a hard time wrapping his head around it, and I envy him that he'll never have to go through the soul search that I did as I got older, when I actually had to be convinced that gays deserved the same rights as me.

Personally, I'd love to see a proposition to overturn Prop 8 in California.  I'm confident that it would pass.  Even though Prop 8 doesn't have a legal leg to stand on, it would be a great symbolic gesture.

Prop 30 - This was the one that I had the most invested in, as if it didn't pass, I'd be looking at 11 furlough days this year, 15 next year, and 15 the following year.  Even if that didn't mean a serious blow to my personal bank account, I'd still be depressed if it didn't pass, as that's basically getting rid of an entire unit from my lesson plans.  Schools have faced cut after cut after cut, and we need to put a stop to it.  Unfortunately, the money has to come from somewhere, and that means taxes.  One thing that I find interesting is that the counties that have the highest income earners (in other words, those who will be most affected by Prop 30) are the ones where it passed by a wider percentage.

When I went to bed on Tuesday, it wasn't passing, and I was pretty depressed about that.  My wife woke me up some time later (not that I was really sleeping) to tell me that it was passing.  I felt better, but I was in too much suspense about it to fall asleep.  I was definitely happy when I saw that it passed by the time I got up, although I was exhausted and had to go to work.  I think I went to bed at about 8:30 that night and slept harder than I had in a long time.

The complaints that I hear are from the usual sorts who have a knee-jerk reaction to any kind of tax increase.  I could go into it, but I have the feeling that some folks wouldn't vote to increase taxes by a penny a year if it meant saving the lives of their own mothers.

Anyway, kudos to Jerry Brown.  It was impressive how he used strategy to defeat Meg Whitman, who spent a bazillion and two dollars in the gubernatorial campaign, and it looks like he did something similar with Prop 30.  I didn't hear or see a lot of ads until the eleventh hour.  Perhaps that's risky, but it worked.

California's Democratic Super Majority - The Republican party can't block everything that the Democrats want to do in both houses.  This is good and bad for the Dems, as there will be absolutely nobody to blame but themselves if things don't start turning around in this state.

Barry O'Bama - I voted my conscience, which is easy to do when you're left-leaning and you live in California, where the lesser of two evils will win even if you do vote for the Green Party.  So, am I happy that Obama won again?  Not so much, but I'm happy that the Republicans lost.

The thing is, there are so many legitimate things to criticize of Barack Obama and the Democratic Party, but the rhetoric against him has been positively insane, with so many conservatives out there not even approaching reality in their criticism.  The man's not a Marxist, nor is he a Muslim nor the anti-Christ nor an atheist nor a Skrull.

I can understand it when some conservatives criticize the way he's handled the economy or even some of his other policies.  But the worst thing you can say about him is that he's not doing what needs to be done to fix the economy.  Some of these people act as though we were doing just great until he stepped into office, and then everything took a steep decline.  We were in this mess when he took the job, and the worst you can say about him is that he isn't helping, but you don't get to blame it all on him.

Not only that, but if you take some time to read some right-wing blogs out there, you have some people believing that Obama's intentions are to destroy this country.  I read some comments from a particular nutjob who said that Obama's going to make sure that this is the last free election we have, and he's planning on completely dismantling the military so we can be defenseless.

Shoot, I really didn't like Bush, but I never thought that he was actively trying to ruin the country.  I just thought that his choices were bad.

I also find it to be pretty funny, as so many conservatives were just so damned positive that Obama wasn't going to get a second term.  I remember shortly after he was inaugurated, a former student of mine put a countdown clock on her Facebook page, with the timer running out when his first term was up.  As the election drew nearer, there was even a pundit who said that Romney would win "in a landslide".  Landslide?  Who the heck won the last landslide in this country?  Reagan, maybe?

Let's face it.  Obama didn't win because the people were in love with him.  Romney lost for the same reason that Kerry couldn't defeat Bush, who was also pretty unpopular when he ran for re-election.  Romney was just completely uninspiring, and he even managed to out flip-flop Kerry.

Plus, he was trashed in the primaries as he tried to lean as far right as he could, only to have one right-wing nutjob after the other surpass him in popularity until the public heard them actually speak a bit too much.  He eventually came out on top because all the others were too extreme, but by the time he came out, he was too far right for the majority of the country.

The funny thing is, a lot of conservatives are saying that the problem was he wasn't conservative enough.  I have to wonder what would have happened if somebody like John Huntsman was the candidate.  He could never make it through the primaries because he wasn't, you know, insane, but I think that he might have given Obama a real run for his money, as it would be much harder to smear him, and he would have won over a lot more independent voters.

Would I have voted for him?  I'm not sure, but I knew right away that I'd never vote for Romney.  With Huntsman, I think that I might have actually had something to consider.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

20 Year Reunion

Last night I went to my 20th high school reunion.  It was held at Skipolini's Pizza in Clayton.  I saw some people for the first time in twenty years, and a few of them I had seen ten years ago at the last reunion.  I definitely had a good time, as it's always nice to reminisce a little bit with people who shared some formative years with me.

Of course, I'm somewhat lying.  It wasn't officially my 20th reunion.  That's happening tonight.  Last night was more of an informal gathering.  As for the official one, I decided against going.  I've had a couple of people ask me why I'm not, and all I replied with was "I don't wanna."  While that's true, there's a bit more to it than that.

Honestly, I wasn't even sure if I wanted to go in the first place.  I went to the 10 year reunion, and I didn't have that great of a time.  I felt bad because I kept running into people who seemed to remember me, but I had a hard time placing who they were.  Sometimes I didn't even remember when they told me who they were!  Don't misunderstand me, it wasn't a horrible time, as I did have a few nice conversations with some people.  However, I can be a bit awkward at social events when I don't know people - or in this case, I haven't seen them in a long time.  I mean, I definitely can be social, but it requires a real energy-draining effort on my part, and I just wasn't up for it.

So, when it came time to start planning for the 20 year, my initial reaction was that I had no plans on going.  I figured that I already was keeping in touch with anybody from high school that I wanted to keep in touch with, either in-person or through Facebook (although there are some former classmates who have friended me, and I honestly don't remember them at all.  But hey, being friends with somebody on Facebook isn't really much of a commitment.)

I started to change my mind when people started posting to the Facebook group about the reunion.  I found myself genuinely enthused about it.  The funny thing is, I would have figured that social media would make me less likely to want to have a reunion, but it actually made me more likely.  There were some folks that, while I didn't know them that well in high school, I've established a pretty friendly rapport with them online.  So, I started to get excited about hanging out with some of these people.

What killed it for me though?  I gotta be honest; it was the price tag.  The tickets started out for less, but eventually they went up to $85 per person.  It's not that I couldn't afford it; I just wasn't sure enough that I wanted to even go in the first place to cough up that much money.  After all, I figured if it was like the last one, then I definitely wouldn't be getting my money's worth.  Plus, I'm not really all that into formal events.  I don't like dressing up, and I've managed to make it 38 years without owning a suit.  Crap, I used to own some ties, but I have no idea where they are now.  I didn't want to go out and buy clothes for it either.

Still, I hadn't completely committed to not going, and I was still on the fence about the whole thing until I saw the announcement for the informal reunion at Skipolini's.  No admission fee?  Informal?  Pizza?  I can do that.  I figured that even if I didn't have a good time, I could get the heck out of there early and not feel like it was a waste.  Plus, most of the folks that I wanted to see were planning on going to that, so I was set.

All in all, I had a really great time.  While I didn't stay as late as others, I did stay past eleven, which is pretty late considering that I can barely make it to nine ever since Daylight Savings ended.  My only regret is that there were some folks there whom I would have liked to talk to more, but I didn't get a chance to do so.  Sure, I could probably get a chance if I went to the official reunion, but it's pretty obvious that I still wouldn't get to reminisce with everybody that I wanted even with another day.  Plus, it was interesting because when I went back home, I looked through my old yearbook.  I had felt that I saw a lot of people, but then it dawned on me how many people I did NOT see!  I'm not even sure if a lot of those people are coming to the real reunion.  (Oh, I should also point out that a big plus was that the pizza was free!  Apparently there was some money left over from all the admission tickets that were sold for tonight's reunion.  No such thing as free pizza?  Not in my world, pal.)

And while I hate to admit it, I should probably confess that one of the reasons why I didn't have a problem socializing is because I had a couple of beers before going, and then I continued to have them as the night went on.  I was no doubt loud and using more curse words than I normally do, but otherwise I might have just sat in a dark corner.  And no, I didn't drink to the point of getting sick, and I didn't have a hangover.

I wanted to start this off by saying something about my general feelings about high school.  I realize that there are some people who are stuck in the past, forever reminiscing about those days (and honestly, nobody specific is springing to mind - I'm just assuming that must apply to somebody at least).  There are also others who hated high school and want absolutely nothing that even hints at reliving those days.  (This description might actually come close to some folks that I know.)  Most folks probably fit somewhere in between.

As for myself, I enjoyed high school.  I had a lot of friends who complained about how awful it was and how they couldn't wait to get away from it, but I never did that.  However, as the years go by it all just starts to feel more and more distant.  Was it the best time of my life?  No.  Was it the worst?  Definitely not.  It was a period of my life with mostly good memories, but I don't feel any more attached to them than any other time in my life.  Still, it was great to see some familiar faces, and I genuinely do hope to see some of them again sometime soon.  I don't think that I'll regret not going to tonight's party, and that would be true even if it wasn't for last night's unofficial reunion.  Still, I'm thankful that the Skipolini's event was arranged, and I'm glad that I went to it.

EDIT:  My wife has just informed me that we left at about 9:30.  I am lame and old.

Comics Roundup for 11/7/12

The Avengers #33 & The New Avengers #32 - I've been re-reading all of the Avengers books since Brian Michael Bendis took over years ago, and I'm really enjoying them.  Unfortunately, I feel like his final issues on both of these books seem a bit rushed.  I guess he's trying to put everything back together after all of the changes he made when he wrote the "Disassembled" story, and that's nice to see.  However, the inconsistent art teams are hurting the story, and wasn't Ultron supposed to have something to do with the final Bendis Avengers story?

A vs. X: Consequences #5 (of 5) - This issue wraps everything up and sets forth a new status quo for Cyclops and the X-Men.  You didn't really expect him to just sit in jail, did you?  Me neither.  Anyway, I think that this story actually had a tighter plot and a more satisfying ending than the main crossover.

Green Lantern #14 - We get to have our cake and eat it too as the new Green Lantern realizes that it would be stupid to fight the Justice League.  However, his ring has other plans.  Fun stuff, like usual.

Iron Man #1 - I figured I'd give this new series a try.  It was pretty entertaining, but nothing special.  I'll check out the second issue at least before I make up my mind whether to continue or not.

Avenging Spider-Man #14 - I think this book might be running its course, as it can't seem to keep a consistent creative team.  Plus, Devil Dinosaur?  Lame.  I think this might be it for me.  Cool cover though.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Comics Roundup for 10/31/12

AvX: Consequences #4 (of 5) - I'm continuing to enjoy this series although I'm still annoyed by the "You won't understand the Phoenix using science" line that gets brought up over and over again.  What does that mean?  You can't understand it by making observations?  Predictions?  Seems to me that if it functions on a physical level, there is at least some "science" to it.  Yeah, yeah, I know, it's fiction, but it still doesn't sit right.  Good thing I like all the character interactions, and I'm curious to see how this all shapes up.

Aquaman #13 - This wraps up a storyline, and Geoff Johns is going to be leaving after issue #16.  I think that I might be done here.  I liked the beginning, and I had high hopes for the series, but if Johns isn't in it for the long haul, then I need to use this excuse to drop another book before all the Marvel Now stuff starts hitting.

Joe Kubert Presents #1 (of 5) - This is a nice, thick book with lots of great art by the posthumous artist.  Still, I'm having a hard time getting into it.  I think that this will make for some nice reading material in my classroom for the kids who are too lazy to bring their own books.

Batgirl Annual #1 - I would have skipped this if it weren't for the fact that Gail Simone wrote it and that it ties into the "Court of Owls" storyline.  Overall, I thought it was decent, but not great.  I would have wanted to see more interaction between Catwoman and Batgirl than we got in this one, as there seems to be a lot of potential there.

Winter Soldier #12 - This was a fun issue.  Too bad Ed Brubaker is going to be focusing on more creator-owned work, as I think that he'd be a good choice to write Wolverine.

Hit-Girl #4 - Fun stuff, like always from this team.  Again though, I don't think it would work well as a movie.  I don't mind seeing a girl in a comic book go through this abuse, but I don't think I'd like it in a live-action format.

Wolverine and the X-Men #19 - Fun, wacky stuff like usual with this issue.  Even when Wolverine plays a minimal role in this book, it's really top-notch stuff - almost more reminiscent of the Alan Davis issues of Excalibur.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Comics Roundup for 10/24/12

Captain America #19 - Ed Brubaker goes out on a high note, and it's good to see that Marvel hooked him up with Steve Epting for his final issue, considering that was the artist when he started his rather lengthy run with the character.  It's too bad to see Brubaker go, but it's time.  While the series certainly wasn't bad, it wasn't quite as much of a "must read" as it was for the first several years.  It's time for a change of direction, and so far I'm interested in what incoming writer Rick Remender has planned for Cap.

Basically, this issue gets to the heart of everything that makes the character special, and it touches on some unfinished business as we revisit the Captain America of the 1950s.  You know, the one who goes nuts.  Basically by the end, Steve Rogers comes to grips with the fact that Captain America will outlive him, but it's up to him to remain that symbol for as long as he can.  I have a hard time seeing anybody else doing the well-worn "somebody else is Cap" storyline after this.

Batman, Incorporated #4 - More Grant Morrison nuttiness, and it seems like Jason Todd is up for redemption in this series.

A vs. X:  Consequences #3 - Another good issue that sets up some pretty interesting ideas for the future.  The only thing that bugs me is Iron Man's issue with "faith".  He wants to understand The Phoenix from a scientific standpoint, but he's being told that it's not science.  The thing is, skepticism and science don't really make sense in a fictional world where magic exists.  It's not like the real world, because things that are magical actually have verifiable, empirical results in the world of comics.  If the Phoenix really existed and did what it did, then it could be studied through science.

The Avengers #32 - So they get Steve Epting to see Ed Brubaker off, but they get some absolute crap artist for Brian Michael Bendis's final arc on The Avengers?  Anyway, I like the story, and I like the way they're bringing the Wasp back.  Plus, I should mention that one of the two artists on the book is doing a decent job, but this seems like a pretty lame way to send off the man who's basically been driving Marvel's flagship book for so long now.

The Amazing Spider-Man #696 - The Hobgoblins face off and I'm happy.  Too bad the art, while certainly not awful, wasn't better.

Punisher War Zone #1 (of 5) - Haven't read a Punisher book in some time, but it's interesting to see the Avengers finally take an interest in taking down Frank Castle.  The character always works best when it's understood that he most absolutely is not a good guy.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Comics Roundup for 10/17/12

This is actually for last week as well, so I'm gonna keep them brief:

Batman and Robin #13 - Surprised that this isn't tying in to "Death of the Family", yet it somewhat touched on that story.  Nothing too special here, but an entertaining read like always.

Batman #13 - The "Death of the Family" story is only getting started.  So far, it seems pretty good.  It's probably not easy to do a Joker story that feels original.  I have to wonder whose idea it was to have his face cut off in the first place, but since it happened in another book, I'm thinking it wasn't Scott Snyder's.  Nice to see him making good use of that though.

Uncanny Avengers #1 - Wasn't too sure what to expect, but I really liked this one.  It had the right combination of drama, action, character interaction, and nutty comic book villainy to get my interest.  I think that this book definitely has some potential.

The Secret Service #4 - It's strange that no matter how much stuff I'm reading, I'm always able to follow along with Mark Millar's comics without having to review the rest of the series.  Good story, good characters, yet again.

Captain America #18 - I'm hoping that Ed Brubaker's final issue doesn't feel quite so perfunctory as his penultimate issue.  Nothing wrong with this one, but nothing too spectacular either.

The Phantom Stranger #1 - I didn't like this one as much as the zero issue, and considering I can barely remember what happened, this is probably it for me.

AvX Consequences #1 & #2 - I thought that the first issue was just a one-shot for some reason, but I didn't mind picking up the second issue as the story was compelling enough.  There's definitely a lot of fallout from this last crossover, so it's nice to see it getting some space here.

The Avengers #31 - Brian Michael Bendis begins his final story with this issue.  He seems to be setting up something big here, and it's good to see him dealing with some leftover plot threads from issues past.

Avenging Spider-Man #13 - Another fun issue with Deadpool, and it's cool to see Spider-Man get the better of him.

Wolverine and the X-Men #18 - I really liked this one a lot.  The new Hellfire Club is a pretty good new set of villains, and I'm worried that this is the end of Broo, one of my favorite characters from this book.

Hawkeye #3 - Well crap, this book is so much better than it has any right to be.  It's a great combination of art, story, and character, and I'll be back for more so long as this team is in place.

Wonder Woman #13 - I thought we'd see Orion by now?  We get a guest artist here, but it's still really good stuff.  It was the first one that I read, and that's saying something.

Daredevil #19 - I don't understand why The Spot was considered to be a lame villain for so long.  Seems like a pretty cool power to have, and no doubt it would make him formidable.  I guess that Mark Waid gets that, and we get something really cool at the end of this issue.

The New Avengers #31 - And so begins the final run for Bendis on this series as well.  I was a bit more intrigued by this one, but I've always enjoyed this series a bit more.  I think it's fitting that when Bendis leaves, so does Luke Cage, and it seems like the new New Avengers will be an entirely different sort of a book.

Batwoman #13 - The book I want to love, but I just can't.  As always, the art is gorgeous, but the prose is so ponderous and annoying.  JH Williams comes up with some interesting layouts, but it's like he throws in text just to fill the space, and not because it moves the story forward.  I think that I'm done here.

Avengers Assemble #8 - Speaking of being done, I'm not sure if I'll continue with this series after this issue. I'll flip through the new creative team's first issue and pick it up if it looks interesting.  Anyway, this series has had a few high points, but overall it's a bit "meh" and only set up things for the new Guardians of the Galaxy series.

Justice League #13 - I'm done here, too.  I didn't even finish reading this one.  The initial story was pretty fun, but I just don't think that Geoff Johns has anything all that interesting to say with this concept.  You know it's bad when my favorite issue of this title was the one that put the backup story as the main story.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Comics Roundup for 10/3/12

Avengers vs. X-Men #12 - Now that it's all over, I'd say that this has been a decent, but not great, crossover.  The things that held it back from being great include the fact that the art has been inconsistent, with good artists turning in sub-par work (like Adam Kubert in this issue), and the fact that it was dragged out for far too long.  The good thing is that it wasn't just a rehash of Civil War.  That series tore the Marvel Universe in two.  This one actually brings it all together.  Still, I have to wonder why they're suddenly going to have a lot more mutants in the MU again.  Wasn't narrowing the number of mutants one of the "fixes" of Joe Quesada's reign as Editor in Chief?  Why turn that around?  Seemed like a good plan to me.

Detective Comics #13 - Thought I'd give the new creative team a chance with this one.  I liked the artwork, and the story was decent.  I'll get at least another issue, but I wasn't overly impressed.

Green Lantern #13 - Another interesting installment of an entertaining series.  The Justice League gets involved with the new GL by the end of the issue, so I'm looking forward to the next one.

The Amazing Spider-Man #695 - The Hobgoblin versus Hobgoblin saga finally gets started, but it only barely gets started.  Boo.  Other than that, not a bad issue.

Talon #0 - Spinning out of the "Court of Owls" story in Batman, we learn about a Talon who got away from the Court.  Interesting enough, at least to check out the next issue.  And is it just me, or is Guillem March channeling Joe Kubert?

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Comics Roundup for 9/26/12

The Amazing Spider-Man #694 - The internets is all a buzzin' about how horrible this "Alpha" story is.  Once again, I find myself liking a Spider-Man story that's hated by fans all over.  Don't get me wrong.  I don't love it, but it has been a perfectly serviceable story, and it has the potential to be revisited and get more interesting.  It seems to me that a lot of the complaints are based on the fact that Alpha is such an unlikeable character.  Umm...isn't that kinda the point?  He's the opposite of Peter Parker.  He's not good at heart, and he didn't have a "great responsibility" moment.  Anyway, I'm more excited that the real Hobgoblin is back next issue though.

Winter Soldier #11 - Honestly, I don't remember Hawkeye being in the last issue.  Guess I'll have to read some of the back issues.  Even with that in mind, I still was entertained by all of this spy stuff.  Too bad that it's all ending soon.  Well, at least Edward Brubaker's writing of the title, anyway.

Wolverine and the X-Men #17 - I've mentioned before how this book defies expectations.  If you're looking for something darker, well, you just ain't gonna find it.  Who knew that Wolverine could lend himself to stories that are just plain fun?  And while I don't know much about this Doop character, but I was pretty amused by his inclusion in this issue.  Oh, and getting Mike Allred to draw this issue was a definite plus.

Aquaman #0 - I sure hope that whomever they get to write this title after Geoff Johns leaves will be able to pick up the ball and continue with a lot of these big ideas that continue to be introduced.  With this issue, we get some of Arthur's past, and I think that it could be explored even more.

Batman Incorporated #0 - Let's ignore the fact that this title doesn't make much sense in the current continuity.  Aside from that, it's a pretty fun and wacky title, although I feel like Grant Morrison has covered some of this ground already.

Hit Girl #3 - Some more fun Mark Millar stuff.  I like his books, but I hate writing about them because I just don't have much to say.