Sunday, July 29, 2012

Washington, D.C. Trip

Yesterday afternoon, my wife and I returned from a week-long trip to the Washington D.C. area.  I want to write about it, but I'm struggling with where to start.  I think that I could maybe write a few entries on this trip.  We kept really busy pretty much every day, and yet I still feel like I could go back for another week, keep just as busy, and not visit any of the same things that I did the first time around.

So, I'll see if it all stays with me enough to write some more, but here's a list for now - probably incomplete because I'm going strictly from memory - of what I did, followed by some general thoughts:

1.  Bus tour, where we saw the following:
  • Washington Monument
  • White House
  • Capitol Building
  • Lincoln Memorial
  • FDR Memorial
  • Jefferson Memorial
  • MLK Memorial
  • Vietnam War Memorial
  • Korean War Memorial
  • WWII Memorial
  • US Marines Memorial
  • Arlington Cemetery
2.  Return to the Capitol for a tour
3.  Library of Congress tour
4.  Dogfish Head Alehouse (c'mon, I'm a beer geek)
5.  Monticello (Jefferson's home)
6.  Amish Country
7.  Smithsonian - Natural History Museum
8.  Alexandria, VA (very brief stop)

Obviously, we are pooped.  We were going to go to the Air and Space Museum on the last day, but we just didn't have it in us to brave the humidity once more and get on the Metro.  Some other stuff we would have liked to see:  Holocaust Museum, Mt. Vernon, some more of Alexandria, some Civil War battle sites, Baltimore, etc.

So, some random thoughts:

1.  I don't know enough about the Presidents to be considered an expert, but I think my favorite has got to be Thomas Jefferson.  (What a daring choice, I know.)  I pick him simply because I find him to the be the most interesting, in spite of and because of his flaws.  He also had the most impressive memorial.  (FDR being a close second.)

2.  East Coast Pale Ales aren't as hoppy as their West Coast cousins.

3.  Humid air makes me feel like I put lotion on my face, and I'm sure that the eczema from which I suffered while living in San Francisco, but disappeared while moving to the East Bay, would return if I moved to a place as humid as there.

4.  Virginia and Pennsylvania are gorgeous - at least from the highways.

5.  There aren't many black people where I live.  I think this was the first time in my life that I ever found myself consistently as the minority while blacks were the majority.  I've been the minority while surrounded by Asians while in S.F. (or gay people, depending on the neighborhood I was in) but this was a new one.

6.  There sure is a lot of pagan imagery in our Capital.  Seriously.  I counted Poseidon twice.  Jesus?  Not even once.  Moses and St. Paul were in the Library of Congress, but if aliens every examine the remains our civilization, they'll get kinda confused about the dominant religion when they visit D.C.

7.  Amish country was somewhat disappointing.  Don't get me wrong, it was beautiful and we had a great time, but they're getting more and more modern.  I expected to feel like I went back in time or something.  Besides, the guy who drove our tour buggy was a Mennonite.  Splitters!  No, wait, the Amish are the splitters.  Still.

8.  Creationists (as in, the ones who completely deny evolution) should be locked up in the Natural History Museum only to be released when they finally pull their heads out of their asses.

9.  I really missed my son.  Don't worry about him, he was spoiled rotten by his grandparents, whom he loves.

10.  As much as I missed my son, I was glad that we didn't bring him.  He's not old enough to appreciate any of this stuff, and it would have just taken away from our enjoyment.

11.  I continue to get along with my wife after spending that much time with her.  We had a little, minor, tiff that was probably more the result of us being tired than anything, but I honestly can say that she doesn't get on my nerves like pretty much anybody else eventually would.  (Hopefully she can say the same.)

12.  This was probably one of the best trips I've ever taken.  It filled me with a positive sense of patriotism.

Comics Roundup for 7/25/12

I was out of town last week, but I managed to get to a comic book store in Alexandria, Virginia.  Here's what I got and what I thought:

Winter Soldier #8 - Another solid installment in an entertaining series.  Nice to see that the Black Widow isn't just window dressing in this series, and Brubaker is doing something significant with her.

Captain America #15 - I hope that Ed Brubaker resolves this business with Baron Zemo before he leaves the title.  I'm not sure if this is his last storyline or if there's one more after it.  Anyway, a good issue with a topical plot.

Green Lantern #11 - Something big is brewing in this title once again, as the Guardians of the Universe are seeking to replace the Green Lantern Corps.  Also, Black Hand is back, and he's one seriously creepy villain.

Batman, Incorporated #3 - Hard to top last issue, but this one was still pretty good.  Damien Wayne, while being handled quite well by Peter Tomasi in Batman and Robin, continues to be interesting under his creator, Grant Morrison.

The Avengers #28 - I'm not a fan of the Red Hulk, but I really dug this issue as he decides to go rogue and take down Cyclops on his own.

The Amazing Spider-Man #690 - Okay, I really liked the last issue.  Curt Connors managed to turn back to human, but he still had the personality of The Lizard.  Well, a mammal and a reptile have a very different physiology from one another, so now he's still The Lizard inside, but he's dealing with all kinds of human traits like laughter and bonding with others.  I like how Dan Slott takes an interesting idea but keeps running with it in unexpected, but completely logical, ways.

Aquaman #11 - I'm not sure that I had expected this series to be like what it is when I first planned on buying it.  That said, I like what's going on, as Aquaman has a supporting cast that seems to have some potential so far.

Friday, July 20, 2012

It's important that mothers feel bad

When I found out that my wife was pregnant, I had a pretty strong point of view as to what was going to happen when she gave birth to our child.  This is not the kind of thing that one takes lightly, and it was very important to me that she made the right choice - not just when she delivered but what she did immediately afterward with the baby.  So, I made it clear to my wife, in absolutely no uncertain terms, that what was going to happen was as follows:  she was going to make all the decisions, because she was the one who had to get a frikken' human being out of her belly.

I remember having a friendly chat with one of my neighbors.  He and his wife had about sixteen billion children, and he was telling me that his wife delivered their kids naturally - no drugs or nothing.  He encouraged me to talk about it with my wife.  I did just that, and by "talk about it" I mentioned that he said that, but once again I made it clear that she was the one who had to have this baby, and she needed to make the decision for herself.  If I said anything to sway her one way or another, I think that I said that if I had to deliver a baby, I'd want them to shoot me up with as many drugs as humanly possible, as I don't think that I could bear to feel something as intense as that.

What about nursing?  I can tell you that my feelings were pretty strong on THAT one as well.  I made it absolutely clear that my wife was going to have to be the one to make that decision!  Oh no, it sure as hell wasn't going to be me!  (Side note:  we took a class on nursing and I learned that, in theory, it is possible for men to nurse.  I have decided that that's not true.  What evidence do I have to debunk it?  The simple fact that I don't like the idea of it, and that's good enough for me.)  For me, "feeding" somebody means dropping food into a bowl or making extra of what I'm making for myself and putting it on a separate plate.  I wasn't going to make decisions about who got to feed off her like some kind of mammalian mosquito.

Forgive my sudden shift in tone here, but I'm writing about this because I don't think that men always appreciate some of the pressure that's put on women - especially mothers.  It's nothing new, I'm sure, but mothers are always being told what to do, and the implication is that if they do things differently, they're not being good mothers.  My mom told me about how when she had me and my sister that she had decided to nurse us, even though the trend in the U.S. was to NOT do so.  As for my wife, she gave birth when breastfeeding is what's encouraged.

My wife gave it the old college try, and without going into grim details, let's just say that it didn't quite work out, and Logan eventually went to all-formula.  Trust me, if some person, even if it was my own flesh and blood, made things that difficult for me, I'd be switching to formula much quicker than she did.  The thing is, she was feeling really guilty about quitting breastfeeding.  I constantly reassured her that she shouldn't feel bad about it.  What I had said was that I hoped that she'd at least give it a try, but if it was too difficult, then it was her call to make.  As far as I was concerned, she tried, and that was good enough.  (Oddly enough, a friend of mine just told me that the advantages of breastfeeding might be somewhat overblown - obviously this proves nothing, but this friend of mine is one who isn't known to just spew out this kind of info without having done some research first.  Anyway, I'm just throwing that out as an side note for now.)

Some time after giving birth, my wife was watching a documentary on childbirth.  The title and description were a bit misleading, but it basically was a big propaganda piece on doing everything naturally when having a baby.  It went into a whole thing about C-sections, and how they're being performed far too often.  Well, my wife needed a C-section because both she and my son were in danger.  One of the ladies on the documentary went on about how giving birth vaginally gave her a "bond" with her child.  Well, aside from ignoring the fact that her child will be completely unable to defeat Macbeth, what the hell is that supposed to mean?  My wife's bond with my son is somehow lessened because he didn't go out the right way?  What does that say about me?  He wasn't even in my body!  And what the hell does that say about parents who adopt?  They don't bond with their kids?  What a bunch of self-righteous bullcrap.

Here's the thing - there are obviously mothers out there who are "doing it wrong" when it comes to their children.  I'm talking about the ones who drink alcohol while pregnant.  I'm talking about the ones who abuse their kids.  I'm talking about the ones who don't take their kids to the doctor and pray to Jesus instead.  And yeah, I'm talking about the ones who don't vaccinate their kids.  But epidural versus natural?  Breastfeeding versus formula?  How about we let the women make those decisions, and if you're a woman and made a different decision, then how about respecting the fact that not everybody does things the way you would?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

I wish I could cook.

For lunch today, I managed to toss together a bunch of random stuff that was in the refrigerator and create a pretty tasty meal.  Basically I made a standard grilled cheese (Monterrey Jack) sandwich on potato bread, but I also had a piece of panko-breaded tilapia and a slice of tomato.  Plus, I had a bit of habanero jack that I put on there.

A thought occurred to me while I was eating it.  I remember once, years ago, when I was visiting my uncle.  He offered to make me some dinner, but he said that he didn't really have anything ready but he'd see what he could throw together.  He then proceeded to make an awesome meal.  That, in my mind, was what made him a person who can cook.  It's one thing to be able to follow a recipe.  It's another thing to be able to just toss something together with the ingredients that you have on hand.

I actually know how to make a few things.  I make some pretty good shrimp that I serve with pasta and pesto sauce.  I make a pretty awesome grilled chicken with my custom-made marinade.  Lately I've been making some pretty tasty pork chops.  There's a lot of other stuff that I can make, but for some reason I still pause before saying "yes" to the question "Can you cook?"

For some reason, I feel like I'm cheating when I'm simply following a recipe.  I can say that I am at the point now that I can alter some ingredients and improvise a little bit here and there.  Usually, it works out pretty well.  Still, every now and then I make something and it turns out to be crap.  Well, I don't think I've made anything awful lately, but I've made some stuff that turned out a bit on the bland side.

I guess for some reason I think that a person who can cook is somebody who can make a completely different dish for every day of the month, toss something together with various scattered ingredients, and never makes anything that isn't excellent.  I'm not sure if a person like that actually exists.  

I wonder if everybody who cooks thinks the way I do.  It seems as though it's a process where I'm always getting better, but I'll never be nearly as good as I'd like to be.

Comics Roundup for 7/18/12

Avengers Versus X-Men #8 (of 12) - This was a decent installment, but this series just doesn't have the momentum that I would have liked to see.  Now that I see some of Marvel's plans for what's going on after the end of this series, I think I know what the ultimate motivation behind this series might have been.  Basically, there have been all kinds of Marvel events over the years, but the X-Men always seem to inhabit their own little corner of the Marvel Universe.  This is bringing it all together, creating a more unified world of interrelated characters.

Wonder Woman #11 - Had a nice talk with the young lady who works at my local comic book store about this series.  We both think the same thing - with the exception of a two-issue hiccup, this is a great series.  I realized that I mentioned momentum up above, but this is exactly what this series gets right.  Every issue something significant happens, and you'd really miss something if you missed an issue.

Justice League #11 - While the overall plot isn't moving me all that much, I liked seeing the heroes interact and bicker with each other, even though that's a little more Avengers than Justice League.  I'd like to see Geoff Johns create something as ambitious with this series as he's doing with Aquaman and did with Green Lantern.

The Secret Service #3 - As always, I'm bored with writing about Mark Millar's books - not because I dislike it but because I pretty much say the same thing over and over again:  great pacing and an upping of the stakes in every issue.  The only thing that I can add is that Millar has created a pretty original protagonist - somebody who is believably both capable and clueless at the same time.

Daredevil #15 - Speaking of characters becoming part of the larger Marvel Universe, this is exactly what you get with this issue.  Nice seeing that DD's membership in the Avengers is relevant to his ongoing series.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Online debates

I've been known to get in a few online debates.  Sometimes they're on Facebook; sometimes they're on various blogs.  The ones on Facebook, in particular, sometimes just go on and on.  I will admit; I'm the kind of person who likes to get in the last word - at least, I don't like the other person to get the last word in when he or she says something that either misrepresents what I said or is demonstrably wrong.

I have some friends who ask what the point is of even bothering.  Well, they might have a point in pointing out that perhaps there is no point.  I guess I can say that oftentimes I enjoy it, although sometimes it just frustrates me.  The trick is figuring out that line where the only thing I'm getting out of it is frustration.  That's the point where I need to just bail and forget the whole thing.  While I'm getting better at realizing this, I still have some work to do.

But I'd like to point out one thing though for those who think that it's completely pointless.  I've had some people tell me that nobody's ever going to change their mind because of an online debate.  Well, nuts to that, I say.  I know of times where I've altered my opinion (on things like circumcision, pit bulls, Obama, religion, etc.) because of an online debate.  There have been other times when I haven't changed my mind, but I felt like I understood somebody who was on the other side of things a bit better.

An example that crosses my mind is when I asked a Christian why he would bother doing good when he believed that since he was "saved" he was going to get into heaven anyway.  I must admit, I kind of smugly thought that this was a "gotcha" question and there would be no way for him to give a decent answer.  His response though was that because of his love of Christ, he wanted to please his Lord.  So, love was the motivation.  Now, I didn't get any closer to being a Christian as a result, but dammit if that's not a good answer to that question.

And on the other side of that, I've been able to explain to a few Christians why the whole "Intelligent Design" thing wasn't just bad for science, but it was bad for religion in general.  (You know, the whole "God of the Gaps" thing - which is all intelligent design is - just serves to keep painting their God into a corner.)  So, not only have I felt a bit smarter as a result of a debate, but I'd like to think that I managed to provide a little enlightenment myself.

So, when are the times when I just need to stop?

1.  When I'm clearly wrong.  Yes.  This happens.  I mentioned my complete buffoonery about pit bulls before.  Some time after that, I posted some infographic about the Obama economy, and I was quickly schooled by some more conservative-leaning (although I don't think they define themselves as "conservatives" necessarily) friends as to why it was pretty misleading.  I'm pretty proud to say that I bailed on both of those rather quickly - even admitting my error in both cases.

2.  When the other person is just building straw men.  This is my biggest pet peeve, and I will fruitlessly re-explain my point again and again only to have it do as much good as bashing my head into a brick wall.  A particularly annoying thing is when the person will quote my words back at me, only to have words within the quotes be words that I haven't actually written.  Once I realize that somebody is doing this, I need to just determine that they're not even interested in having an honest conversation, and end it.

Related to this is when the person refuses to even address what I'm saying and/or keeps turning the conversation over to what he or she wants to talk about.  Also along these lines is when the person makes all sorts of assumptions about me based on a few things I've written.  I've been accused of being an Obama apologist just because I don't agree with the most extreme right-wing rhetoric against him.  I mean, 'cause obviously if you don't think that Obama is deliberately trying to turn this country into a fascist communist dystopia, the reason must be because you worship him.

3.  When the other person speaks in talking points - especially talking points that have been refuted ad nauseum.  You know, crap like "engineers say it's impossible for the towers to have fallen 'cause a plane crashed into them!" or "there used to be a global cooling scare!"  

4.  Lastly, and most importantly, when it's clear that the person just has some sort of ax to grind with me and is resorting to ad hominems.  I actually wised up to this a couple of times rather recently and let the other person have the last word.  I mentioned above the whole thing about how people will assume all sorts of things about you as well based on a few opinions and/or comments that you've written.  Basically, these people will build you up in their mind as some sort of enemy that they need to knock down.  While it kinda sucks to just let them do it, ultimately you're pulling a Don Quixote if you think you can get them to see the error of their ways.

Now, can I take my own advice?  And perhaps more importantly, can I make sure that I don't do the things that make me nuts?  I don't think that I do those things, but I'm not going to make a definite statement that I never have.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Better Bible Stories

I like to write.  I once had delusions of being a writer, and I still entertain those delusions.  Right now that's slowed down a little bit, as having a toddler son keeps me a bit busy.

I wrote my first stories when I was in third grade.  It was basically just a ripoff of Superman with a bunch of other stuff that I borrowed from various cartoons and TV shows.  I kept writing about the same characters over the years, in both prose and comic book form.  Ultimately, I started working my faith into my stories when I first got into college.  Basically, I needed a decent origin story for my superhero.  Like Superman, he was from another planet, but I wanted to come up with a fresh reason why the people from his planet were superhuman.  And that's where my faith came in.  Essentially, I set up the idea that the whole Adam/Eve/Garden of Eden/Forbidden Fruit scenario was a test that God had set up on more than one planet.  The difference was that their "Adam and Eve" made the right decision, so they weren't plagued with all of the troubles that best our Earth.

So, the prologue to the story was basically the tale out of Genesis (with a definite Christian leaning, as the Serpent was most definitely Satan) only it ended differently.  Essentially the man and woman tell Satan off, and he is banished from their world forever.  (And yes, I realize - now - that even this presents all sorts of issues that I won't get into now.)

I ran into some problems though, as I wanted to continue the story of these two people.  The problem with them though is that since they're perfect, they're basically kinda boring.  I was able to do something interesting with that as they came to Earth and were puzzled by the way things went, but still a character is only interesting if he's conflicted, and it's difficult to come up with a believable conflict for a perfect person.

I haven't done anything with this story since graduating from college.  Obviously, as I lost my faith and my perspective changed, it was difficult to keep going with this.  Still, I think that the idea might have some potential yet, and I have a few notions as to where I should go with it.  Will I ever get around to it?  Who knows?

But in the meantime, the whole "Bible Story with a Twist" idea has been swimming around in my head ever since summer started and I had time to write for my blog a bit more regularly.  There are stories and parts of The Bible that I like just fine, but there are some parts that I think are just pure crap.  Yeah, to me it's mythology, but there's good and bad mythology.  (In other words, I also have some issues with parts of The Aeneid and its relentless pro-Rome propaganda.)  I figure I have about three or four of these that I can write, but I'll start off with a quick one:

Abraham was hanging around one day, and God said to him, "Hey, Abraham!"


"You know your son?"


"No, the other one."


"Yes, that one."

"You sure you don't mean Ishmael?"

"Of course I am sure.  What a strange question.  So, your son, Isaac.  I have something I need you to do."

"You got it, Yah--I mean, God.  Whatever you need, I'll totally do.  I'm loyal and true that way."

"Glad to hear it.  See, I will need you to kill him."

"Kill him?  What?  Did he do something wrong?"

"Every one does something wrong at one time or another, but no, that is not the reason."

"Then why?"

"I am the Lord, your God, and I am not to be questioned!  I demand that you sacrifice him as an offering to Me!  Will you do this thing or not?"


"You defy me?"

"Yeah, it looks that way.  He's my son.  I love him.  If you really demand a human sacrifice, then let it be me, okay?  If I were to kill him, then I would no longer want to live."

"You are willing to live life like all of the other people of the world?  Without my protection and favor?"

"Well, I don't really want to follow you if I have to do that."

"I ask you one more time, Abraham.  Will you do this thing for me?  I demand that you sacrifice your son!"

"No.  Can't do it.  Go ahead and smite me.  I will not kill him."

"What about Ishmael then?"

"No, not him neither."

"A goat?"

"Yeah, sure, but isn't that a little strange too?  Why do you need me to kill one of your creatures for you?  I don't think it's as bad as killing my son, but it's still strange, don't you think?  Now that I think about it, nah, I'm not going to do that either."

"Step on a bug?"

"Now you're just being weird."

"Very well then, Abraham!  You have defied me, your Lord!  And for this, your punishment shall be...nothing."


"No.  Nothing.  You were right.  That was a pretty fucked up thing to ask a person to do.  Only an evil being would ask such a thing.  You are also right about the goat thing.  That is strange.  My pal Zeus always wants that sort of a thing, and..."

"Zeus?  Who's that?"

"Never mind!  The point is, the test was to see if you'd give the proper response.  If you had said yes, then I would have struck you down and made sure your sons were raised by somebody who had a better sense of values than you.  However, you have chosen wisely, and you have done what any good father would do.  Now let me show you how to make beer."

Saturday, July 14, 2012

A dizzying variety of beers

For lunch today, I went to my favorite Indian buffet.  Usually I just have water with my meal, but today I was in the mood for a beer.  I decided to try the Taj Mahal, a really exotic Indian beer.  It's difficult to describe, but I guess I could call it a pale lager with only a very slight hop taste to it.

It really got me to thinking about the great variety of beers that I've been able to try due to all of the various ethnic restaurants that are in my area.  Not too long ago, I was having Thai, and I got a chance to have a Thai beer.  It was really good, and I could best describe it as a lager with a straw-like color.  As for the hops, the taste was barely noticeable.

Of course, whenever I go and get some sushi, I like to get a Sapporo, which is a light-colored beer that's not an ale with a tiny hint of hop flavor.  When I was living in Martinez, there was a really cool Chinese/Japanese restaurant.  So, if I was getting sushi there, I could mix things up a bit and get a Tsingtao, a traditional Chinese beer.  If you've never had it before, I can best describe it as a not-dark beer that was fermented at a cold temperature and the brewers used only a trace amount of hops.

I realize that this sounds like only the Asian continent has this amazing variety.  You can get Corona, Pacifico, Modelo, and Dos Equis - all from Mexico, and all of them a completely different style (although some do their individual style better than others).  There are also a lot of places that serve beer brewed by the Dutch called Heineken.  You can also try Grolsch.  One of these is somewhat similar to Tsingtao but the other is more like Sapporo.

I have a lot of beer-nerd friends who tell me about Belgian styles.  Well, they don't need to tell me about how amazing they are.  After all, I drink Stella Artois.  Talk about a beer that's totally unlike all of the other beers I mentioned!  If only I had a better thesaurus, I would take the time to tell you all about it!

Ya know, there's a Korean restaurant near me.  They have a Korean beer there that I have yet to try.  I wonder what it's like.  Hmm...

Friday, July 13, 2012

Comics Roundup for 7/11/12

Lots of stuff, gotta be brief:

Batman #11 - This was an excellent ending to the "Court of Owls" story that's been running in this book since it began.  Basically, we get a satisfying conclusion, but as you'd want with good serialized entertainment, you're left with enough mystery to wonder what's going to happen next.  I hope that Scott Snyder revisits this story eventually, as I think that Lincoln March is probably one of the best new villains since Hush.

Spider-Man #2 - The art took a bit of a downturn with this, and this was the weakest installment of this series so far.  However, it ends in a really interesting place, as Peter Parker goes to visit Aunt May and Gwen Stacy of the Ultimate Universe.

Avenging Spider-Man #9 - I'm not familiar with writer Kelly Sue DeConnick, but this was an entertaining story with a pretty good cliffhanger.  I don't know if I like it to pick up the new Captain Marvel series when it comes out, but I'm at least a little bit intrigued.

Batman and Robin #11 - I was a bit confused by what the villains were doing in this issue, but the confrontation between Damien Wayne and Jason Todd made it worth it.  I wonder what's going to happen when he confronts Dick Grayson?  Hopefully the little twerp will finally get his ass kicked.

The New Avengers #28 - Normally I hate the "It was all a dream" story, but this one at least gave us a good sense of exactly what the X-Men are up to, and it certainly doesn't make them look like the good guys in this situation.

Batgirl #11 - Nothing too special going on here, but this remains a fun series and it's been one of my favorite reads for several months, so I'm sticking around.

Wolverine and the X-Men #13 - This issue focused on the Shi'ar Empire, and I didn't really get into it.  There were some good moments, but I hope the regular cast returns next issue.

Avengers Assemble #5 - This was the best issue of this series yet.  While I was feeling like it was a bit perfunctory at the beginning, now I'm genuinely enjoying this series.  I don't know much about the Guardians of the Galaxy, but I like the Raccoon guy.

Captain America #14 - It's too bad that Ed Brubaker is going to be leaving the character soon.  This was a pretty good issue, but I suppose it's better for him to leave on a high note than wait until it starts to stink.

Walt Disney's Uncle Scrooge - "Only a Poor Old Man"  - I haven't had a chance to read more than the first story in this one, but this is another collection by Carl Barks, and I really enjoyed the Donald Duck one that came out a while ago.  I also read the introduction by George Lucas, and I think he really hits the nail on the head why these stories hold up so well - they're simply good stories.  I have some other stuff to read first, but I'm looking forward to digging into this one.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

No, I don't believe your miracle.

While talking with theists, I am sometimes told of a miracle that happened to him or her.  Apparently, something "impossible" happened, doctors were baffled, and God is good.  I haven't really bothered getting into all the reasons why I don't believe these stories lately, but I figured maybe it would be a good idea to write a one-size-fits-all response to supposed miracle stories in case anybody wants to know why I don't find them very convincing.

And mind you, I'm talking about one's personal "miracle" story.  I'm not referring to the miracles of the Bible, The Koran, The Ramayana, or the Star Wars saga.  I don't believe those either.  (Well, maybe Star Wars, a little.  I mean, if The Force isn't real, then how did Luke manage to blow up the Death Star without his targeting computer?  I mean, come on...)  I don't believe those because they're not verifiable, among other reasons.  (Although the events of Return of the Jedi do verify the prophecy of The Phantom Menace, as Anakin Skywalker did indeed bring balance to The Force.)

So, here's why I don't believe your personal miracle story.  If you can give a reasoned explanation as to why your particular story doesn't fit the criteria for my incredulousness below, then please let me know.  But if you think you have a bona fide miracle on your hands, please don't blabber on about it without addressing the following problems.  (Unless you don't care whether I believe or not, of course.  In that case, why would you bother telling me about it in the first place?)

1.  Your story is an anecdote.  That's the thing.  Anecdotes are not proof, at least, not all by themselves.  If I were to accept every anecdote as proof for something, then I'd believe that aliens kidnapped Sammy Hagar and probed his mind.  Why should I believe your story over Sammy Hagar's?  He sang for Van Halen.  Have you sung for Van Halen?  Unless you're David Lee Roth or that other guy, then the answer is no.

But seriously, if I'm to accept anecdotes as evidence, then I have to believe all of them - including Sammy Hagar's.  I don't get to just believe yours because you're a nice person and are really sincere.  So, if you want me to believe yours, then at least be consistent and tell me to believe all of them -which means you have to as well.

2.  If your story was true, then why the heck have I not heard about it?  Or at least, why isn't this making front-page news?  If a god really cured you of your incurable disease, then why isn't anybody reporting it?  Can you send me a link to a news article?  Am I supposed to believe that the media wouldn't be all over a bona fide miracle?  Shoot, they like to report on morons like John Edward who do a circus sideshow act, why wouldn't they report on something that could stand up to some serious scrutiny?

3.  Show me that it's repeatable.  For example, if a god really heals people from cancer, then show me that those with cancer who get prayed for are more likely to recover than people who aren't.  And the rate of the faithful being healed has to be significantly greater - statistically significant to the point where we couldn't chalk it up to chance.  Because unless you can do that, then random chance is really all you have, and that would be the same whether your god exists or does not.

4.  Sometimes we can't explain things.  You don't get to use your deity of choice as the explanation.  Once we couldn't explain thunder and lightning.  That didn't prove Thor.

5.  This one's a bit of an anecdote on my part, but it will help to explain my personal feelings, whereas I think that the other criteria are based more on logic and reason.  However, I'll include it anyway.  The problem is, whenever I have a chance to ask followup questions on these "miracle" stories, and the more I learn about the set of circumstances behind them, they tend to fall apart and the stories usually aren't told with a dedication to the facts.

Now, if you're some fence-sitter when it comes to miracles, reason #5 is a lousy reason for you not to accept them.  Again, that one's subjective and only explains my personal feelings.

6.  You're still stuck with a HUGE problem even if you can get past problems 1-4, and that is, not to put to fine a point on it, your god is a prick.  You were healed of a heart condition?  Fantastic.  Half a million people died of malaria in 2010.  God got you up out of a wheelchair?  Wonderful.  Children are dying because their parents would rather pray than take them to a hospital.  God made your back all better?  Wunderbar.  There's a worm that lives by eating people's eyes.

Oh yes, I know the response to the last one.  We just can't understand God's ways.  Who knows why he cures some people who live in areas with modern medical facilities but not so many who don't?

Do you know why that sounds like a cop-out?  'Cause it is.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Art that was created just for you

There's a scene in Hamlet that's one of my favorites for three reasons:  one because it's a good scene, two because I can relate to it, three because it gives me a good opening to explain why literature is important when it comes up in my senior English classes.

The scene in question involves Hamlet and a group of actors that have come to Elsinore.  Hamlet asks the lead actor to perform a specific soliloquy that he had remembered from a past performance.  The soliloquy was about the Trojan War.  To be more specific, the speech involved a dramatic account of when Pyrrhus, son of Achilles, killed King Priam as Queen Hecuba watched.  Of course, it makes perfect sense that Hamlet would be thinking of that particular speech.  After all, it involves a prince who kills a king in order to gain vengeance for his father's death - in other words, it's a speech about the very thing that Hamlet himself should be doing, but due to his cautiously analytical nature, he hasn't.

Anyway, it's a great speech filled with all kinds of wonderful, violent images.  The part that I really like is when the King's adviser, Polonius, interrupts to say, "This is too long".  This enrages Hamlet, who tells the actor, "Prithee, say on: he's for a jig or a tale of bawdry, or he sleeps."  In other words, Polonius wouldn't know a good speech if it bit him on the ass, and the only things that interest him are silly dances and dirty jokes.

I always tell my students that the scene resonates with me because I completely understand Hamlet's frustration.  There are some works of art, be they movies, books, songs, where I feel so attached to them that I almost can't bear to hear anybody speak ill of them.  (Hamlet happens to be one of them.)  It's not just that I disagree with the person's opinion, but I feel like insulting that piece of work is like a personal insult to me.

But why should that be?  It would be one thing if I created them, but I didn't, so it should be completely separate from me.  I guess the thing is that when something really strikes a chord with me, it's because I feel as though it was created especially for me, as though the artist knew me and was trying to get across what's going on inside my head.  Now, I don't REALLY think that anybody's doing that, but it certainly feels that way to me.

I remember talking to somebody about The Who's song, "Behind Blue Eyes" one time.  I asked that person if she had ever liked a song so much that she felt like it was made especially for her.  She looked at me like I had no idea why a person would even ask such a question.  Honestly, I felt a bit of pity for her.

Art and literature exists, in part, to let us human beings know that we're not alone out there.  That's why everything from the rage of Achilles to Hamlet's indecisiveness to The Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby" still resonates with people.  You not only realize that there are other people who have felt the same things and thought the same things as you, but it has always been so.  We human beings have really not changed all that much.  Perhaps the world around us changes, but deep down inside, we're still dealing with the same problems.

So, what are some other things that resonate with me.  Just off the top of my head:  Cyrano de Bergerac, Spider-Man 2, "In Hiding" by Pearl Jam, the comic book series Preacher, The Odyssey, The Shawshank Redemption, and probably dozens of other things that will hit me once I click the "Publish" button on this blog.  Personally, I feel lucky that I have so many that I don't know where to start listing them.  If there isn't anything that makes you feel the same way, then I hope that one day there will be something.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Lately Logan has taken an interest in watching some classic Disney cartoons, Cinderella in particular.  I don't know what's normal for a not-quite two year old, but he'll sit down and watch it for at least 45 minutes in a sitting, which is more than half the movie.  He loves it whenever the mice are on the screen, and he's always smiling when somebody's singing a song.

I thought I'd mix things up a little bit and put in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  For the most part, he likes this one as well.  He loves the Dwarfs, especially when they're singing.  However, whenever the evil queen and her magic mirror comes on the screen, he gets a panicked look in his eye and yells, "No!  No!  No!"

Part of me is actually relieved that he's showing some fear, as I was beginning to worry that nothing would scare this kid.  But at the same time, I don't want him to be scared of things that can't actually harm him.  Don't get me wrong.  I don't turn up the volume and force him to watch it.  I fast-forward to the happy parts, but I don't make a big deal about it.  I say, "Okay" to him in a calm voice, and I don't act like there's anything actually wrong.

Yeah, this is the kind of thing that I think about.  The reason why is that when I was growing up, I was always scared of stuff that I'd see on TV or in movies.  So, no, I absolutely was not a horror fan when I was a kid.  I was always worried that I would get nightmares.  Much of this probably has to do with how my brain works, I'm sure.  To this day, I'm still not a huge fan of horror, and I avoid anything in the "torture porn" category.  Plus, when I read about the plot to The Human Centipede, I literally got depressed about it for a few days.  However, I must point out that it's not quite the same thing as when I was a kid.  I definitely am a fan of some horror movies like The Silence of the LambsThe Shining and many of George Romero's zombie movies (plus the direct successor of that with The Walking Dead).

It wasn't just horror movies that bothered me.  I remember that I refused to see Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom when somebody told me about the guy getting his heart pulled out of his chest.  There were other movies that I avoided for similar reasons.  People would tell me about the gory bits, and of course, my imagination would make it out to be a billion times worse than it actually was.  (I should point out that I started to lose this particular quirk when I was a teenager.  Still, when I was little, many of my friends had no problem with gory and scary movies.)

One thing that no doubt made my irrational fear of horror movies worse was that growing up, I thought all of that evil spirit stuff was real.  When people would tell me about The Exorcist, I used to think that stuff like that could and did actually happen.  This particular memory came back to me recently when a friend of mine asked on Facebook for some advice regarding her daughter.  Apparently, her daughter likes horror movies, and she wasn't sure if she should be allowed to see them, even though her ex-husband thought that it was okay to let their daughter decide for herself.

My friend got a lot of useful feedback, but one person responded that she didn't let her kids watch that kind of thing because spirits/demons/etc. were "real" and watching it just opens the door to that kind of a thing.  I wrote a response to that, trying to be as diplomatic as possible, but what I wanted to write was: "No!  No!  NO!!!!  Get a grip on reality, lady!  Paranormal Activity is fiction!!!"

Setting aside the obvious fact that my son is not even two, my attitude as far as what he can and cannot watch when it comes to what's scary and what's not is this:  if he can handle it, he can watch it.  Of course, some kids say that they can, and then they get freaked out and have nightmares for weeks.  My job as a parent, along with my wife, is to determine exactly what he can handle.  Obviously, there will be some things that will be straight-up inappropriate for a little kid to see, and I don't care how much he begs me to see Saw 17 when he's only six years old, he's not going to see it.  But when he's thirteen?  I think if he really wants to see it, he's going to.  Better to have a talk with him about those kinds of movies and what he likes about them.  Also, we can discuss things like story and acting.  There's no reason why he can't like horror and not use some critical thinking skills at the same time.

Of course, he simply might not show any interest in that kind of a movie at all.  I'd rather that he chose not to see them for that reason than because he thinks that some demon will make his head do a 360 degree turn.  After all, aren't there enough real things for people to worry about?

Monday, July 9, 2012

I'm such a hipster with my PBR

If you read online beer-related forums, you'll find that a lot of craft brew fans will tell you that they started out drinking one of the big three:  Budweiser, Miller, and/or Coors.  Either that, or they drank the light/lite equivalents of them.  After trying a few craft beers (oftentimes with something like Samuel Adams Boston Lager or Sierra Nevada Pale Ale being the "gateway" beer) they make the switch and never go back to what beer geeks and snobs know as the "American Adjunct Lager".  (I never see the story told the other way around.)

With me, this was not the case.  I started off by drinking mostly imports and craft beers.  Honestly, I've never had an entire Budweiser, and I don't think that I've ever even tried a Coors.  I've tried Miller High Life (which I think is kinda gross) and Miller Genuine Draft (which I thought was pleasant).  I've also tried Bud Light and Miller Lite, both of which were innocuous but unremarkable.  The only beers that I thought were outright gross were Bud Select and Miller Chill.  As for the rest, I would take them if offered, but I could never see myself buying them.

There is one mass-produced American Adjunct Lager that seems to have a good buzz about it even among the beer geeks, and that is Pabst Blue Ribbon.  If you check out Beer Advocate's review, you'll see that it ranks higher than Budweiser, Miller, and Coors.  I've found this to be curious, and I've been wanting to try one for some time to see if it really is a decent brew.  I also realize that it's a bit of a hipster beer, and I wouldn't be surprised if somebody makes a Dennis Hopper reference in the comments.  Sometimes things get popular for a reason.  Sometimes there isn't.  (I'm looking at you, Corona, and your overpriced dirt-flavored water.)

A few days ago while at the grocery store, I picked up a couple of pretty tasty beers:  Abita's SOS, and a St. Louis Gueuze Fond Tradition.  Behind me, there was a guy buying a bottle of Unibroue's La Fin Du Monde, a rather tasty Belgian-style beer.  He also had a 12 pack of Pabst.  I complimented him on his choices, saying that nobody could accuse him of being a snob nor of not having good taste.  He got a kick out of that, and pointed out that one bottle of "Fin" costs the same as the 12 pack of Pabst.

This got me to thinking.  As of right now, all the homebrews I have on hand are very good, but they're not really good warm-weather brews.  In other words, they're good with a hearty meal, or by themselves when it's starting to cool down in the evening.  But none of them are really ideal after coming in from the heat.  Now, I'm not the type of person who thinks that a beer has to be low quality to be refreshing.  I bought a six pack of Trumer Pils once for just such a reason, but let's face it, at $7.99 a six pack (at best) it's not really very economical to have them on hand.  But if Pabst was less than $9 for 12?  And it was still a good beer on top of all that?  Well, I'd be an IDIOT not to pick up some.

Now, I haven't had time to do a proper tasting, but when I got back from the store, Logan had gone through a particularly stressful meltdown (for both of us) and I needed something cool to drink.  I figured it was a good time to try one of those Blue Ribbon beers.  Unfortunately, I quickly discovered that they weren't quite as cold as I thought.  Oh, but that's actually good news in a sense, because even though it was more cool than cold, it still tasted pretty good - which is the true test of a good beer, in my opinion.  (Ever try a Corona when it's anything but ice cold?  Ugh.  Seriously.  What the hell is up with that beer?)

Normally I don't drink right out of the can or bottle, but like I said, I was hot and stressed, and I wanted a quick cool one.  With that said, I can definitely say that I picked up on a definite beer flavor - at least, what I think of when I think of beer.  Sure, it was a little bit sweeter and slightly syrupy like I'd expect from the style, but not too much so.  Also, there was definitely a hop presence in both the smell and the aftertaste - which makes me definitely want to try it in a glass so I can properly get a sense of that.

Another good test is that the lingering aftertaste continued to be pleasant.  I didn't feel the need to hurry up and brush my teeth or get something more flavorful in my mouth.

So, I gotta say that it's a pretty nice beer, and I will definitely keep some handy during the warmer months - especially at this price.  This is what I was hoping for when Trader Joe's starting carrying the ultra-cheap Simpler Times Lager, but I thought it was so gross that I couldn't even finish the one that I had.  (Much to my surprise, that one has good reviews - just goes to show that I'm not always of the same opinion as my fellow beer geeks.)

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Calshakes - Spunk

My wife and I went to our second play for the 2012 season of CalShakes.  This time, we saw Spunk, which is William Shakespeare's tribute to the African American experience in the first half of the 20th Century.  I was really surprised to learn that he not only was some sort of time-traveler but that he had such an appreciation for the blues.  It was also pretty interesting to hear that The Bard could capture 1920s Harlem slang as well as he did.

What?  What's that?  Every play at CalShakes isn't Shakespeare?  Ohhh.  Okay.

Spunk is a play that was adapted from the works of Zora Neale Hurston.  It contains three stories.  The first one deals with abuse and revenge.  The second deals with a country boy coming to Harlem and trying to earn a living without actually working.  The third, and most powerful, deals with marital infidelity and forgiveness.  There's also a lot of music in it, and much of it was live, as Anthony Peterson, one hell of a blues guitarist, provided the musical accompaniment.

It was entertaining, and at 90 minutes, it zipped along.  One thing that was nice for my wife and I was that, unlike The Tempest, we didn't feel like we needed to do any homework before we saw the show.  We were both able to go into it without knowing a whole lot (although I suppose it helps to know a bit about the African American experience, but the themes are so universal that even that's not necessary) and enjoy it thoroughly.

The music wasn't the only great thing.  The dialogue was a lot of fun, and the actors really captured the rhythm of what they were saying.  I suppose this sort of thing really does belong at a Shakespeare festival in that sense, as just like when you have a good actor reading Shakespeare, sometimes the pleasure comes from not so much WHAT they're saying but HOW they're saying it.  I also couldn't help but notice the movement of the actors.  There was dancing, but when they were doing dialogue and/or narrating, there was also a lot of movement going on, much like a dance.

As I stated before, it was the final story that resonated with me the most.  I'm not sure exactly why.  I haven't dealt with marital infidelity when it comes to my own marriage.  (And for the record, in this play, it's the woman who cheats on her husband.)  I also hope that if I die as an old man that I'm still able to say that.  However, it's one of those things that does happen.  I hate using the passive voice like that, as it implies that people aren't responsible for their actions.  I, for one, don't put myself in situations where I would be tempted to cheat on my wife.  I have far too much invested in this relationship to go throwing it away like that.

But I'm human.  So is my wife.  Can't help but wonder - what if?  I think to myself that I could never forgive it if such a thing happened.  I don't think she could either.  But would I be willing to let that ruin everything we've created together?  I dread to think on it.

All I know is that it made me happy to see the couple reconciled by the end of their story.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Brain no work good

Since becoming a teacher, I have had to deal with learning about various learning disabilities.  Oftentimes the conversations about these center on whether they're legit or not, or if perhaps they're just excuses for students to not do their work.  I'm not really that interested in going over that particular idea right now, but I will just say that I think that the issue is a complex one, and I feel that there certainly are people with legitimate difficulties and with the proper support, they can do well so long as they are willing to put in the effort.

What I'm more interested in right now is whether I happen to have some myself.  My wife, who works with students with developmental disabilities, sometimes says that I show signs of them.  I have a hard time just sitting still, and I often find myself playing with something as I sit and listen to somebody or watch TV.  Of course, this is hardly something that has a serious impact on my life, but it's there.

Another thing that makes me think that perhaps my brain just doesn't quite work right is my issue with math.  More specifically, I can't do it in my head.  I was usually pretty good in math classes, and so long as it was written down, I could handle it.  However, I really have to pause and think hard when presented with even a relatively simple math problem - no, not like 5+7, but more like 57+126.  Also, I remember working the cash register at an Internet cafe, and every charge was dividable by 25 cents.  I remember one time a guy gave me $6.25 when he had a $1.25 charge.  (It probably wasn't that exactly, but it was something like that.)  I told him to hold on a second, as I had to figure out the change.  (The register didn't do the math for us.)  Now, if he would have just shut the hell up for a second, it probably would have only taken me a few seconds.  However, the problem is that I need to visualize it in my head, and I wanted to make sure that I was correct.  The guy wasn't very understanding and started berating me.  "Come on!  Five bucks!"  I insisted on breaking out the calculator just to be sure, and he walked away thinking that I was the dumbest person on Earth.  (This is why I endeavor not to lose my patience simply because a student doesn't understand something.)

Luckily, I no longer work a register.  The only other time this has ever come up is when in Vegas and my friends wanted to play craps.  They explained it to me, and I just didn't get it.  Well, I got it for a second, but I felt like I was trying to map the entire galaxy in my head while the game was going on, so I quickly gave up on it.  I've tried explaining it to people before, to which they respond, "It's easy.  All you have to do is (insert scratchy white noise sound here)."  Now, in a chicken/egg scenario, I must admit that I'm not really interested in gambling in the first place.  So, is it that I can't learn craps because I just don't care to learn it?  Or do I not care to learn it because I simply cannot learn it?  Who knows?  Who cares?  It costs money.

One other thing I absolutely cannot do is talk to somebody when I'm doing something that requires any concentration whatsoever.  In fact, it genuinely angers me when somebody insists on prattling on when it's obvious that I'm trying to figure it out.  My brain is stuck on my Internet cafe days, so the example that's popping up into my head is the first time I ever had to use the espresso machine.  This customer just kept babbling on to me, and even worse, asking me questions incessantly about trivial bullcrap.  If he had just shut up for a second, I would have been able to figure it out no problem, even though I had only had it demonstrated to me one time.  (And I should point out that I don't drink any kind of coffee-related beverage, so it was totally foreign to me.)  He even kept babbling on when I goofed and the espresso sprayed all over the place, burning my arm.  (Not too seriously, but still...can you just not shut up?  Man, just thinking about that guy makes me want to hunt him down and kidney-punch him!)

Lately, I've been having some problems when it comes to making decisions, and I wonder if this is all related.  If I get to a restaurant and there are lots of things on the menu (think of your average sushi restaurant with its billion roll combinations) I feel overwhelmed by the choices.  I feel as though I need to pour through the menu several times before I can make up my mind.  After all, what if I order something and then realize that there was something even better that I should have ordered?  Somehow I doubt this sort of obsession is healthy, and I'm going to make a concentrated effort to just order the first thing that sounds really good.  That's going to be tough for me.

None of these things affect me enough for me to get tested for any kind of disability.  I've managed to make it to 38 without any serious problems, minus a grouchy guy at the register or two.  Still, I gotta wonder why my brain no work so good.

Friday, July 6, 2012


I'm a public school teacher, and as we all know, that means that I'm in the business of indoctrinating children.  By the time those kids leave my class for the last time in June, I can assure you that they're all thinking exactly the way that I want them to think.  No matter what their political/religious/ideological positions beforehand, come that last day they have all succumbed to my will.  I get a particular ghoulish delight when I know that they have thrown out all of the values that their parents have given them.  Oh, and I should probably point out that I get my Marxist/Socialist/Nazi/Communist/Sith marching orders from a secret cabal of liberal elites, which includes Jimmy Carter, Bill Ayers, Rosie O'Donnell, Jane Fonda, and Colonel Sanders.

Okay, actually, no, I don't do that.  However, I've been accused of "indoctrinating" kids before.  No, not by my actual students or their parents, but by people who assume that since I'm a teacher that I must be doing that.  Also, whenever the entire system is indicted as being a "propaganda machine", then I kinda feel like I'm being attacked as well, albeit indirectly.

Before I continue, all I can really speak of is where I work and what I have experienced.  At my school, which is in the East Bay (of the San Francisco Bay Area, that is) I personally know that we have teachers of various political and ideological persuasions.  For some classes, like math, P.E., foreign languages, etc., it really doesn't play much of a factor in what goes on in the classroom.  In other classes, like Social Studies, Language Arts/English, Sociology, etc. a teacher's beliefs can play more of a factor in what's being taught.

The first thing we need to acknowledge is this:  even if we teachers were all on the exact same page as far as our beliefs were concerned, and even if every one of us wanted to "indoctrinate" the kids into thinking the way we do, there would still be a little problem with that.  Do you really think that kids come into the class and listen to us like we're Yahweh delivering the 10 Commandments to Moses?  Do we really have such little faith in our kids that we think that they're just mindless automatons waiting for us to deliver them their marching orders?  Trust me, they're not.  If I tried getting all of these kids to think what I think, they'd resent me more than anything - even the ones who were already inclined to agree with me in the first place would see through such a thing, and any indoctrination would be more likely to backfire.

Have I had students tell me that my class changed the way they think?  A few times.  A freshman commented in her journal that she was no longer sure if she believed in Catholicism after learning about mythology, as she wondered if she had just been taught myths the same way those Medieval Vikings had.  Obviously, the reason why she said that is because I constantly tell my students that Christianity is stupid and just a bunch of myths.  Whenever I see a kid with a crucifix, I stop what I'm doing, point at it, and say, "That's dumb!"  Also, whenever they write about their personal beliefs, I have a big "WTF" stamp for those who express religious faith.

No, I don't do any of that stuff at all.  I just taught them about Greek and Norse myths.  I also point out that if they are of European ancestry that these were the religious beliefs of their great-great-great-etc. grandparents.  It's important to me that they know that these weren't simply stories but part of a religious tradition.  I say that because, well, it's TRUE.  As far as my personal beliefs regarding religion and faith, I don't even bring it up with the freshmen.  I've been asked before, and I answer honestly that I'm an atheist, but I don't go into it beyond that.  And no, I wouldn't begrudge a Christian answering that question truthfully either.  I figure in the case of this one student, if it wasn't what I taught her, it would have been something else.  She was no doubt already pointing in that direction, and my lessons just gave her one more reason to reject her faith.  I'm certain that there are plenty of kids who walk in Catholic in August and are just as Catholic in June.

I do tell my seniors what my personal beliefs are regarding religion, and I always debate with myself as to whether I should.  The reason why I do is that by the nature of the literature that we read (including a section on The Bible) we cover a lot of religious topics.  When I tell them where I stand, I tell them it's because it'll help them suss out any bias in what I'm saying just in case they detect it.  Beyond that, I don't go into my reasons for believing what I do, and on the few occasions when I'm asked, I tell the student that we can have a conversation after school if he or she wants, but I wasn't going to take up class time going into all of my issues with religion.  So, I try to keep it as respectful and balanced as possible, and I've had Christian students tell me that they appreciated that.  Not only that, but I've heard more than one Christian tell me that my lessons strengthened their faith and they appreciated the lessons for that.  I guess what I'm saying is that if I'm trying to indoctrinate my seniors into rejecting religion, I really SUCK at it!

Of course, there's more than just religious beliefs, but I figure that I'd focus on that since it's obviously a topic for which I have some passion.  There is also politics, of course.  When I teach my propaganda lessons, I try to pick on both the right and the left equally.  When I tell them that it's ridiculous to compare Obama to Hitler, I quickly follow it up by saying it's equally ridiculous to compare Bush to Hitler.

I have also assigned papers to students where they could write on controversial political topics.  I tell them from the get-go that it's about how they support their points and not whether they agree with me or not.  For instance, I happen to consider myself pro-choice when it comes to abortion.  Still, I've given D's to pro-choice papers and A's to pro-life papers (and vice-versa).

Okay, so that's just me.  What about all the rest.  Well, I think it's safe to say that my friends and colleagues handle things pretty much the same way.  We all have our beliefs, but we realize that forcing them on anybody is counter-productive and a disservice to what we believe.  Do we sometimes give an opinion?  Yes.  But we're sure to let the kids know that it's just our opinions and that they should make up their own minds.  I realize that this is hardly a scientific analysis, but I think I'd be safe in reckoning that we're not too different from other schools.

So, what are we really talking about here?  I think that a lot of these people who yell "indoctrination" so loudly are really just afraid of their kids being exposed to new ideas.  A colleague of mine was once contacted by an angry parent for "teaching Marxism".  The thing is, he was just teaching about it as an introduction to Animal Farm, and he was being entirely neutral about it and not just using the word like a pejorative.  This parent just didn't want his kid to even know about it.  That's ridiculous.  Am I teaching the kids to support regicide when I teach Macbeth?  Of course not.  I doubt a single kid has become a Marxist simply because he or she learned what it was.

I remember when I was young hearing that kids were "brainwashed" when they went to college into accepting homosexuals.  Well, if I compare my attitudes towards gay people before and after college, I guess I was "brainwashed" too.  How did that happen?  It probably had something to do with how my professors would tie me to a chair, force my eyes open, and listen to Cher records.  (Apologies to gay people out there who don't actually like Cher and resent being the expense of that joke.)  No, what happened was that I met gay people.  I had gay teachers, and they didn't begin every day by telling us about how sinful they were and how they were freaks.  They just wanted to be treated like people, and funny enough, all the gay people I met turned out to be just that...people.  So, brainwashed?  No.  Exposed to new ideas?  Yes.

Of course, we can get even more extreme with this.  Some people think that teaching basic science is indoctrination.  They feel like they're being persecuted for not having "Intelligent Design" taught in a place where it doesn't belong.  We could go on and on with that type of thing.

Let's face it.  Parents are the first teachers of a child.  If I were to put the shoe on the other foot, and imagine my son with a conservative social studies teacher, and let's say that this teacher didn't even make an effort to respect other viewpoints in his classroom, how would I feel?  (It's easy for me to picture this, as my school once had a teacher like this - and no, I don't think that all conservative teachers are like this, mainly because I know some who aren't like that at all.)  I'll admit that I wouldn't be happy with it, but I wouldn't be afraid that this guy would completely change my son's way of thinking.  I plan on teaching my son some critical thinking skills.  I'll teach him to pay attention to that teacher and apply those skills to what he's hearing - that way he can suss out the facts from the propaganda.

Wouldn't things be interesting if every student was that actively engaged in a classroom?

Comics Roundup for 7/4/12

Batman:  Earth One - I wasn't sure if I was going to pick up this graphic novel or not, but since it was a slow week, and I'm a fan of both creators, I decided to go for it.  I'm glad that I did, as it was a pretty solid read.  Basically the premise is that this is a retelling of Batman's origin, and it's not set in the present comic book continuity.  So, Geoff Johns and Gary Frank can have a lot more freedom with what they do.  There has already been one for Superman, and I've passed that up because frankly, I don't think I can take another Superman origin.  Batman though?  Did it need a retelling?  Probably not, but this one was different enough to keep things interesting.  It definitely counts both Batman:  Year One and Batman Begins as its influences, but it puts its own spin on things, really playing up the "Batman as amateur" angle that we usually don't see a lot of.  Also, it leaves things off for a sequel, as I'm fairly certain that this is supposed to be the first in a semi-regular series of books.

Honestly, I wonder if this is the future of comics.  At $4 a pop nowadays, I don't know how much longer the publishers can keep going in their present format.  If this is indeed a sign of things to come, then that's good with me.

One thing I do want to point out, after re-reading Gary Frank's run on The Incredible Hulk is that even though I consider him to be one of the best artists working today, I think I might like his older stuff better.  The older stuff was a bit more Alan Davis and less Joe Kubert, but perhaps his old style wouldn't have fit a book like this one as well.

And am I the only one who wishes they were still doing Action Comics?  That was some of the best Superman stuff I've ever read.

Avengers Versus X-Men #7 - The Avengers are down, but they're not out.  This was a pretty good installment, and the stakes are being raised as Namor decides to take matters into his own hands.  I'm still not certain how he ever became part of the X-Men, but it's interesting to see him have his loyalties with them, especially when he's sharing part of the Phoenix force.

The Amazing Spider-Man #689 - Even when an issue is nothing special, this series is always a fun read with Dan Slott on board.  Basically it continues what was set up last issue - Doc Connors is physically back to normal, but his brain is still that of The Lizard's.  Oh, and there's Morbius.

Justice League #10 - I'm starting to think that perhaps Grant Morrison has said all there is to say with the Justice League.  With this series, I liked the introductory story well enough, and there are some good character interactions going on with this one.  However, it just doesn't feel as special as I think it should.  Honestly, I'm kinda digging the Shazam! backup stories more.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Be a man!

When teaching Macbeth to my high school seniors, one of the motifs that I point out in the play is that there are several characters commenting on what it means to "be a man".  The title character himself states: "I dare do all that may become a man.  Who dares do more is none!" only to have his wife dismiss that notion, saying that he was only a man when he was willing to kill the king in order to get ahead in life.  She sways him over to her definition of what constitutes masculinity:  ruthlessness and ambitiousness.

Recently, I had somebody tell me that he hoped that I didn't raise my son to be a "pussy" like me.  He said it because I had deleted him from my friends list on Facebook.  Why did I delete him?  Because he couldn't have a debate without engaging in personal attacks, and sometimes he engaged in personal attacks even when there wasn't a debate.  After being asked several times by various people why I'd keep such a person on my friends list, I finally realized that yeah, maybe there wasn't any point in having a person on my list whose sole purpose in life seemed to be to try and humiliate me.  Anyway, the line insulting my masculinity came in a private message after I dropped him from my list.

I'm not too worried about it, as I'm pretty comfortable in my masculinity, but it got me to thinking about what "being a man" means in today's world.  I finally was prompted to write about it after witnessing the behavior of a little boy, just a few months older than my son, at the playground today.  I'm hoping that kid was just having an off-day, but he was blocking my son's way and pushing him.  (I'm not saying that my son has never pushed before, but he stops as soon as I tell him not to.)  Even more disturbing, he stood in the way of a little girl and used his whole body to pin her to the wall of the play structure.  I think if I ever saw Logan do that, I'd lock him away in a dungeon somewhere.  (To the boy's mom's credit, she did take him home because he kept misbehaving.)

Now, I don't think that anybody would defend that kid's behavior and/or say that there's something inherently masculine about it, but I couldn't help but compare it to the way my son behaves.  Generally speaking, he's a sweet little guy.  When my friend was over just this evening, he asked my friend for a hug and told him that he loved him when he left.  At the playground, he often finds himself playing with little girls (they're usually a few years older than him).  Also, when I explained to him why the little boy was being taken home by his mom (Logan seemed really concerned that the kid was crying) Logan reached over and gave me a hug.

Maybe I don't have my head screwed on right, but those qualities aren't what I think of when I think of typical "male" qualities.  Don't get me wrong though; I'm not worried about it.  Even if I was, he shows plenty of stereotypical maleness:  he's a little daredevil, he falls down and picks himself right back up while saying "I okay!", his knees are rarely without scabs, he rocks out to heavy metal music, and he likes to have growling contests with me.

Some time ago, I was reading some blog comments, and the discussion was about gay people who raise children.  One guy said that he didn't think that two women could teach a kid how to play football or "be a man" (no matter how "butch" they were - I remember that exact phrase) and the same was true vice/versa for two men who had a little girl.  The first thing that I thought was that Logan's never going to learn much about sports from me.  Does this mean that he'll never be a real man?  My wife loathes shopping as much as I do.  If we had a girl, does that mean she wouldn't learn how to be a real woman?

Again, I'm not worried about it, but to me the notion that two women can't raise a "real man" is ridiculous.  Even if athleticism equaled manliness, I think it's safe to say that there are plenty of women who teach a young boy some sportsmanship.  I was recently reading an article in Time about the U.S. Synchronized Swimming team.  There's also a video where the reporter, Sean Gregory, tries to take a lesson from the women.  Guess what?  Those women, who do what many would think of as something decidedly feminine, kick some serious ass.  They could teach any boy a thing or two about dedication, perseverance, and all those other things that makes up a stellar athlete.  (Gotta point out that one of the team members is a former student of mine.  I was willing to make arrangements with her to finish up the semester early so she could train and get ready for the Olympics.  So, what I'm saying is that any success they have is really pretty much due to me.)

So yeah, I'm not going to be very good at teaching my son about sports.  My wife played tennis, so maybe she can take the reins on that one.  And if something ever happens to me, I'm sure that he'll grow up to be a fine man with only her guidance.  (I'm not eager to put that to the test.)

So, what do I think it means to be a man?  I'm not sure, exactly.  I'm a bit more concerned about making sure that my son is a decent human being.  I don't care if he becomes a professional quarterback or a professional drag queen, so long as he's doing what he wants to do and treats other people the way they ought to be treated.

Toward the end of Macbeth, we get another idea of what it means to "be a man".  Macduff, upon learning that his wife and children have been killed by Macbeth's assassins, is told by Prince Malcolm to "Dispute it like a man."  Macduff responds by saying, "I shall do so.  But I must also feel it as a man.  I cannot but remember such things that were most precious to me."  Heartlessness?  That's not manliness to Macduff.  Being a man means having a heart.  The rest is just details.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Second Best Spider-Man Movie

I got a chance to see The Amazing Spider-Man last night, and I thought that as a life-long Spidey fan, I'd write my thoughts about it.  I already went into the wherefores and merits of doing a reboot, so I don't want to cover that again.  Instead, I just want to talk about the movie, although it will be impossible to not take the Raimi/Maguire franchise into consideration.

For starters, I have to say that I agree with Roger Ebert's review.  This probably is the second-best Spider-Man film, right behind Spider-Man 2, which I wrote about back when I did "Movie a Day" After that comes Raimi's original and then, of course, the dud that was Spider-Man 3.  (Which I still maintain had some good ideas in it but just didn't come together.  It's not like it was Batman and Robin level bad.)

I have some friends who really love the first, and even think that it was better than the second.  I've already written about why I like the second so much, so let me just point out a couple things that I thought worked better with this new one versus the original origin story.

First of all, the dialogue was a lot better.  There are several moments in the first one where everything just sounds so clunky.  The bits that come to mind include when we are first introduced to Aunt May and Uncle Ben - "Just don't fall on your ass" and the conversations between Peter and Mary Jane.  Also, there's that really awful "Deliver us...FROM EVILLLLLLLLLLL!!!!!!!" line that Aunt May gives.  With the new one, it's all a lot snappier, and I reckon that the actors got to do some improv with their lines, making it all sound much more natural.  There were some genuine nice bits of interaction between the characters.

Secondly, the emotional parts resonated a lot more.  Much like with Batman Begins, where we had seen the death of the Waynes many times before but Nolan's film made us actually care about it, this new Spider-Man film made Uncle Ben's death resonate with me who has read/seen it countless times.

One thing that I was most concerned about, as I knew that they were going to mess around with Spidey's origin a bit with this film, was whether they were going to get the heart of the story correct.  I was even still worried about it through the first third of the film.  That's the one thing that's always the most important to me, and when I discuss film adaptations with my English students, I always ask them whether the movie was getting the heart of it right even though some details had to be changed.

I can assure you that this was definitely the Spider-Man that I know.  Sure, a lot of details were there that I've never seen before (like him riding a skateboard) but they got the whole "With great power comes great responsibility" part right, even though nobody utters that line exactly.  Spider-Man is a guy who's driven by a sense that he cannot fail anybody, and he does what he does because he feels like he HAS to.  It's an obsession, not too unlike what you see with Shakespeare's tragic heroes.

The other thing that stood out to me was that this film is definitely darker than the original series.  I had heard that the director, Mark Webb, was going for that kind of a vibe, and I was a bit concerned.  Spider-Man is not Batman.  He's more of a lighthearted character, and his adventures need to reflect this.  However, with that said, some of the best Spider-Man comics contain various dark undertones to them.  After seeing the film, I can definitely say that the tone, while different from the last series, was true to the character.  Spider-Man inhabits a grittier world, but the character himself is still fun to watch.  And ironically enough, this film made more of an effort to get across that Spider-Man is a bit of a motormouth and is constantly cracking jokes.  I hope that they continue with that into the next one, as they managed to make it work.

My only complaint is the costume.  While this new one isn't horrible, and it makes sense in the context of this film (how the heck was Peter ever able to construct one like he did in the original series?) I'm hoping that he gets the design a little more precise for the next installment.  Here's hoping we get a few more good movies out of this team; and even more importantly, hopefully the studios won't make Mark Webb include villains that he doesn't want to use.