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.