Saturday, June 30, 2012

Hulk smash Peter David!

Several weeks ago, I was watching The Incredible Hulk (the one with Ed Norton).  When my wife brought Logan out from his bath, it was the big fight scene at the end with The Abomination.  Logan sat down and was quite mesmerized by it.  When he saw The Hulk let loose and smash stuff, he would point and yell out with a great deal of enthusiasm.  It made perfect sense to me.  After all, if a toddler had the strength of The Hulk, they'd easily cause just as much destruction.  In other words, on some level my son was thinking, "Hey, I can really relate to this guy."

This got me to thinking about Hulk comic books, and the somewhat sizable collection that I happen to have of them.  I recently got rid of a lot of them, but I kept all of those that were written by Peter David.  While I don't have his entire run, I do have all of them from about 1990 to when he did his final issue in 1998.  A quick Wikipedia search shows that he started in 1988, so I haven't quite read all of his stuff.  (I do notice that what I'm missing has been collected in trade paperbacks, so I'm thinking of ordering those to complete the collection.)

I then went about re-reading all of those books, and I tell ya, few things are better than when you read something that you loved as a teenager and continue to love it as an adult.  That's exactly what happened with these comics.  While I probably don't enjoy them for the same reasons as I did back then, the fact that they continue to be just as entertaining is a big plus.

Anyway, I got on board the title when Dr. Bruce Banner was reverting to a grey Hulk when the sun went down.  As the grey Hulk, he wasn't as strong as he was when he was green, but he was smarter.  Still, his personality was definitely different from Banner's, and while smarter than the "Hulk smash!" version, he wasn't a genius like Banner either.

This had been going on in the comics for some time before I started picking them up.  While I wasn't reading the series, I knew about what was going on, as The Hulk would make guest-appearances in other Marvel titles that I was reading.  Anyway, the first issue that I picked up involved Bruce Banner getting in a situation that made him get REALLY angry.  (He was trying to reunite with his wife, but some guy in a strange vehicle was trying to kidnap him - not worrying about The Hulk since it was broad daylight.)

It's such an awesome sequence.  Banner keeps trying to get away from the guy and get to his wife, who's boarding a train.  He gets more and more frustrated with the guy in the mystery vehicle, and then he finally breaks down.  The change is so violent that the skin on his back starts to tear, and the classic Green Hulk bursts out of Banner's skin, rather than just simply transforming.  Much of the power of it is owed to the artwork of Dale Keown.  (See the picture?  See Banner's skin?)

Basically what Peter David set up, which is based on the works of writers who came before him, is that there were actually THREE distinct personalities.  There was Banner, grey Hulk, and green Hulk.  The green one represented Banner's repressed childhood anger from when he watched his father kill his mother.  The grey one was his repressed cocky arrogant young man.  Banner was the guy who tried to keep all of his emotions in control and had all of the intelligence.

The climax of the storyline was when all three personalities went to war with each other, causing all sorts of crazy transformations and a monster that was shifting colors and arguing with itself.  The resolution was to put all three personalities into one, creating a green Hulk with Banner's face.  He had the intelligence of Banner, the attitude of the grey Hulk, and the ability to get stronger as he got madder, just like the green Hulk.

Of course, there's a lot more that went on, as that storyline only took up a few issues.  From there, The Hulk went on to become the leader of a group of proactive heroes called The Pantheon.  His anger eventually got to be too great, and he would revert to Banner whenever he lost control.  (Which is really inconvenient when he's in a fight.)  He fought aliens, other monsters, other heroes, all sorts of good stuff that you'd want to see in a comic book.

What made it a great run of comics was that it was always switching things up.  It never got stuck in a rut, and there was always a new direction to keep things interesting.  Plus, Peter David always kept the right combination of pathos, action, and humor in the title.  The wacky situations weren't taken too seriously, but all of the human emotions were serious and kept me involved as a reader.

I also have to mention that this series had a pretty serious impact on how I saw the world.  There was an issue where one of the Hulk's former sidekicks died due to complications from AIDS.  I remember the end of the issue where a character asked Hulk how the guy got AIDS in the first place, to which the hero responded that it "didn't matter" and all that mattered was that the guy was his friend.  Younger folks might not remember how AIDS was considered "the gay disease" for some time, and oftentimes the focus shifted from the fact that people were dying to the notion that perhaps they did something to deserve it.  I remember talking with my parents about it afterward, and I said that this was going to be my attitude when it came to people who had the disease.  Honestly, I didn't have to re-read that issue to remember how much it resonated with me, but I was definitely looking forward to reading it again.  Amazing how one panel of a comic book can stick with you nearly twenty years later, huh?

Of course, there were some really great artists on the title as well.  Most notably were the aforementioned Dale Keown, Gary Frank, and Adam Kubert.  They all brought their own unique style to the title, and it was a real joy to see that artwork again.

Every now and then, I go through my comics collection and purge some stuff that I'm pretty sure I will never read again.  This particular set of comics survived every purge so far, and I think it's safe to say that it will survive the next one as well.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Who's afraid of the reboot?

Next week comes the new Spider-Man movie, which is a reboot of the franchise and pretty much ignores the past three movies.  I don't want to get too much into this, but basically the reason why they're rebooting is because Sony owns the rights to make Spider-Man movies, and if they don't make a picture within a certain amount of time, the rights revert to Marvel, which now has its own studio but did not at the time that the first Spider-Man film came out.  They were going to try and do a fourth with Raimi and Maguire, but those two asked for too much money, which probably was deliberate on their part.  So, that's why they're rebooting it.

A lot of folks are wondering/criticizing how a film series can be rebooted so quickly, and that's all a fair point, but I'm going to look at this from a different angle.  From a comic book fan's perspective, I'm actually really interested in seeing another actor/director's take on the character.  After all, it's not like the original creative team of the comics, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, still work on the comic.  There have been countless creative teams over the years, and this is basically the same thing.  Not only that, but we've seen the origin told several times by now (although I do agree that this new movie could just gloss over the origin and get on with things - from what I understand, the basic idea is still the same).

I say do a few movies with this creative team, and then move on to another director and vision, either ignoring or including things that happened before as you see fit.  After all, it worked for the James Bond franchise for decades.

This leads me to what they're going to do with Batman after the next film.  Christopher Nolan has explained that he plans on ending his particular series after this third film.  After that will come the inevitable reboot.  From what I understand, the producers have said that they want to follow the old James Bond formula and just keep going without necessarily retelling Batman's origin.  (And why do so when he has one of the best origin story movies ever made?)  I think that's the right idea.  At the same time, I don't want to see them being too slavish to Nolan's series.

I love what the man has done with the character (hopefully he didn't blow it for part III) but as a fan of the comics, I know that there's a whole side to the character and his world that can still be explored.  While Nolan's Batman operated in a world that's as close to the real world as a superhero film can get, the comic book character lives in a world populated by superheroes, science fiction, and the supernatural.  I'd like to see them introduce this back into the hero's film mythology.

Of course, they would have to be careful about it.  One of the more off-putting things about Batman Returns was the inexplicable supernatural rebirth of Selina Kyle.  The last film didn't have any supernatural in it, but then BOOM, there it is with no explanation.

However, we know that these sorts of genre mashups CAN be done effectively.  How do I know that?  Well, a little film called The Avengers essentially proved it.  The Iron Man films also operated in a "real" world environment as well, and yet the team-up film managed to seamlessly blend him in with the supernatural elements of Thor and the sci-fi elements of The Incredible Hulk.  (Not that Iron Man isn't sci-fi, but it's a different kind than the type that The Hulk represents.)

Anyway, I'll probably post a blog about my thoughts regarding The Amazing Spider-Man after I see it.  The good news is that the early buzz is pretty positive.  Here's hoping that they don't let an old Spidey fan like myself down.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Why I don't like the term "agnostic"

Before I proceed with today's ramblings, let me first clear something up as to what I am saying versus what I am NOT saying.  By the title, what I mean is that I don't like the term "agnostic" when it comes to describing myself.  In other words, I don't have a problem with anybody who describes him/herself as one.  It's just not a word that immediately springs to mind when somebody asks me what my religious views are and/or whether I believe in a god or not.

I first heard the term back when I was going to my local community college and took a Philosophy of Judeo-Christian Principles class.  (Sometimes I wonder if I would have ever stopped considering myself a Christian had I never taken that class - but that's another story.)  I remember the teacher explaining that he was an agnostic and what that meant.  I remember several students, Christians especially, trying to take him to task for this position.  I, however, respected it.  At the time, I still believed in the basic Christian theology, but I was willing to admit that I didn't "know" that it was true.  It was a belief.  In other words, I could have been wrong.  (And I started to suspect that I was when I learned about pre-Christian religions like Zoroastrianism.  Again, another story.)

Flash forward a few years when I was talking to a friend of mine who was a Catholic.  I explained that I believed in Jesus and all that, but I had a hard time saying that I "knew" it was true, and I admitted that I had my doubts.  However, for the time being, I was going to continue to believe what felt right to me.  She said to me, "You sound like an agnostic."  While that was a position that I respected, it didn't quite feel right to me.  One definition of the word is:  "A person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God or of anything beyond material phenomena".  Considering that I wasn't making any knowledge claims, I acknowledged that it did fit, but still, I was willing to place my bets that a God did exist.

Skip ahead a few more years, and I remember telling my parents that I was an agnostic.  I simply did not believe in Christianity.  However, I was willing to admit that I could be wrong about that, and I was willing to admit that there might still be a God.  I still leaned a bit toward there being one, but I simply wasn't sure.

Several years later, I made an attempt to read The Bible while riding BART to work.  I was about halfway through the Old Testament when I decided that there was no way in hell I could believe this stuff.  I also remember reasoning that since I no longer believed in the Christian God, and I didn't believe in any other version, then that must have made me an atheist.  I figured that "agnostic" didn't quite fit because if somebody pointed a gun to my head and asked me if a God existed, and the wrong answer would result in my brains being splattered everywhere, my gut instinct would be "no".

I still don't think that it's possible to "know" if a god exists, at least when we're talking about it in the deistic sense of the word.  Did some intelligent force create the universe for whatever purpose?  I don't think so.  But how could I "know" it one way or another?

I still go with the term "atheist" because if I look at the word "theism" it's defined as "Belief in the existence of a god or gods, esp. belief in one god as creator of the universe, intervening in it and sustaining a personal relation to his creatures."  A theist is a person whose philosophy matches that.  Well, mine doesn't.  If only there was some handy Greek prefix that I could attach to the word "theist" to indicate that I'm not one of those.

So, skip ahead to the present day.  While debating theists, I'm often told that I sound more like an agnostic.  Sometimes when debating agnostics, I find out that when we describe our beliefs, we don't seem to disagree on anything other than what we should call ourselves.  There was a time when I wanted my self-described agnostic friends to 'fess up that they were atheists too.  After all, they claimed no belief in a deity.  That technically makes them one.  This "agnostic" stance has a "shit or get off the pot" kind of vibe to me.  What's wrong with admitting that you don't know something for sure but still having an opinion?

I think I'm finally realizing that it's pointless to argue that though.  These are folks who will side with me when it comes to teaching creationism in the classroom and/or basing public policy off of religious tenets.  Why make enemies with them?

And maybe when people tell me that I sound more like an agnostic, I should just say:  "Sure, why not?"

I don't have to like it though.  Maybe I should just stick with the word "skeptic".

Comics Roundup for 6/27/12

Aquaman #10 - I'm thinking that I need to go back and re-read this entire series, as I was a bit confused as to who the characters were at the beginning.  The second part was decent, but it didn't seem to move the story forward.  Geoff Johns seems determined to create an elaborate mythology for the character, and Aquaman is a logical choice for that sort of a thing, but I'm not entirely convinced that it's working or not.  Considering that Johns has given me seven years worth of good Green Lantern comics, I'm willing to keep going with this book a while.

Spider-Men #2 - This issue has the obligatory superhero fight and reconciliation.  It's entertaining enough, but it doesn't do much to move the story forward.  I still need to get on top of my Ultimate Spider-Man reading, but I like this Miles Morales Spider-Man so far.

Hit-Girl #1 - I would have preferred for this to be a sequel to Kick Ass 2, as that one ended with Hit-Girl's arrest, but this one seems to be taking place during that series.  That's okay, as I'm entertained, as usual, with Mark Millar's writing.  And once again, I'd like to point out that while this stuff works great in a comic, I'm really not sure that I'd want to see some little girl act all this stuff out.

Batman Incorporated #2 - This one's all about Talia al Ghul, the daughter of Ra's al Ghul, and it's a good one.  She's always been an interesting character, but Grant Morrison has added a few new dimensions to her by delving into what the deal is with her mother.  Anyway, once again it's good to see this book back on the stands.

Wolverine and the X-Men #12 - I'm really curious as to how how this whole AvX business is going to end.  I was thinking that by the time it did, there would be no way that Wolverine would still be part of The Avengers.  Now I'm wondering how he can ever go back to being an X-Man after all this, as he certainly isn't endearing himself to his fellow mutants.  Anyway, good stuff, even though Chris Bachalo's artwork is oftentimes needlessly complex.

The Amazing Spider-Man #688 - What if you can change Doc Connors back to his human form, but he's still The Lizard on the inside?  That's the big question here.  Oh, and what if the guy from whom you need help is a "living" vampire?  That certainly complicates things.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Guess I gotta be a Catholic now

Much has been made on the net lately about Leah Libresco, a "prominent" atheist blogger who has converted to Catholicism.  Forgive my quotes, as I've never heard of her until this conversion.  Now, I don't mean to imply that a person can't be prominent if I don't know of her, but I'm pretty familiar with various atheist bloggers and forums, so I'm just going to have to take everybody's word that this was a person who held some importance in the online atheist community.

Since she's converted, I guess that I have no choice but to become a Catholic myself.  Never mind all of my objections to things like the supernatural, the idea of a god, Christianity in general, Catholicism in particular; if an atheist has converted, then obviously I need to follow suit.  So, this Sunday I'll be there at mass, and I'm going to get me some prayer beads (that is a thing, right?) and learn how to do the sign of the cross properly.  I'll also take a mental note of all the commandments I've broken this week and get ready to confess them.  (What's that?  Why can't I just pray directly to God and tell Him myself?  What do I look like?  Some frikken' Protestant?)

At least, this was the plan until I learned about a couple of Catholics who converted to Islam.  Maybe I should just skip the middle step, declare that there is no God but Allah and that Mohammed is his prophet, and then I'll start pointing East and praying to Mecca twice a day?  (Five times?  Dang.)

Of course, it gets even more complicated that there's a Muslim who converted to Catholicism.  Am I doomed to live my life in an endless flip flopping of confession booths to prayer mats?

Maybe I should just start again from square one.  After all, there was an agnostic who converted to Judaism.   Antony Flew became a deist.  A self-described "belligerent atheist" became a Hindu!

Crud.  What the heck am I going to do?  This is difficult enough, especially considering that I once considered myself a Christian and would eagerly argue in favor of the existence of (The Christian) God.  Not only that, but there are many nonbelievers out there who were very religious at one point.  Some of them were even members of the clergy!

Because let's be honest, every time a Christian hears about somebody who leaves the faith and becomes a nonbeliever, all of those Christians drop their Bibles and immediately renounce their faith.  I mean, that's the way it works, right?

Or maybe it's a better idea to not get too caught up in who's converting to what.  Maybe the important thing is to pay attention to the reasons for believing in various religions and/or not believing in any of them.

Years ago, I was reading the book Into the Wild.  In it, the story recounts a man who declared himself to be an atheist because a young man whom he admired died while living out in the wilderness.  He figured that there was no way God could exist and let that sort of a thing happen.  What was my reaction to all this?  I didn't think: "Yes!  One more to add to the ranks!"  No.  I thought:  "That's a bad reason to be an atheist."  After all, a god could exist, and that god could be cruel or indifferent.  Shoot, even the "mysterious ways" argument might be true (although I can much more easily accept one of the former ideas over that one).

What about Leah Libresco though?  She spells out her reasons here.  She strikes me as being sincere.  One thing that I will not do is question her motivations and/or accuse her of not being a "real" atheist.  Honestly, it seems to me that she is just being honest with the way she sees things and feels about the world.  Now, I think that she's mistaken and gone off the rails, but then again, maybe I'm the one who's mistaken.

Reading her post, I get a bit lost in the philosophical talk at the beginning.  I'm not very well-read in all of that, so maybe there's something that I'm just not getting.  Still, there isn't anything in there that directly addresses my objections to faith, or most of the arguments you hear from my fellow nonbelievers.  In other words, her conversion isn't having much of an impact on me.  I'd be more impressed if they discovered verifiable, historical documents for the life of Jesus or something more tangible like that.  Instead, it's all a bit too heavy on the philosophical side of things, and it strikes me as an argument that she's believing something because she likes the idea of it moreso than she's believing it because it's actually been proven.  Maybe I'm wrong.

And that's what we need to take from anybody who changes their mind about something.  What were their reasons?  If a guy I really admire, like Neil deGrasse Tyson, said tomorrow that aliens are visiting us, then I respect him enough to at least read what he has to say on the matter.  However, if he gives the same kind of "evidence" for this that we get from the usual loons, then I'm not going to be convinced of that either.

It's the reasoning that's important - not the person.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

This latest thing that Obama has done

No doubt by now you've heard the latest thing that our so-called Commander In Chief has done.  Does it surprise you that he has done this thing?  It certainly doesn't surprise me.  Real Americans like me have been warning that he would do things like this thing that he has done ever since he ran for office.  Was Jeremiah Ayers not enough of a hint to let you know that he believes these things that are not the things which one should believe?

Of course, all of the liberals are coming out defending him.  Some are saying:  "I'm pretty sure that Bush did this exact same thing, and you didn't seem to have a problem with it."  Others are saying:  "Actually, he didn't do that thing at all.  You shouldn't believe every email forward you read."  Then, the most laughable of all:  "You're not even being specific about what this thing is that he's done!  It sounds like you're judging it to be bad simply based on the fact that Obama did it, whatever that thing actually is.  Are you sure that he even did something?"

Well, what else can you expect from LIBTARDS who, when confronted with facts, must resort to calling people names?  These are the very same people who all make sweeping generalizations about a group of people.  Every single one of them always speaks in absolute statements, and not one of them ever allows for any sort of nuance whatsoever.  Don't get me started on how redundant they are, what with their way of essentially repeating themselves only with changing up the wording a little.

This President is managing to destroy this country.  Yes, that's right.  This country, the greatest one of all time which has seen a Revolution, a Civil War, The Great Depression, two world wars, and the invasion of Grenada is going to be completely annihilated because of this one President and his hatred of America.  That's right.  He hates America.  What proof do you need?  What more do you need than the fact that he did this latest thing that I wrote about at the start of this?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Hell is empty and the devils are here!

Betcha thought I was going to do a rant on religion when you read that title, eh?  Well, I hate to disappoint, but that's a line from William Shakespeare's The Tempest.  You know Shakespeare, right?  He also wrote such famous works as Hamlet, Romeo & Juliet, and a bunch of sonnets that some people think proves that he was gay.

Turns out this Shakespeare fella still has a bit of a following, and there are Shakespeare festivals all around the world.  The closest one to me is CalShakes.  For our 10th anniversary, my wife bought us season tickets.  The plays are The Tempest, Spunk, Blithe Spirit, and Hamlet.  No, the middle two aren't Shakespeare plays.  I'm fairly certain that it's pretty common for these things to have some non-Shakespeare works as part of the program.

I'm most excited about Hamlet since that's probably in my top five favorite things ever written, along with the facts that I've taught it for several years and seen many movie versions of it.  The two non-Shakespeare plays I don't know, but after reading about them, they certainly seem interesting, and I'm sure that I'll be entertained.  As for The Tempest?  That's one with which I am mostly unfamiliar.  I knew that there was a guy named Prospero and he was some kind of magician, and I also knew that it involved an island and some sort of tempest.  Beyond that, it was a new one for me.

I decided that I wanted to read it first, since sometimes that Shakespeare fella's language can be a bit confusing; however, if I go in with some familiarity, then I'm able to follow along pretty well.  I'll be honest though - for as much as I like Shakespeare, I don't know if I can say that I enjoy sitting down and reading his plays all by myself.  Ideally, I'd have a bunch of my friends with me, and we'd all pick parts and read it together.  I don't think that this is so strange, as the man wasn't trying to write novels.  He was writing for the stage, and it was meant to be heard out loud.

Basically what I'm saying is that I only got through about 1/4 of it.  I brought it with me to the play though, and since we arrived early, I was able to get through about the 2/3 point.  I figured that would be good enough for me to follow along and know who's who and what's what.

So, what did I think?  I loved it.  While the characters seemed interesting enough on the page, seeing some good actors bring them to life really did the trick for me.  This was especially true in the scene where Ariel, a fairy, pleaded with Prospero to free her from his service.  Erika Chong Shuch was able to create a character that was believable as a fairy-tale creature but still had some genuine emotions that made me empathize with her.

I've been to a few performances at CalShakes before, and I haven't always liked all the actors.  This one though?  I don't think that there was a weak link in the bunch.  Everybody did their parts rather well - which is really saying something considering that many of them played multiple roles (and I'm not just talking minor characters here - they'd jump from one major part to the next, and sometimes they'd do their costume changes right there on the stage, but the director did a good job of keeping the audience focused on something else as that would happen, then BOOM, the actor would be a different character!)

As is usual, a lot was cut out of the text.  I usually don't mind that, but I was looking forward to seeing the part of Gonzalo, as he was rather amusing; however, his part was completely cut.  Also, they tossed in a few lines and modern references.  That sort of a thing can get tedious, but the director reigned it in and saved it for the comedic bits, which is where it works best.  (I suppose I could check the text, but I have a feeling that Shakespeare didn't make a reference to tilapia in the original.)

For those who don't know the play, I'm not going to get into a plot summary, but let's just say that the play is neither a comedy nor is it a tragedy.  It's considered to be one of Shakespeare's romance plays.  If you're only familiar with the first two though, then it definitely leans heavier toward what you find in the comedies.  There are a lot of laughs and everything gets wrapped up rather nicely instead of a bloodbath.  The main theme that I picked up on dealt with forgiveness being preferable to revenge, as Prospero starts off rather bitter and angry at the beginning, but witnessing his daughter fall in love tends to soften his heart a bit.

There's also a nice bit where Prospero addresses the audience directly, and from the reading I've done, this has been taken as Shakespeare's way of inserting his own thoughts rather directly into it.  The director added a nice bit to all that as Prospero tries to turn on a light bulb using magic.  However, since he has given up his magical powers, it obviously doesn't work for him.  So, what does he do?  He walks up to it and flips the switch.  It was a pretty powerful statement on how theater is like magic in a sense, and when it's all over, we have to go back to playing by the rules of the real world.
We are such stuffAs dreams are made on; and our little lifeIs rounded with a sleep.

Saturday, June 23, 2012


I wrote a post about being an atheist as a result of my skepticism a few days ago.  In that post, I also identified myself as an antitheist.  What is an antitheist?  According to Wikipedia, antitheism is "active opposition to theism. The term has had a range of applications; in secular contexts, it typically refers to direct opposition to organized religion or to the belief in any deity, while in a theistic context, it sometimes refers to opposition to a specific god or gods."  Upon further reflection, I've decided that antitheism is too broad of a term for me to find it a comfortable fit.  Let's break it down a bit at a time to look at why I don't quite like it.

First of all "direct opposition to organized religion".  Well, I do kinda resemble that remark.  I don't have a lot of good things to say about it.  I've written several blog posts about it.  However, do I go around picketing my local churches and other houses of worship?  No.  When somebody tells me that they're going to church, do I make it a point to say, "Why are you doing that?  That's hella STOOPID!"  Not really.  Also, this is just too broad of a term.  It makes it sound like I oppose everything that every organized religion does.    Back when I visited a church a few years ago, one of the things that I thought was good was the sense of community that was there, and it was cool how the people knew that their fellow church-goers would be there to help them out in times of need.

Next up is the bit about opposition to the belief in any deity.  If everybody was taking my opinion as to whether they should believe in a god or not, I'd say:  ""  However, do I oppose it?  That's too strong a word.  I realize some people probably think that I go up and confront every theist I see, but I really don't do that.  My in-laws believe in a god, but they don't really talk about it that much, and I've never tried to convince them otherwise.  Plus, I have maintained some pretty good relationships with former students who are believers over the years, and somehow I doubt if I was like that in person that they'd want much to do with me.  Again, yes, I write about this stuff, and I even post my blogs to Facebook.  But the way I figure it, I'm not forcing anybody to read it.  Folks know where I stand, and they can skip it or check it out.

But honestly I don't care if a person believes in a god or not.  I used to believe, and I don't think that I was a danger to myself or anybody else as a result of it.  Now, if they want to tell me about decisions that I need to make based on what this god wants, that's a different story.  However, I don't find this happening all that much with the theists I know.

Lastly is the part stating that antitheism "sometimes refers to opposition to a specific god or gods".  Of course, this is a weird idea if you don't believe in something, how can you be opposed to it?  I mean, I guess I'm opposed to Voldemort.  Does that mean I'm an anti-Voldemort?  (Damn right I am!  I don't care if he is the heir of Slytherin!  He's a lousy mudblood!  Tom Riddle, indeed!)  In all fairness though, I think that this is basically saying that IF certain gods were to exist, you'd be opposed to them.  Does that fit me?

Well, I guess it all depends on which god we're talking about, doesn't it?  Now, I also don't want to make a blanket statement and say that I would oppose the Christian God if He were real, mainly because there are so many different ideas as to exactly what that means.  So, let me just go with the predominant notion that Jesus is God, died for our sins, and anybody who believes in him will have eternal life; whereas those who do not will be condemned to eternal hellfire.  That version?  Yeah.  That sucks.  I couldn't even begin to pretend to love such a being.  I could go into reasons, but that would probably be another post all together, and haven't all the "New Atheists" covered why this is screwed up enough for anybody who cares to know?

Other versions of Jesus?  Well, tell me what you got, and I'll take it as a case-by-case basis.  Beyond the Christian God, I don't care for the other versions of him that are described in the other Abrahmic faiths either.  I also think that Zeus seems like kind of a tool, and his dad Cronus had some issues.  Odin is ridiculously capricious, and I'd hate to think that he's up there calling the shots.

However, there are some gods that, if they were real, I'd dig them and probably find it worth my time to offer praise and/or prayer.  Who are the gods I like?

Prometheus - Here's a guy who not only gave us fire but taught us how to get one over on all those nasty, mean-spirited gods of Olympus.  Plus, he was willing to be tortured FOREVER (take that, Jesus!) as a result.  Not only that, but when Zeus wanted to completely wipe out humanity in a flood (not even being as magnanimous as Yahweh and spare a few folks) Prometheus was there to make sure that humanity endured. Basically, Prometheus has our backs, and he's getting his liver pecked out so you can enjoy barbecue.

Thor - He kills Frost Giants and all kinds of awful creatures.  I've never met a Frost Giant, but they seem pretty nasty.  I'd be willing to wear a Mjolnir amulet around my neck to thank the big guy for doing us a solid like that.

Ninkasi - She gave us beer.  'Nuff said.

So, am I an antitheist?  Kinda, but not really.

Rest in peace, Oliver

This morning I had to say my final goodbye to my cat, Oliver.  We had the mobile vet come over to put him down, as we wanted his last day to be as stress-free as possible.  And as most people who own cats know, a car ride can be pretty stressful.  Our vet is a half hour away now that we've moved, so it was good to avoid that.

Unfortunately, he really hated getting the shot that gave him the sedative.  He growled and struggled with it, but after that you could see that he was getting groggy, and then laid down to relax.  When the final shot was put in, he didn't put up a fight at all, and the last thing he knew was me scratching him behind the ears.

The reason my wife and I decided to put him down was that he had what looked like a tumor in his eye.  Last week, Kirsti noticed that his eye was all cloudy.  We figured that maybe he had cataracts or had injured it while playing with the dog or our son.  Since it didn't clear up in a few days, we took him to the vet.  Our vet recommended that we take him to the eye doctor, but he feared that it was a tumor.  Like any good doctor, he didn't want to make any wild speculations, but I got a sense for his attitude about the situation when I mentioned at the end of the appointment that Oliver was behind on his shots.  The doctor replied, "Let's wait and see what's going on with this."  Oddly enough, that reply makes me more likely to trust him, as he could have made a little bit of money off of me right there, but he had a suspicion that it probably would have just been a waste.

Sure enough, the eye doctor concluded that it was most likely a tumor, and it also looked like it was spreading into his other eye.  Of course, she went over all of our options - which included everything from putting him on medication to removing his eye - neither of which really had a guarantee or high likelihood of adding a significant amount to his life and well-being.

I didn't want to go through all that.  The thing is, he was still his old self, and it didn't seem to be bothering him.  However, chances were high that it would start to get painful for him. I figured that I'd keep him for a few more days, spoil him, and then put him down on a good day. Is it possible that he might have had a lot of good days left in him?  I suppose.  But I'd rather make the mistake of putting him down while he's happy than waiting for him to start suffering.

Ollie was a great cat.  My wife and I got him from animal control shortly after my cat, Tyson, had to be put down.  They said that he was five years old; the vet said more likely around three.  Either way, this guy was likely a scrapper and a scavenger for almost half his life.  I could make out little scars on his nose, and there was a tiny chunk of his ear missing if you got a real close look at it.  He also hadn't been fixed, so he was probably the father of many of the cats that were there.

Basically, we gave him five years of restful retirement.  He was a good house cat, and while he could sometimes be annoying in the mornings, as cats can often be, he was a good-natured guy.  He would almost always greet me at the front door when I got home, and he was the type who preferred to sit next to me rather than on top of me, which was good considering that he was 19 pounds of puddy-tat.

I used to feel bad that we let him get that fat.  He was already pretty husky when we adopted him, but he definitely put on a few pounds after that.  The thing is, it's not like when you have a dog where you can take the guy out for a walk to get some exercise.  Also, I tried cutting back on his food, but that resulted in a less-than easygoing cat who would randomly attack the dog and follow me everywhere cursing at me in cat-ese.  I basically figured I could have a fat and happy cat who died early or a thin and nasty cat that I wished was dead.  I went for the former.  However, I felt less bad about it when three different vets told me similar stories about either their cats or cats they knew.

The best thing about Oliver, and the one thing that I will never forget, is how good he was with Logan.  (Feels weird referring to him in the past tense when I was petting him earlier this morning.)  My son would climb all over him and use him as a pillow, and the most extreme reaction was that Ollie would give him a quick nip on the arm - not even enough for Logan to register any pain.  I can tell you that if I, or anybody else, tried to manhandle that cat the way my son did, we'd get a claw-full of pain, but for some reason, Ollie had the patience of Job when it came to my son.  He was also incredibly patient with my dog, Freyja.  When Freyja was just a little puppy, Ollie would roll over for her and play with her - again putting up with stuff that he'd never tolerate from any adult.

And while I realize that I said the same thing after Tyson died, I have no plans to get another cat for the time being.  Perhaps when Logan is older, we'll consider it, but right now there's just no guarantee that we'll get one who's willing to be that patient with a toddler.  Lucky for us, Logan is too young to understand, and will likely not remember Oliver.  Too bad.  They were pals.

Friday, June 22, 2012

When the aliens come after the apocalypse...

If there's one thing that everybody knows me for, it's that I'm hip.  Now, now, you old fogies out there.  By "hip" I'm not referring to "A projection of the pelvis and upper thighbone on each side of the body in human beings and quadrupeds".  What I mean is that when it comes to kids and what's going on in their lives, I'm what you'd call "with it".  The kids know that I can "dig it" and that I'm a "cool dude".  And no, I'm not talking temperature.  The youngsters today, Fonzie, and myself all know that means what you geriatric types would call a "wingding".  In other words, I can name all four Beatles:  Ringo, Justin Bieber, Fabio, and Coolio.

Still, with all of that, I'm probably going to shock you with what I am about to reveal.  There is one thing that seems to remain rather popular these days, especially among young people, that I just don't get, and I'm going to sound like one of you old fellas.  Why on Earth would anybody ever want to spend more time at the mall than is absolutely necessary?

I really can't complain too much.  My wife isn't that big on shopping, so I can't even say that I rarely get dragged to the mall.  I NEVER get dragged to the mall.  That doesn't mean that I never go, because once in a blue moon (about 1-2 times a year) she'll need to go to a particular store there and will ask me if I want to come.  Since I know that when my wife says that she'll just be a half hour, that she'll actually be there for a half hour, I have no problem tagging along.

The last couple of times, I used it as an excuse to walk Logan around in his stroller while Kirsti took care of her shopping.  Once upon a time, there were at least a couple of stores that interested me there.  One was that place that had all the movie memorabilia and DVDs.  When I collected action figures, I also liked the toy stores.  However, even though I wouldn't want to buy anything at either of those stores nowadays (mostly because I can't afford to) I wouldn't mind doing a little browsing if they were still there.  But they're not.

What do they have there now?  Well, there's a shoe store.  There are also some clothing stores where you can go if you want your daughter to just barely cover herself.  There's also a shoe store.  I saw a store or two that sold crap that would entertain you for about fifteen minutes and then become something that took up space in your garage.  Then there's a shoe store and another shoe store.  They have a couple stores that play really annoying music and sell clothes for borderline-anorexic teenage girls.  If I was hungry, I might check out a few of the restaurants in the food court, and if I wanted just a little something sweet to earn back all those calories I burned from walking the mall, there are places that sell pretzels, muffins, and cookies.  Oh yeah, and there are shoe stores, shoe stores, and more goddamned shoe stores.

I guess when you only go there once or twice a year, things that might not seem strange to others stand out a bit more.  I kept wondering what aliens would think if they were watching us and couldn't understand our language.  Would they simply see it as a place where we purchased goods and services?  What would they make of all the unnecessary crap that you can find for sale there?  Would they get that same queasy feeling when they saw the store that sells "Native America" knick knacks and stuff?  (Maybe all the profits go to Native American causes - that would make it forgivable, I think.  But it seemed kinda patronizing to me.  "Oooh, lookee!  I use every part of this paperweight I just bought!")

I also had to wonder what sort of messages my son, and every other little kid, was getting when he was there.  I think if you told the aforementioned aliens that it was the temple to the predominant religion of our culture - Consumerism - they'd easily believe it.  Buy stuff!  Buy stuff!  Buy some more!  And when you can't buy anything, then wander about aimlessly and look at stuff that you want to buy!

I guess that this is nothing new, as George Romero already tackled the idea in the original Dawn of the Dead.  After about a half hour of that place, I'm starting to worry that somebody's going to try and take a chomp out of my arm.

Comics Roundup for 6/20/12

Some good stuff this week, which means that I probably won't have too much to say about them.

Avenging Spider-Man #8 - I was actually thinking of dropping this title.  Not sure why, as it has been consistently entertaining, and this issue is no exception.  Actually, this one is a companion piece to what's been going on over in the main Spidey title, even though it's not required reading to understand this story.  It's a fun, done-in-one, issue involving Doctor Doom, Silver Sable, and Doctor Strange.

Avengers Versus X-Men #6 - While this issue wasn't anything too special, I do like the dilemma that it sets up.  Basically, the X-Men have gotten what they want, and they essentially rule the world.  The Avengers have decided that they need to stop them.  But should they?  The X-Men seem to be making it a better world; however, does anybody have the right to wield that much power?

Wonder Woman #10 - This really doesn't feel much like a superhero book, but at the same time, it rings very true to what I've always understood that Wonder Woman was all about.  It's a bit more Greek epic than anything else, but you've got a strong and compelling female lead instead of the usual male.

The New Avengers #27 - This issue was decent, as it's tying into the main AvX series.  It's nice to see Iron Fist's mythology playing a greater role in the Marvel Universe, and it's good to see that Spider-Man has something significant to do in this whole conflict.  Hopefully it will go beyond telling Hope that "with great power comes great responsibility" though.  That's a good start, but I'm going to want to see more.

Winter Soldier #7 - Nothing too special about this one storywise.  Still, it has one of the best executed action sequences that I've seen in a long time.  I credit Michael Lark's storytelling skills for that one even more than Ed Brubaker's writing.  The cliffhanger ending makes me look forward to the next issue as well.

Daredevil #14 - One thing you can say about Mark Waid's run on this character is that it certainly doesn't feel like I've read this stuff before.  DD in Latveria?  Cool.  Still, the way they're messing with him seems a tad bit arbitrary.  I hope that Doom himself shows up in the next issue.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Learn to walk your dog, seriously.

Before I go off on this rant, I want to point out that I am very well aware that not all dogs are the same.  I've had a few in my lifetime now, and they've all been pretty different.  I've had a nervous dog, an eager-to please with flashes of defiance dog, and a super-submissive dog.  My current dog, Freyja, is pretty easy.  She knows all sorts of commands like, "Drop it!" and "Go to bed!" and honestly, I haven't really taken the time to train her in any kind of a formal sense.  My other dogs I had to work with, and I couldn't get them to do half the stuff that she does.  So yeah, I get it.  Some are easier than others - especially when it comes to walking.

I tell ya, I don't know what it is, but ever since I moved, I'm wanting to yell at dog owners more than I have ever have before.  I take Freyja to a park that's just a couple of blocks away from my place, and that park is plagued by people who don't know what the hell they're doing when it comes to walking their dogs.

For Freyja, I use a pinch-collar, mainly because that's what I had handy after Argos passed away.  He worked best with that type of collar, and Freyja works well with it, so I keep using it with her.  I tried the "gentle lead" collar with him, but that wasn't happening.  (However, my dog Willy did much better with the gentle lead, and he was a disaster with the pinch collar.  Whatever, it's like I said - there are all types of dogs.)  She's a pretty good walker, and for the most part, she stays right by my side.  She tends to tug a little when she has to relieve herself, or when we get near the dog park, but usually a quick correction takes care of that problem.

What drives me crazy are people who just slap a leash on their dog's collar only to have their dog drag them along, gasping and heaving the whole way.  Even worse, there are those extendable leashes, where they might as well not even have a leash on in the first place.  With those types, you usually see the people stopping every five seconds so their dog can sniff something and/or pee for the thousandth time.  Who's walking whom here?  That's especially frustrating when I'm on a narrow path and they're right in front of me. I don't know whether I should try and pass them or not, as I don't know if their dog will lunge at Freyja when I try it or not.  (Luckily, Freyja is eager to get along with pretty much every dog.  That was not the case with Argos, who would take it pretty personally if another dog got up in his face.)

Don't get me wrong.  If you can simply use your dog's regular collar - or no leash at all - and your dog is walking alongside you, then keep doing that.  What's frustrating is that I see the same people all the time.  Don't they notice that there are people like me whose dogs AREN'T half-choking to death while on a walk? And perhaps it might have something to do with the fact that I use a collar that doesn't allow her to get that tight around her neck in the first place?

Again, I understand some dogs are harder than others, but when I see some of these dogs, I just KNOW that I could get it to walk properly if I had the chance.  In some cases, it's not even a matter of the collar.  It's a matter of the person's attitude.  I remember when I walked Argos, my neighbor asked me how I got him to walk alongside me.  "Because I don't give him a choice!" was my response.  Also, there may be some dogs that just aren't good at walking in the first place.  One time while I was at the dog park, I was talking to a lady with a German Shorthair.  That dog was basically just running up and down the park the whole time.  The lady told me that's what she had to do with her dog, as he was an absolute wreck if she tried to walk him - he needed to get his exercise by running, and after their trips to the dog park, he'd be a nice, calm, cooperate dog.

But if your dog is tugging and choking, or you're stopping every five seconds - you're doing it wrong.  Time to change your strategy.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Watch as I quickly and easily fix public education

When it comes to fixing public education, you tend to hear a lot of simple solutions.  What we need is merit pay.  What we need is to get rid of unions.  What we need is to fire every teacher and then hire all of those qualified teachers who are practically banging on the door but can't get a job because they don't actually exist.

As excited as you might have been when you read the headline for this post, I hate to break it to you, but I don't have an easy solution either.  (And in case it's not obvious, I don't think those other quick-fixes are good answers either.)  However, I would like to address one thing that I rarely hear people talk about.  I don't necessarily have the answer to the problem either, but I think that if we start getting real about this particular issue, then we'll actually be on the road to a solution.  We need to start talking about social promotion.

Oftentimes you'll hear complaints about how students make it through high school and then wind up having to take remedial English classes at the college level, or they have to write things for their employer who is dumbfounded as to how they could even be considered literate.  I've heard that some of the teachers at the local junior college, and even some teachers in other departments at my very school, have accused us English teachers of not teaching our students how to write.

I've been teaching freshmen and seniors for the past several years now, and I can tell you that in both cases, you will find students who manage to move on even though their writing is hardly what you'd call grade-level appropriate.  What's worse, I can tell you that some freshmen move on who can barely string together two sentences.  So what's wrong with me then?  How come I'm not teaching them to write?

Here's the thing - most of my students come to me and their writing is exactly where I'd expect it to be.  Some freshmen even write better than most of the seniors.  Am I supposed to go over identifying the noun in "The dog sits on the floor." with my classes?  Sure, that would help a small percentage of them, but is that what we want to do?  Dumb things down for everybody?  Go back to third grade grammar when most of them are ready for an introduction to Shakespeare?

When it comes to seniors, I see many of them make mistakes that I know that the other teachers have taught them about.  In some cases, I have seniors that I've had as freshmen, and I've had to write on their papers "I told you freshman year not to do this!"

Well then why the heck am I moving these kids on then?  If they can't write, then I should fail them, shouldn't I?  And if a senior can't demonstrate the ability to construct a decent essay, then I have no business passing them and letting them get their diplomas, right?

I can tell you right now, that if I had my way, I would fail kids based solely on the fact that their writing stinks.  Do you want to know what would happen if I actually tried that?  I'd get grief from parents and even administration.  After all, if the kids are at least turning everything in, even though it's lousy work, then the attitude is that the kid should pass.  How do I know I'd get grief?  Because I get grief from parents when the kids fail because they hardly even show up and don't turn any of the work.  And we've been told in roundabout ways that we should lower our standards so kids can pass.  In other words, if I tried running my class this way, I could count on absolutely NO support, and I'd wind up tilting at windmills.

Crud, I had a student who missed at least 2/3 of class time and the majority of the work.  He misses some of class due to a legitimate illness, but his parents didn't want to hear of it when I suggested that actually being in class was a crucial ingredient to passing my class.  Once they brought in the lawyer, I basically just rolled over, as it was clear to them that what was important was that their son get at least a C and not whether he actually learned anything from my class.  Could I have fought it?  Sure.  But to what end?  I've seen other teachers try to do the right thing, only to have some high-up muckity muck change the student's grade themselves.

Why?  Because we want our graduation rates to be high!  What nobody wants to acknowledge is that keeping standards high and keeping the graduation rate high are two ideas that will fall into conflict with one another.  What we need to focus on is making sure that those who do graduate do so because they've demonstrated that they've actually earned it.  In other words, give the teachers some control.  If some kid can't solve for x, then he shouldn't pass Algebra no matter how nice he was or how much homework he turned in.  If a kid can't write an essay, then he doesn't get to pass English.  If he doesn't know the difference between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, then he doesn't pass history.  And who will determine this?  A standardized test?  No.  The people who get paid to educate should be the judges.

So obviously the problem is these middle school teachers!  They haven't taught those kids well enough to be ready for my class!  No, I'm not going to blame them.  Because after all, what about all those kids who CAN write really well?  Where the heck did they learn it?  Basically they face the same problem that we do - but even worse.  From what I've heard from a friend who's taught middle school for more than a decade now, a student has to perform horrifically before the school will even consider holding him back.

Again, I'm not too sure where we can go from here, but maybe we need to give these kids some real incentive to do well and actually learn something.  I imagine that the quality of my seniors' papers would rise quite drastically if they knew that passing meant not just turning something in, but turning in something GOOD.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


For a blog called Comics, Beer, and Shakespeare the focus seems to be comics and religion lately.  I don't want to change the name, because then people will start to think that I'm posting Chick Tracts or something like that.  Well, I'm going to be seeing a couple of live Shakespeare productions in the next few months - The Tempest next week, and Hamlet in the fall, so I'll definitely blog about those.  What about beer though?

I actually had to take a hiatus from homebrewing.  Why?  I had to move, and I just might blog about that bit of drama sometime soon.  For now though, let's just say that I didn't want to have several cases of beer to move in addition to all of the other stuff.  So, I basically stopped and drank up what I had stored.  There was  a time there when I was unsure as to whether I was going to get to brew in the new place, and for a time it looked like the best case scenario is that I'd have to do something drastic and scale back to 2 gallon batches (instead of 5).  You probably remember that, as it was on all of the news channels, the stars all disappeared (SHAKESPEARE/MACBETH REFERENCE!) and President Obama made a speech, declaring that if he had a son who was a homebrewer, his son would probably brew beers like the ones that I brewed.  (To which all of the right-wing pundits accused him of hating wine makers, and the left-wing pundits praised him for supporting a public school teacher.)

But I'm BACK, baby!  We've been here a few months now, and I've already brewed three batches, and I'm probably going to brew another before the end of the month.  For starters, I brewed a tasty Porter (pictured) and next up I made a flavorful Belgian Pale Ale.  For the third one though, I wanted to try something a little different.

'Cause that's the thing when you've been brewing a few years like I have.  You just might find yourself wanting to experiment a little.  After all, you might just create something really tasty, and you can take some pride in it being your own concoction.  That certainly has happened to me, and even though for the most part I use ready-made ingredient kits, I've done a bit of experimenting.  So far, all of them have been a success, with not just me liking them, but friends and family enjoying them as well.  Along those lines, I've made a chili ale, a pumpkin ale, a ginger-coriander Saison, and a maple brown ale.

Of course, none of those styles are completely unheard of, but I I had to use my own instincts and know-how to determine just how I would go about making them, and in all of those cases, I wound up with something that tasted just like I wanted it to taste (with the exception of half the batch of chili ale, which was a tad spicier than I would have liked).

I'm starting to get that itch again.  I want to try something new.  However, the problem is that perhaps I will get too ambitious and create something awful like tuna ale.  Well, you're never going to know the line until you at least put your foot on it.

I did do something a bit unconventional though with my last batch.  I made a clone of Russian River's Blind Pig IPA, which is a smooth, but very flavorful (notes of pine and oak in the smell) beer.  I've made it several times before, and it's always tends to go pretty fast when I have some handy.  The thing that I did differently though is that I didn't use the standard California Ale Yeast from White Labs (which I believe is basically the yeast that Sierra Nevada uses for its Pale Ale).  I went ahead and re-used the yeast that I used from the Belgian Pale Ale that I had made.  That was White Labs's Golden Ale, which I understand is a clone of what's used to make Duvel, one of my all-time favorite beers, and probably my favorite Belgian ale.

Ever have a Duvel before?  If you're over 21 and like beer, then stop what you're doing RIGHT NOW and go out and get one.  I see them all the time at my local grocery stores, so you just might have them at yours.  One of my pet peeves is when people say that they like "dark" or "lighter" beers as though those words describe flavor.  Duvel is a light-colored beer that has packs a wallop when it comes to flavor, so it just might change your mind as to what beer can be.

So basically I took a beer that has a strong hoppy flavor and used a yeast that imparts a strong, yeasty flavor.  It's hard to describe what Belgian yeasts are like, but I like to use the word "funky".  And I mean that in a good way, but it's just so different from what every other type of yeast does.

I wondered which of the two flavors would win out in the end, but they both blended together really well.  My mother-in-law said that she thought she tasted ginger in it, and I can see how she would get that impression.  The initial taste is vaguely like a gingerbread cookie.

Now, this idea was not entirely my own.  New Belgium makes something called a Belgo, which is described as a Belgian IPA, and while mine doesn't taste exactly like that, if you try one of those, you'll kind of get the idea behind what I made.

So, what's next?  A chili Belgian?  A ginger-chili ale?  A maple-pumpkin?  A variation on my previous pumpkin only creating a maltier beer and using an English style yeast?  Only time will tell.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Why I'm a skeptic

PZ Myers has been running a series of posts on his blog lately entitled "Why I'm an Atheist".  He's invited readers to submit their personal stories, and he posts at least one a day.  I'll be honest; I haven't read them all.  Many of them start to seem the same after a while, with a few exceptions where the writer gets into some deeply personal experiences.  I've been tempted to write my own entry as well, and one has been swimming around in my head for some time now.

I've also wanted to write this because every now and then, I'm asked why I am an atheist by somebody.  Now, when I get asked this, it's not so much that they want to know why I don't believe in ANY gods; it's that they want to know why I don't believe in their particular deity of choice.  Either way though, I have a hard time coming up with a simple answer.  I'm tempted to be snarky and say, "'Cause what you believe is hella bull and crap" or "Because your beliefs are frikken' nutty".

While not completely an inaccurate representation of how I feel, answers like that aren't very constructive or illustrative of exactly what happened.  They would only serve to amuse my fellow nonbelievers, and I'll be honest with you: I'd rather give an answer that makes the other person think a little about exactly why he believes what he believes than an answer that just turns him off completely to my point of view.

So, that's the problem.  I struggled coming up with a simple answer, and I think that I finally have it.

I'm an atheist because I'm a skeptic.  Now, I've had Christians tell me that they're "skeptics too" and maybe they are when it comes to 99% of the fantastic claims that are made, but you don't get to be a real skeptic if you dismiss unicorns, astrology, and alien abductions but still make room for a magical carpenter who was his own son.

I suppose I should explain what I mean by being a skeptic, and I reckon that it's a definition with which most skeptics would agree.  A skeptic is a person who requires evidence in order to believe something, and the more fantastic the claim, the more fantastic the evidence must be.  If you tell me that you have a penny in your pocket, I don't need to actually see the penny, since I have evidence of pennies and people owning pennies.  Sure, you could be lying, but it's not really important to my life if you are, so it's fine for me to just believe it.  Now, if you say you have a gremlin in your pocket, then you're going to have to show me that gremlin because as far as I know, there is neither evidence of gremlins nor is their evidence of people owning them and keeping them in their pockets.

Therefore, if things like psychics, astrology, alien abductions, etc. were indeed true, then the world I'm living in would be drastically different from what I understand it to be.  So if I'm going to believe in those things, then I'm going to need some compelling evidence to do so.  And of course, same goes with the notion of an all-powerful being who created the universe.  I'm going to need something solid, and no circular argument or special pleading is going to convince me.  After all, it doesn't convince me of the other stuff; why should it convince me of something that's potentially even MORE important?

But why be a skeptic?  Why hold this particular world view?  Because it's the only way that gets to the truth as far as I can see.  If I don't apply the same standards to what I accept and what I don't accept, then believing one thing over another is completely arbitrary.  I mean, I really dig the idea that aliens built the pyramids.  I think that would be really cool if that happened.  However, I'm not going to believe it just because I like it more than other beliefs with similar flimsy proofs.  (What about Jesus?  Wouldn't I want him to be real?  Actually, no.  But that answers why I'm also an antitheist, which would be another blog post.)

How did I get to be a skeptic?  Blame astrology.  I always had a sneaking suspicion that it was all a load of malarkey, even when I was a kid.  Even though I didn't have the vocabulary to express it, everything about it was so vague that even a twelve year old could suss it out that those descriptions could apply to anybody.  As I got older, I was cursed with working with people who, like the worst sort of religious proselytizers, would always talk about their signs and mine as though it actually meant something.  Again, I knew it was bunk, but I sought out those who could provide me with the language to explain WHY it was bunk.  That led me to Carl Sagan's The Demon Haunted World, which led me to Michael Shermer's Why People Believe Weird Things and ultimately to James Randi's Flim Flam!  (James Randi is the dude with the beard in the picture.)  I became a student of skepticism, and I started to understand its rules, and I took them on as my own lens with which to see the world - even though I had already been doing so when it came to astrology, at least.  In time, I started to realize that my heroes were nonbelievers as well when it came to a god, and it was because they applied their skepticism to that the same way they did everything else.

What was I to do if I was to be honest about how I look at the world?  How could I have any sense of pride if I held some things to one standard but my religious beliefs, which again are arguably even more important, to another?

I realize that a lot of people think of us skeptics as closed minded individuals.  We just won't believe in anything, will we?  You'll notice though that these accusations are only leveled at us when we don't believe what the other person would have us believe.  Somebody accused me of being like this with Christianity.  The fact that my attitude is exactly the same toward Islam, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Scientology, etc. didn't seem to be a problem though.

I recently stumbled across a quote by Thomas Henry Huxley, a biologist from the 19th century.  His explanation of skepticism perfectly defined what it is for me:  "I am too much of a skeptic to deny the possibility of anything..."  Because that's what it is.  Being a skeptic doesn't mean that I automatically dismiss all of those fantastic claims.  I think that any one of them could be true.  I could be TOTALLY off base when it comes to this whole Jesus thing.  (That's where the Christians think, "Wow, there's hope for him!")  I could also be wrong about this whole Scientology thing.  (That's where I lose the Christians.  I mean, Xenu?  Come on.  He ain't no Satan, which is perfectly more sensible, eh?)

In other words, I'm totally open-minded.  In fact, I reckon we skeptics are more open-minded than most religious people, who wholeheartedly embrace their belief system while easily dismissing other ones that have just as much evidence as theirs.  I suppose that this is where I should include Huxley's entire quote:  "I am too much of a sceptic to deny the possibility of anything — especially as I am now so much occupied with theology — but I don't see my way to your conclusion."

One last thing - oftentimes I've been told that I sound more like an agnostic than an atheist.  I realize that many folks who read my blog already know this, but I want to point it out for those who don't.  An agnostic is one who doesn't know if there is a god or not.  I have never made the claim that I know whether a god exists or not.  So yes, I am an agnostic.  However, my opinion is that there isn't a god, and I'm not going to believe in one until I have a good reason to do so.  This is why I'm also an atheist.  (And yes, it's possible to be an agnostic and a theist - which is what I was for some time before I became an atheist.  Perhaps that's yet another blog post.)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Comics Roundup for 6/13/12

Batman #10 - Holy crap, but this was good stuff.  Scott Snyder is writing stuff that's just as epic as Grant Morrison's, but without the trippy, somewhat confusing aspect.  Anyway, there's a big reveal in this one, as we find out who's been behind all the Court of Owls shenanigans in Gotham City, and it's a pretty good surprise.  While much of this is due to Scott Snyder's writing, much of the appeal is from Greg Capullo's art - in particular, his layouts and storytelling skill.  I remember years and years ago Capullo did a column for Wizard where he explained how to draw comics, and he would often focus on that aspect of the art, which was ironic because you didn't get to see him utilize those skills all that much while he was drawing Spawn.  I guess he got a pretty hefty paycheck for those books though.  Anyway, I hope that this is a team that will stick around for some time.

Batman and Robin #10 - Between Batman and the recently relaunched Batman Incorporated, it's kinda easy to forget that this is also an awesome Batman book.  Peter Tomasi's stories haven't disappointed yet, and we get another good setup with this one, as Damien Wayne, the current Robin, challenges all the former Robins in a determined effort to prove that he's the best of the lot of them.  Tomasi is really doing something great with Damien in this book, and it was hard to believe that somebody other than Grant Morrison could pull that off.

Captain America #13 - Nothing too special here, but it's a solid entry in a pretty engaging storyline involving a new Scourge of the Underworld.  Patrick Zircher's doing some pretty good artwork here.

Batgirl #10 - I always rave about this Bat-book as well, even though it's not about the original Bat-character.  This was another solid issue - not quite as Earth-shattering as the first storyline, but Gail Simone manages to introduce a pretty nasty set of despicable villains.

Green Lantern #10 - As always, there isn't much interesting to say, as we basically just have another solid installment of a great series.  The Indigo Lanterns who represent empathy?  Yeah, turns out they're all a bunch of psychos, and the lantern basically acts as therapy/recovery for them, which explains why Black Mask joined their ranks.  However, he managed to get out, die again, and once again become a Black Lantern.  Oh boy, not those guys again!  Looking forward to what comes next.

The Amazing Spider-Man #687 - This is a pretty good wrap up to the "Ends of the Earth" storyline.  Supposedly, somebody's dead at the end, which is hard for Spidey, who recently swore that "nobody dies" under his watch.  Somehow though, I doubt that this death will be permanent.

The Avengers #27 - They're definitely doing a good job of weaving stories within the larger story of Avengers Versus X-Men, and this issue was another good example of that.  This story deals with The Protector (lame name) whose loyalties are split between protecting The Earth and what the Supreme Intelligence of the Kree wants.  About time they did something interesting with him.

Avengers Assemble #4 - Seems like the even numbered issues are more interesting than the odd ones.  I wonder what will happen to this series when Bendis leaves the Avengers books?  It feels a bit perfunctory, but it's always good to see Thanos up to his old tricks.

Spider-Men #1 (of 5) - I'm REALLY far behind when it comes to the Ultimate comics, and I haven't even read anything with the new Ultimate Spider-Man, Miles Morales.  I was tempted to just wait for the trade on this one, but I was a bit too curious to just pass it up.  So far, we have a pretty good setup, and I'm eager to see where it goes from here.  (The two Spider-Men don't meet until the last page.)

What am I passing up?

I haven't picked up any of the Before Watchmen books, not because I'm protesting them, but it's just too big of a commitment to get seven new books a month right now.  I'll probably gradually pick them up once they're all in collected editions.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Comics Roundup for 6/6/12

Winter Soldier #6 - In this issue, Jason Bourne investigates another who underwent the same procedure...nah,  it's not that, but it is Bucky investigating another "Winter Soldier" type guy.  Pretty good stuff, and it's nice to see Michael Lark on the book.  I think that his style is a better fit with Ed Brubaker's writing.  And as much as I enjoyed the first story arc, this one seems to be even more compelling.

Avengers Versus X-Men #5 - Well, I stupidly read a spoiler for what happens in this issue, so the rest of it left me with no surprises.  That'll teach me.  Basically, what everybody was expecting to happen didn't happen, and now it looks like the X-Men are going to have the upper hand.

The Walking Dead - Volume 16 - I think that this would be a pretty frustrating series to read if I got it issue by issue.  It certainly works well in collected editions though.  Anyway, things are definitely being taken to the next level.  Inevitably, society is starting to take shape yet again, and all the pitfalls and troubles that come along with that are the problem here.  I wonder if Robert Kirkman watched that show that was on a couple years ago that went into what would happen if all the people on Earth disappeared.  This isn't exactly the same, but there are some similarities.  Who's running the nuclear reactors?  Are there gonna be some huge 'splosions soon?

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Comics Roundup for 5/3012

Batman Annual #1 - Before Batman:  The Animated Series, Mr. Freeze was a "second rate Captain Cold".  When Paul Dini got his hands on him for the show, he turned into something more like a Shakespearean tragic hero.  Of course, there was that one little movie that we shall not mention where he became the Governor of California, but let's forget about that.  In the comics, the creators tried to reflect his new origin, although after a while it starts to get tough to keep making him the bad guy when deep down he's just a really scarred individual who could have been decent if only things had gone differently.

Well, Scott Snyder has a solution to this problem.  By adding a new twist to the story where Mr. Freeze just wanted to find a cure for his wife, who rests in a cryogenic deep freeze, we learn that Victor Fries was pretty disturbed from the get-go, and that woman whom he refers to as his wife?  Yeah, she never was his wife.  She was put on ice before he was even born.  The dude's a nut.

Oh, and it all ties into the "Court of Owls".  Awesome stuff.

The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #39 - Speaking of some good stuff, Marvel delivers its own top-notch annual, reminding me of the good old days of comics annuals when you got a story that stood on its own but was extra-special because of the subject matter and length.  I'm not familiar with writer Brian Reed's work, but he sure did a nice job with this twist on "It's a Wonderful Life".  Peter Parker learns what the world would be like without him, but to keep things interesting, it turns out that for some people, their lives really would have been better if he never existed.  It's a pretty emotionally ambiguous tale for a superhero story.

Super Crooks #3 - This just might be my favorite "Millarworld" series yet.  The plot is something I don't feel that I've seen before, and each issue unravels a few new interesting threads.  The first issue sets up that some supervillains head off to Europe because there are too many superheroes in America.  The second issue recruits the team, and they even get a superhero on board (much to his chagrin).  With this one, we find out a little something about the guy they plan on ripping off.  Should I be rooting for these guys?

Wolverine and the X-Men #11 - We get a bit more as to why Wolverine would suddenly agree to start working with this colleagues in the Avengers again after Captain America tossed him out of a plane, but I still feel like his change of heart is a little on the sudden side.  Do I think that Wolverine would hold a grudge like that forever?  No.  But I think it would piss him off for a little while, at least.