Wednesday, January 28, 2009
I actually have stayed in touch with a lot of people from high school. However, many of them didn't go to the reunion, so I wound up hanging out with a lot of people who were more like acquaintences than friends. Basically, it was a lot of small talk. Also, there were quite a few people who remembered me, but I couldn't for the life of me remember them. I'm not trying to sound pompous or anything, but I've done a lot of things and have met a lot of people since high school. Not only that, but I have to learn about 120+ new names and faces every year, and if a person isn't occupying some useful space in my brain, they're gonna get pushed out.
I signed up for Facebook some time ago, and I'm quickly discovering that it's kind of the more grown up version of MySpace. While many of the people on my page are former students, I probably have a much larger ratio of adult friends on there. And of course, many of them are people I knew in high school. For the most part, they're people with whom I've lost contact, but they're all folks that I remember. There are some exceptions. Honestly, there have been a couple where the name sounds really familiar, but I can't really remember anything about the person. One woman even told me that she'd love to "catch up" with me, but I have no idea exactly what it is that we ever talked about in the first place - if anything! This sounds lame, but I never responded to that message. What the hell am I going to say? "Oh yeah, let's do that!" Sure, I suppose that's what a lot of people would do, but I don't feel comfortable being fake like that.
And now I got a request from this one guy who was always kind of a prick to me. Oh, and there's this one girl who I remember as being really annoying. Am I being shallow for not adding them?
It kinda reminds me of that one time when I was in a bar, and this guy calls out to me. He was like, "Hey, Lance Johnson! How ya been?" Thing is, the guy was a colossal ass throughout both middle school and high school. I mean, I'm not exactly mad, and I'm not holding a grudge - but do we have to play this game like we're friends? Can't we just be strangers? I mean, if we ever get in a situation where we have to be together for some reason, then we can re-evaluate this whole thing. But until then, how about you just forget that you saw me? I have no problem doing the same for you.
My dad doesn't go to any more reunions. I don't think that I'll be going to any more either.
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
But Lance! I knew you in high school! You used to play them in your car!
That was then; this is now.
But Lance! They're one of the greatest bands of all time!
Ummm...no. They aren't, unless your definition of "great" revolves solely around financial success and not artistic merit.
Here's the thing, it's true, I did used to like The Eagles. My mom would listen to them, and I grew up with their music. I remember liking all of it, with the possible exception of "I Can't Tell You Why". I'm not sure, but for some reason that song always rubbed me the wrong way. So yeah, when I was in high school and I joined BMG (the "Buy 10 for the price of 1" music club), I got the first volume of their greatest hits, and later I got the second volume because I just had to have "Hotel California".
I listened to them both. I admit it. I even enjoyed them. I remember even thinking how cool it would be if they ever reunited and went on tour. Eventually, the day came when they did get back together for the "Hell Freezes Over" tour, and they did that concert for MTV (or VH1, perhaps). I was excited about it. Little did I know, it was the beginning of the end.
To put it mildly, the concert was an exercise in passionless drivel. It was so obvious that these guys were in it solely for the money, as there was absolutely no feeling in any of the performances. It felt like they were calling it in. And then there was that new song -they let that "I Can't Tell You Why" douche do another song - an even worse example of sappy adult contermporary drivel called "Love Will Keep Us Alive." The title alone makes me want to vomit.
Of course, people tried to convince me that it was good. I had a roommate who thought that the "Get Over It" song was cool. Well, I'm sorry, but Don Henley is the last person in the world to be telling anybody to be getting over anything. And it was just so faux-rockin', if you know what I mean. They were a bunch of soulless middle aged men who were trying desperately hard to sound cool - and the song was forgetable. I can't even remember how it goes.
I basically attributed it to them no longer being cool, but they were so definitely cool at one time. While I didn't know the movie at the time (in fact, it probably hadn't come out yet) there's a scene in Trainspotting that wonderfully illustrates this phenomena:
Sick Boy: It's certainly a phenomenon in all walks of life.
Mark "Rent-boy" Renton: What do you mean?
Sick Boy: Well, at one time, you've got it, and then you lose it, and it's gone forever. All walks of life: George Best, for example. Had it, lost it. Or David Bowie, or Lou Reed...
Mark "Rent-boy" Renton: Some of his solo stuff's not bad.
Sick Boy: No, it's not bad, but it's not great either. And in your heart you kind of know that although it sounds all right, it's actually just shite.
Mark "Rent-boy" Renton: So who else?
Sick Boy: Charlie Nicholas, David Niven, Malcolm McLaren, Elvis Presley...
Mark "Rent-boy" Renton: OK, OK, so what's the point you're trying to make?
Sick Boy: All I'm trying to do is help you understand that The Name of The Rose is merely a blip on an otherwise uninterrupted downward trajectory.
Mark "Rent-boy" Renton: What about The Untouchables?
Sick Boy: I don't rate that at all.
Mark "Rent-boy" Renton: Despite the Academy Award?
Sick Boy: That means fuck all. Its a sympathy vote.
Mark "Rent-boy" Renton: Right. So we all get old and then we can't hack it anymore. Is that it?
Sick Boy: Yeah.
Mark "Rent-boy" Renton: That's your theory?
Sick Boy: Yeah. Beautifully fucking illustrated.
While there are some artists who continue to be cool (Bob Dylan, They Might Be Giants, Martin Scorsese) long past what should be their prime, this idea is pretty much dead-on. A lot of people once had it, and then they lost it. However, we continue to support them based on the good stuff that they used to do, even though their new stuff is pretty much "shite". A great example of this is The Who. I actually tried to convince myself that the album they released a few years ago was good. I listened to it many times, and I can't remember a damn track. The fact is, if it was a cd of a brand new band, I wouldn't have gone past the first listen.
Anyway, back to The Eagles, I soon started to get the feeling that maybe they weren't ever really all that great to begin with. I found myself wanting to listen to them less and less. One of the main reasons is that they're just so damned ubiquitous. Go ahead, I dare you to go to a bar that's doing karaoke. There is no way that at least one person won't do an Eagles song. NO WAY. And don't get me started on 70s cover bands.
I believe that they even released some new song a few years back, and I seem to recall somebody trying to tell me that it was good. I heard it once, and it was ass. I'm going to give that person a break though, and assume that they were suffering from the same delusion that I was with The Who's latest cd. If I'm not mistaken, it was yet another song by that one guy who really sucks the most - and it was the most vanilla-sounding piece of Wonder Bread blah that I can remember - that is, if I could remember the actual song and not the overwhelming feeling of indifference that overcame me.
Some time ago, when I was clearing out the cd collection, I found myself not even hesitating to get rid of both of my Eagles Greatest Hits volumes. I knew that there was no way that I'd ever choose to listen to them again, because no matter what you do, you're bound to eventually heard all of those songs somewhere - unless you plan on living in a cave. I suppose that I could have just walked up to a random person on the street and gave them away, but then again, any random person probably already owns both of them.
Look, I'm not saying that The Eagles suck. They don't. Their music is perfectly serviceable, and some of their tunes are even somewhat catchy. But it's all just so middle-of-the-road. There's nothing clever, nothing creative about it. It all feels like a watered-down version of something else (and all of their reunion stuff sounds like a watered down version of THAT!)
Personally, I chalk it all up to them just being very familiar and inoffensive. There's nothing too extreme about anything that they do, that you're pretty much safe putting in their music and nobody will get upset. Shoot, I know I wouldn't. I can't bring up enough emotion about them one way or the other to even care. They're kinda the musical equivalent of a bologna sandwhich. There's nothing wrong with it, but there isn't anything special about it either.
I remember in college when my roommate used to tell me about how he and his friends would all hang out and drink up in Stockton. He would talk about how they all were having a great time, and they'd all stand up and air guitar to "Hotel California." I always thought that was kinda sad, even when I was a fan. I mean, is that really the best that you can do? Have you never heard of that Jimi Hendrix fella?
Shoot...if you have to have at least one of The Eagles involved, why not Joe Walsh? He's cool.
Monday, January 26, 2009
For instance, there are psychics. Or, to be more specific, there are people who pretend to be psychics. My friends Scott wrote a short blog some time ago about Sylvia Brown and what a gigantic sack of horse manure she is, and I've been meaning to write a little bit about her myself.
The thing is, my road to atheism began with reading up on supposed psychics (amongst other things like astrology and whatnot). I had always felt like there was something bogus about these people, but my upbringing didn't exactly encourage me to debunk them so much as to see them as potential agents of otherworldly powers in which humankind was not meant to access. What does that mean? It means that I thought that whatever powers they had was due to the forces of ol' Be'elzebub himself. Lucky for me, that never sat well as a satisfactory answer, and upon reading books by various skeptics, I soon learned that these people are nothing more than sideshow phonies whose "powers" could be replicated by people who admitted to doing nothing more than cold readings of people. (Which isn't to say that cold reading isn't a skill - it's just that there isn't anything supernatural about it.)
Now, I don't really watch his show, but I've seen enough and I know enough to know that Montel Williams, a colossal asshat if ever there was one, is partially to blame for Sylvia Brown's fame. The thing is, ol' Montel seems like a fairly educated and intelligent fella, and he probably is. However, intelligent people are not exempt from believing stupid things - especially when they so obviously WANT to believe them - and what better reason for a talk show host than the ratings that Sylvia Brown brings?
Now, I'm sure that there are a lot of people out there who wonder what the harm is in people like Sylvia Brown. Yeah, so she claims that she talks to dead people. She gives comfort to the families who have lost their loved ones. I mean, it's not like she ever gives a reading where she says, "Your brother is telling me that you're an asshole, and that you're pretty much to blame for his death." Of course she wouldn't say that. Who would want to hear that - even if it was true?
For me, it's an insult to the memory of the dead to pretend like you're talking to them. And, of course, the dead can never say anything clearly and to the point. They always have to show letters and make vague statements that the audience member has to piece together. I'd hate to think that my memory would turn into some carnie's performance art.
What's really dispicable about people like her are her claims that she helps the police to solve crimes. Of course, they give all sorts of general statments, but whenever anybody actually investigates anything specific, it turns out that the story is full of crap. Also, they never seem to be able to solve the big, high-profile cases can they? It's amazing how these psychic powers always seem to turn on and off so conveniently.
And the bottom line is, nobody has ever been able to demonstrate psychic abilities under double-blind scientific test conditions. Of course, when I mention this to some people, they say the truly asinine reponse of, "Well, maybe it just can't be tested!" Huh? What the hell does that even mean? How else can you determine whether somebody can do something unless you test it somehow? If I say that I can run a marathon in half a minute, and then I told you that this amazing ability can't be tested, you'd say that I was full of shit - and rightfully so.
Anyway, you gotta love the YouTube. Here are some epic fails from ol' Ms. Brown. (And is it just me, or does she look like Queen Tacky of Tackylvania? What's up with that makeup and nails? Not that it has anything to do with her claims one way or the other, but you'd figure that at least one ghost out there could give her some pointers.)
You gotta love how Sylvia corrects the woman who lost her firefighter husband on 9/11! And then Montel tries to make sense of it! Ugh.
That one just proves that she's an idiot, and even women can be misogynists.
Wow - a news show that's actually concerned with facts!
Of course, the parents are wrong - how dare they question a psychic!
After these lousy predictions, how can anybody take her seriously?
Sunday, January 25, 2009
So, without further ado, I'm going to write an entry that's shamelessly aimed at the comic book geeks - fans of The Avengers in particular (and no, I don't mean the TV show or even the movie version that came out years ago - this is totally unrelated). I will try and have it make sense for those of you who don't read comics, in case you're bored and have nothing better to do than read all of this.
A few years back, Marvel comics did a major shake-up with The Avengers, a superhero team book that dates back to the 1960s. Some of the more recognizable characters in the series (to non-comics fans) include Captain America, Iron Man, and The Hulk (although he barely lasted the first couple of issues). Basically, The Avengers were a government sponsored team of heroes who all lived in Avengers Mansion, and the roster would constantly change with all sorts of characters coming and going. Basically what happened with the shake-up was that the team broke up, the title was canceled, and then a new team emerged - one that didn't have the same sponsorship of the government that the previous team had - in a new series entitled New Avengers. This one had Captain America and Iron Man, but it also had characters who had never been on the team before, including Spider-Man, Wolverine, and Spider-Woman (and she actually became a pretty cool character instead of just a knock-off of her male counterpart).
Obviously, this was a popular book. I liked it quite a bit, enough to keep collecting and reading it, but I wouldn't have called it one of my favorite comics. Things started to get more interesting during the "Civil War" storyline, where the government instituted a superhuman registration act, and the team split up - with Captain America on the anti-registration side and Iron Man on the pro-registration side. When that whole storyline over, and Captain America dead (he'll come back eventually, I'm sure), a new title was created called Mighty Avengers. Basically, that one consisted of Iron Man and a group of registered heroes. However, New Avengers continued, as the heroes who stuck with Captain America continued to call themselves Avengers.
So, there were two books - one with an official team and the other with a rogue team. That made sense, considering the story, and this is when New Avengers became one of my favorite books. However, this is also when Marvel Comics, seizing an opportunity, started to dilute the franchise a bit.
What happens in comics sometimes is that if a series is popular, they will start to create all kinds of spinoff series. (Kinda like what they've done with the whole CSI series, I think.) The point is to make more money, obviously, as lots of people will buy these spinoff titles simply because they're fans of the original. Of course, I have no problem with this if they're all good, but ultimately, the concept gets stretched a little thin, and the entire line begins to suffer.
So, even though having two Avengers books makes sense, there was yet a third series called Avengers: The Initiative. The concept with this one is that various teams of Avengers were being created throughout the country, one for each of the fifty states. That's not too bad of a concept, but it didn't interest me enough to ever pick it up.
Things were shaken up again rather recently during the whole Secret Invasion storyline, where Earth was under attack from the Skrulls, a race of shape-shifting aliens. Turns out, a lot of heroes had been Skrulls in disguise for some time (including Spider-Woman from The New Avengers). When this whole mess was cleared up, the hero (in the eyes of the media, as he got the kill-shot on the Skrull Queen) turned out to be Norman Osborn, better known to Spider-Man fans as The Green Goblin. So, Osborne's a hero, and Tony "Iron Man" Stark takes the fall for the whole mess.
This leaves Osborn to create his own team of Avengers, and another new series is born - Dark Avengers. Don't get me wrong, I picked up the first issue, as the concept is strong. The thing is that Osborn is a hero to the public, and the government puts him in charge of The Avengers. Since he's really a slimeball, he takes a bunch of supervillains and dresses them up as heroes (including having Venom disguise himself as Spider-Man). And just like when Mighty Avengers first appeared, this title made sense and was born out of a logical progression of an existing, ongoing storyline.
But here's the thing - Mighty and Initiative continue on. I picked up the first post-Secret Invasion issue of Mighty, and I don't think that I'll be back for another. There doesn't seem to be any point to it, and there's simply another Avengers team for the sake of another Avengers team. Of course, New Avengers goes on, and that one still makes sense, and it's actually pretty cool since they're heroes who are considered to be villains, unlike Osborn's team. Don't even get me started on The Initiative. I don't even know what that could possibly be about right now, considering that Osborn's canceled the whole program.
Now, I'm not one of those lame comic book fans who complains about being "forced" to buy comics that I don't like. As I stated, I'm not getting the ones that I don't care for, and I'm sticking with the two that I enjoy. However, I am concerned that if they start making this whole Avengers concept too convoluted, it's eventually going to spill into the books that I like. Here's hoping that it won't.
Friday, January 23, 2009
Of course, this isn't exactly a realistic way of looking at the world. If somebody breaks into your house and is trying to kill you, you are well within your rights to try and kill them first. That would hardly count as stooping to their level. However, if you're looking at superhero stories for realism, then you've somehow gotten everything wrong. Still, there is some truth to that lesson though, and that is that you don't lower yourself to defeat an enemy.
That's a lesson that pretty much stuck with me. I once heard the author Harlan Ellison say that a lot of kids learned their values from comic book superheroes. While I credit my parents as being the biggest influence on my values, I'd have to say that right after them comes Spider-Man, Batman, etcetera. Don't get me wrong, it's not like life values are the reason why one should read comics (or The Bible, for that matter), but they're still in there, and they definitely can rub off on us.
Over the past eight years under George W. Bush, I feel as though this country has been a bit more like The Punisher than Spider-Man. Sure, we're on the right side, but we didn't always seem to be acting like the good guys should. What with pre-emptive invasion, torture, and secret prisons, it seems more like we were doing the sorts of things that the bad guys do.
I realize that much of it may very well be symbolic, but I'm starting to feel good about being an American again with Barack Obama putting a stop to torture (or whatever euphamism is currently in fashion for it). Let's forget about the fact that the information we get from torture isn't reliable for a moment. For me, it's a line that we just don't cross. That's what the Saddam Husseins of the world do - not us. And don't give me that scenario where the bomb is about to go off and the only way to find out the location is by torturing a guy. Perhaps I read too many comic books, but if you think that's really going to happen, then you watch too much TV. Also, I'm glad that Obama is closing down Guantanamo. Again, it might be symbolic, but that's been the skull emblem on our chest under the Bush regime. Perhaps it's time to replace it with something that's more fitting the good guys.
And here's the thing - I mentioned before in my blog how cool I thought it was that Obama is a collector of Spider-Man comics. I'll be honest with you; I'm not entirely sure how much I trust that particular story. The source seems to be somewhat dubious. However, I really don't care if it's not true. It's a harmless myth along the lines of George Washington admitting that he chopped down the cherry tree (and unlike the myth of weapons of mass destruction). And the bottom line is, it's what Spider-Man would do.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
So, it's pretty much the same deal with The Koran, or The Qu'ran, or The Curr'anne, or Da Koh! Ran. And no, I'm not making any plans to read that thing from cover to cover. I still haven't gotten very far past the first 100 pages of Moby Dick, so I'm not going to go making any rash pronouncements like I did when I said I was going to read that particular book in its entirety. (I'll pick it up again one day! I'm determined to finish it! I'm obsessed with conquering that book, and I wish that there was some sort of handy metaphor that I could use to express it!)
So, what I've decided to do is put it by the toilet and read little bits and pieces here and there. So far, I've already found myself skimming through parts and skipping around a bit. I've gone through the first sura, and I don't think that this book is going to convert me over to Islam anytime soon. After all, it kinda assumes that you already buy into all of that stuff that's in The Bible, which I don't. I think it's one of those books, like The Bible or Battlefield Earth, where it makes a lot of sense if you're already inclined to believe it.
Anyway, it's not a terribly interesting read, which is also true for much of The Bible. Still, there are a lot of good books in The Bible, like the Gospels and my absolute favorite, the poo-cake Book of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 4:12). Hopefully, there's some better reading ahead. There was that little bit about how Satan wouldn't bow before Adam, which I think is a pretty cool story, and I'm hoping that a later sura will elaborate on that one. Basically all I'm getting so far is a lot of stuff about how God is great and can do whatever he wants and apparently nonbelievers don't believe because He makes them not believe. (Don't get all snooty, Jews and Christians; there's similar stuff in your holy books.)
What about all the killing infidels stuff? Well, I haven't gotten to any of that. So far, everything that I've read regarding Christians and Jews has been pretty tame - even considering them to be believers, although misguided, who will have their reward in the afterlife. I am fully aware that there's stuff that's quite a bit more brutal in some of the other suras, but obviously the stuff I read is what decent Muslims pay more attention.
Basically, I'm just hoping to give myself a general familiarity with it, just as I have with The Bible. I've never read that one cover-to-cover either. I've read quite a bit of it - enough to know that I can't believe it. I'm also hoping to maybe find some stuff that I can teach to my seniors. I already do a thing on The Bible, so it might be a good idea to include a little Koran in there as well.
Still, those Norse myths are calling, and so is Sir Gawain. And one of these days, I'm going to have to read at least a little of The Book of Mormon. Too bad it's not waterproof; otherwise, I could read that one in the shower.
Friday, January 16, 2009
Or maybe I'll be just fine. The thing is, I'm not really one of those germaphobes, and personally I think that the whole germaphobia thing is pretty crazy. When Kirsti and I were on our last cruise, there were little hand sanitizer towels in front of the restaurant and in front of the buffet counter. The first time we passed by, I took one simply because I wasn't really thinking about it, and that's what everybody else was doing. The next time though, I deliberately didn't do it. Why? Because it's unnecessary and wasteful, that's why.
I know that there are people who use hand sanitizer on a regular basis. I even know one guy who uses it and credits it as the reason why he rarely gets sick. That very well may be true, but I never use it, and I rarely get sick as well. I'm thinking that maybe it really doesn't make that big of a difference.
I also don't always wash my hands after using the bathroom. I'll try not to get too graphic here, but let's just say that when I'm not coming into close contact with waste material, then there really isn't any need. As for my privates, if you think about it, they're probably cleaner than my hands are, as they're constantly covered. My hands though? They're always touching all sorts of germ depositories like doorknobs, countertops, and sometimes even other people's hands. Personally, I think that we've got this whole thing backwards. Next time you go to the bathroom, you need a full body wash since your disgusting hands have just touched yourself.
Of course, I do wash my hands. When? Well, mainly when they're dirty. Also, I do it before I cook, and before I make my beer. That's the one instance where I make sure that things are really clean, as any kind of funky bacteria can ruin a five gallon batch, and that would be a minor tragedy.
As for food, like I said, I wash my hands before I cook, but I don't necessarily follow all of the rules that the germaphobes would have us believe. For instance, I've let meat defrost on the counter top! Agh! Why? Because I don't always like to plan my meals two days ahead of time - that's why!
Whoops - just sneezed! Damn that apple!
Perhaps I should just let Carlin do the talking:
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Dear Odin, but what a horrible person this woman is. What was she there to talk about? Single mothers and how awful they are. She went on to cite all kinds of statistics about how the majority of people in the prison system were raised by single mothers, and then she criticized people like Halle Berry for praising her single mother. Yeah, that's the problem. Let's go after those horrible single moms. How dare they try to raise their kids without a husband? Who do they think they are not living in an ideal situation?
The thing is, it's not like there isn't a point buried deep within the pile of crazy that comes out of her mouth. But what exactly are we going to do about this situation? Force single mothers to marry? Make unmarried pregnant women get abortions? (Now there's a thought, eh?) And is this really the only factor that strings together all of these people in jail? I mean, are they all totally diverse in every respect except for the fact that they were raised by single mothers? Oh, but why look into that when you can just point out one thing and leave it at that?
Apparently, Coulter also was taking issue with biracial people like Barack Obama and Halle Berry (Her again?! Serves her right for doing Catwoman!) Apparently, even though they're both half-white, they identify themselves as being black, I guess so they can act like they're victims. ('Cause, you know, victimhood was totally Obama's schtick throughout the campaign.) Of course, it doesn't occur to Coulter that perhaps the reason why they identify with being black is due to the fact that they LOOK BLACK. If you didn't know that they had white mothers, you wouldn't know it by looking at them. Sure, maybe you might guess as they're both relatively fair skinned, but those two things don't necessarily follow.
The real thing about Coulter that makes her dispicable was summed up by Whoopi Goldberg on that clip of The View that I saw. She told Coulter that she can "dish it out but can't take it". And that's exactly what it is. Ever see that interview with Matt Lauer? Coulter was acting like SHE was the victim when she called the 9/11 widows harpies who were happy about their husbands' deaths. Her whole point was that apparently, nobody is allowed to criticize them even though there she was on national TV - CRITICIZING THEM!
And again, maybe I just don't notice it when the left does this, but it's a real pattern that I see with the right. They get to say whatever they want, but then they act like they're being oppressed when somebody calls them out on it. I also vaguely remember a video that I once saw where somebody made a crack to Coulter about her not being married or something like that. Coulter than went on about how the left can only resort to personal attacks - even though that's all she does! If it weren't for cruel, personal attacks, Coulter's books would be pamphlets!
There's other stuff that I could point out regarding her craziness. Of course, I can't let it go without saying that in one of her books she goes off about evolution and how it's not scientific, despite the fact that she has no scientific credentials and everything that she said was easily and readily refuted by real, actual scientists. Whatever, the point is that anybody who writes in a book that evolution isn't real is automatically an intellectually bankrupt person, and everything else she says beyond that should be taken with a grain of salt.
Some coworkers and I were discussing her at work today. The question came up as to whether she really believes all the shit she says, of if she's nothing more than a carnie who entertains people by saying provcative things. We were wondering what was worse. It would be pretty bad if she was really that stupid, but perhaps it's worse if even she doesn't believe the things that she says. Why would that be worse? Because people take her seriously and treat her as some kind of voice of authority.
Whatever the case might be, I just wish that she'd go away. The world doesn't need her ugliness.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Sounds pretty convincing, doesn't it? I also had an atheist friend tell me that if something happened to her daughter, she'd then go ahead and start praying. The reasoning being, in case you're wrong, you might as well go for it.
I can understand that to a point, but let me first tackle the atheists in foxholes thing. On Richard Dawkins' forum, there's a whole section called "Atheists in Foxholes" where military people who have served in combat debunk that particular saying. And while I don't seem to have any specific examples handy, I seem to recall reading about soldiers who lost their faith in God because of what they saw on the battlefield. (I believe that the first World War caused a lot of this.)
Apparently, there are some people who go through extreme situations who still don't believe. I also know of an atheist group at my local retirement community. Yes, there are even people in the twilight of their lives who still don't believe. Am I going to be one of those? I imagine so, but I'm not one for making predictions. We'll see when I get there.
But what about a dire situation? What if something were to happen to my wife? I honestly don't know what I'd do without her, and even writing about it in a hypothetical sense is starting to make me a bit sad. Would I decide to call on God in that case? Well, hopefully I'll never have to find out, but as of right now, I just don't see it happening. To me, calling on God for help is the equivalent to calling on Superman for help. (Actually, I'm more likely to call on Superman to tell you the truth.) To me, it seems just as futile - just as pointless. And even if I started to believe - nothing fails like prayer, right?
The bottom line though is that even if all of this is true, even if every atheist in the world will call on God in a desperate situation, that still doesn't address whether God actually exists or not, does it?
Friday, January 9, 2009
Want to know why? It's because I'm not a colossal asshole, that's why. That's right; if you're a man and you have asked your significant other (or mother, or sister, or whatever) when she was upset if she was on her period, then you're an asshole. (And by "ask" I mean in the tone that implies that the reason why she's upset is because she is on her period.)
Here's the thing - I am not a woman and I don't have the plumbing or hormone ratio that a woman has. I do not know what it's like to have a period, and I can't ever pretend that I do. What I do relate to is people saying things that are totally clueless. For instance, I can't stand it when people tell me when I'm sweating that I'm sweating. I mean - DUH! I know that I'm sweating! What do you want me to do about it? Maybe it's because I'm flippin' hot!
The "Are you PMSing?" question is somewhere along those lines but far, far worse. Because here's the thing: if that is indeed the case, then all you're doing is pointing out something that she is no doubt not happy about. I can't imagine that there's any woman who enjoys that hormonal shift, and I think it's safe to say that they all view it as more of a burden than anything else. So, you're pointing out something that she already doesn't feel good about , and the very nature of what she's going through is going to make her less tolerant about you and your stupid comments than she usually is.
But what if it isn't her time of the month and then you ask that question? Well, then the problem can very well be that you are even more clueless than you have ever fathomed. That sort of thing reminds me of when my students are being annoying and then I get upset. One of them will say, "Are you in a bad mood?" To which I have to explain that my mood was just fine until he started acting like a jackass. So, maybe the problem is that you're being a jerk, and you're just too stupid to even realize it.
Whether you're right or wrong about that particular analysis of her menstrual cycle, it's a stupid thing to say. And even if the problem lies solely on the fact that she's a tad hormonal, then how about being a little bit sensitive about it. Or better yet, be a MAN and tough it out until she's feeling normal. After all, if she has to go through with bleeding for five days every month, then you can shut your hole for a while and put up with a little abuse. (Not that I think that my wife "abuses" me - but you get my point, I hope.)
Thursday, January 8, 2009
The thing is, I really don't know what to make of this whole situation. It's hard to pick a side either way in this whole thing. I'm hardly an expert, but I know that Israel is not completely innocent in this whole thing. Their track record of dealing with the Palestinians is not exactly spotless from what I understand. Also, what they're doing right now does indeed seem excessive to me. Sure, they were bombed first, but how many innocent people need to die in order to fix this situation? And more importantly, is their current course of action even going to fix what's going on here? It seems like the same-old, same-old to me, and all this is going to do is stir up sympathy for Hamas in the long run and will ultimately lead to even more suicide bombers.
But then when you look at Israel's situation, you've gotta wonder exactly what it is they're supposed to do one way or the other. After all, their enemies practically surround them, and these enemies won't even acknowledge Israel's right to exist. It seems like for most of these fundamentalist Muslims, there can never be any reconcilement. For them, there will always be conflict unless Israel is wiped off of the map. So where can you even go from there?
At work today, it was the topic at lunchtime, and some of my coworkers are far more informed about this issue than I am. One thing that was brought up though is that often the pro-Israel side creates a strawman argument where if you say anything critical of Israel, you somehow don't believe in its right to exist. Now, it's true that there are a lot of radical Muslims out there who say some pretty extreme things about Israel but then hide under the "I'm not anti-Semitic; I'm anti-Zionism" excuse. But wouldn't it be nice if we could see this whole situation for all of its complexity rather than just be defined as simply being pro or anti Israel. Shoot, this reminds me of the flak that Steven Spielberg got over his movie, Munich. To think that the man behind Shindler's List was accused of not being a friend to Israel!
And part of me can't get over the religious component to this whole thing. A major part of the problem is that both sides think that some invisible man told them that the land belongs to them. And what's worse, you have so many Christians in this country pretending to be such friends of the Jews, when all they really care about is that the Jews fulfill their role in their Ragnarok (excuse me, Armageddon) prophecy. I mean, does the fate of the entire world really spin around this one country? The entire notion of it is nothing short of absurd.
Basically, I think that I'll have to say the same thing that I said to a Jewish friend of mine back in high school. Believe it or not, but there was a pretty serious situation in Israel with the Palestinians even back then! (Insert your sense of irony here.) I told him that I wasn't on the "side" of either the Jews or the Palestinians. I'm on the side of the human race, and I just want all of this hating and fighting to be over.
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
Of the many comic book superhero movies that are in the works, the one that has me the most excited right now is Green Lantern. In all honesty, in my 23 years of reading comics, I've only been loyally following GL for the past few years, but I've definitely become a big fan. So far, what I've heard about the movie has given me some hope, as the director, Greg Berlanti, seems to understand the key concept of the character, and the screenwriters have written actual comic books along with various TV and movie scripts.Now, I'm very tempted to geek-out and go into the complex history of Green Lantern, but let's just leave it at this - there have been many different versions of the character and there's a really expansive and rich mythology with which to work. Basically, Green Lantern is a space-cop, appointed by the mysterious Guardians of the Universe to patrol a specific sector of space. He's given a power-ring which enables him to create anything that comes to his mind, but only those with tremendous willpower are even able to wield it. There are other Green Lanterns throughout the universe, and there has been more than one from Earth. The one in which they'll be focusing on in the movie is the one who debuted in 1959 - Hal Jordan, a test pilot who's known for being a bit of a maverick (Damn you for ruining that word, McCain!) who's not afraid to question orders - even questioning the god-like Guardians from time to time.
I think that they can make a great movie with him for the simple fact that he's an interesting character. One thing that really illustrates his personality is that he refuses to wear his power ring while he's in his civilian identity. Keep in mind that he's a test-pilot who risks his life on a regular basis. Wearing that ring could mean the difference between life and death, but he feels that having that kind of security is like cheating. This, of course, adds to his heroism, and it makes it clear that his daring is due more to genuine bravery than foolish cockiness.
What also could be great is if they set up the whole thing as a trilogy, using some stories from the recent comics as a template. The first movie would, of course, be his origin story. In that, there's potential for all sorts of great scenes as he travels to Oa, the home of the Guardians and encounters Green Lanterns from throughout the universe. (Of course, this will only be as cool as the special effects will allow, but it definitely could add to a great sense of wonder if done right.) Also, the film could introduce Sinestro (although I think that I wouldn't mind it if they changed his name - as it sounds too obviously evil). Sinestro is a fellow Green Lantern, known throughout the universe as the "greatest" Green Lantern, as his sector of space is the most orderly. As for the villain, I kinda like Hector Hammond, a guy with a huge head and telepathic powers who is envious of Hal Jordan's successful personal life. (Hal gets it on with a lot of babes.) There are some other good ones as well, including The Black Hand, Star Sapphire, and Doctor Polaris.
The second film should deal with the Manhunters - a group of robots that the Guardians created long before the established the Green Lantern Corps. The problem with the Manhunters is that they were too good at their jobs, and they felt no emotion. As a result, they wound up killing every living being that they could get their hands on, as they logically concluded that without sentient life there are no problems. Also, this movie should reveal that the reason why Sinestro's sector of space is so orderly is because he basically started to rule it like a tyrant. Obviously, this would put him at odds with the Guardians of the Universe, and he'll go rogue and get his yellow power ring. The movie could end with him defeated but having escaped the final battle with Hal Jordan. Of course, this sets up all sorts of good possibilities for drama, as Hal and Sinestro start off as friends, but the friendship ultimately deteriorates. Think of the Batman/Two Face dynamic with the sort of bond that could exist between fellow soldiers.
The third film would have the return of Sinestro and the creation of the Sinestro Corps - a group of "Yellow Lanterns" who are chosen not because of their tremendous willpower, but because of their ability to spread fear. This could round out the trilogy very nicely with an epic space-battle between the two opposing forces. And of course, there would be the carryover of the relationship dynamic between Hal and Sinestro from the last movie. Also, there's something cool about the notion that willpower is ultimately more powerful than fear - it's a nice message that we have some control over our lives and how we deal with the problems we face.
So, here's hoping that they do something like that instead of just making a movie and then trying to shoe-horn some kind of trilogy-like plot. Hopefully they're thinking ahead with these things, and hopefully Green Lantern will get the Iron Man treatment - a non-household name superhero with one of the better superhero movies.
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated,
The bird of dawning singeth all night long:
And then, they say, no spirit dares stir abroad;
The nights are wholesome; then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
So hallow'd and so gracious is the time. - Marcellus, Hamlet, Act I, scene 1
For those of you who struggle with Shakespeare, what Marcellus, one of Elsinore's castle guards, is saying is that the Christmas season is so holy that evil has no power during that time.
Of course, since I'm an atheist, I absolutely hate this part of the play. Anything that mentions Jesus or praises him is something that I instantly detest. If I sneeze and people say, "God bless you!" I tell them to go screw themselves and take their savior-on-a-stick and shove it. I also refer to Thursday as "Day 5", because I don't want to acknowledge Thor, the God of Thunder. (Thankfully, Heimdall doesn't have a day named after him, because he really sucks.)
All right, the above paragraph is totally ridiculous (except for the Heimdall thing). In all honesty, that particular passage in Hamlet is one of my favorites. And even though I think that Jack Lemmon tends to stand out like a sore thumb in Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet, I love the way he delivers that particular line. It really doesn't have much to do with the story, and most versions would no doubt cut it out. However, it's just a beautiful little piece of poetry that works just fine on its own.
The truth is, I happen to like a lot of religious expressions. I love the Sermon on the Mount, and Jesus' advice to not worry about tomorrow, as tomorrow will have its own things to worry about, is something that I really take to heart as I tend to be a worrier. Aside from that, I have a lot of religious music that I care for a great deal. Some of them include U2's "In God's Country", Al Green's "God is Standing By" and "That's Enough" by Johnny Cash. (That's one where he sings that he's got Jesus, and "that's enough" for him.) There are also some instrumental pieces that have been inspired by religion that I like. While I'm not well-versed enough with classical music, there's no doubt that some of the pieces that I like are religiously-inspired. I do know though that John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" is a testament to his faith in God.
The bottom line is that to truly appreciate these things, you have to understand the feelings of faith behind them. Now, I realize that there might be some people who would read this and think to themselves, "Ah ha! This is no doubt proof that deep down inside, he really DOES believe!" Well, whether I believe in God or not has little to do with whether He exists or not, but I don't think that I need to share the faith of these artists in order to appreciate what they have done. After all, while I don't believe that any gods are real, I do believe that the feelings that inspire religious faith are definitely very real. And that's something that while I don't share, I do understand. These artists have all had a sense of the sublime. For them, that sense comes from their belief in a god. For me, that sense comes from elsewhere (see my 12/30/08 entry for more on that).
I should also point out that in order to appreciate The Iliad and The Odyssey, you have to have an appreciation for how Ancient Greeks viewed their gods. And to appreciate Siddhartha, you need to have a feeling for Buddhism.
Sunday, January 4, 2009
In that article, I said that things had gotten out of hand when mayonnaise had "Zero Carbs!" stickers on them. Now that I think of it, the thing that really showed that things had gone too far was when Kentucky Fried Chicken had a commercial that implied that eating a bucket of their greasy chicken was good for you because it had no carbs. Shortly after that, you just didn't hear about the carb thing nearly as much as you did before that. (Although nothing can seem to completely kill it.)
But I think that I've finally seen the ultimate in the anti-oxidant silliness. I was at the in-laws and there was a bottle of ketchup on the table. The sticker on it praised ketchup as a source of anti-oxidants. Okay, we've gone overboard.
Be sure to eat your hot dog without the bun and with a LOT of ketchup. But wait, ketchup has carbs! Holy crap! What a dilemma. I think I'll eat mine on a bun - with mustard.
Saturday, January 3, 2009
Over a year ago, my wife and I adopted a new cat, Oliver, who I wrote about a few times on my blog as I was trying to get him and our indoor dog, Willy, to get along. (They're still pals, by the way.) I'm definitely quite attached to this guy, and he's definitely part of the family. He greets me when I come home, he frequently sits in my lap while watching TV or on the computer, and he's quite friendly when we have company. I definitely want to take good care of him, as he's like a good friend to me.
But I'm not paying $1300 to have his teeth cleaned. To be fair, that was the high end estimate. The low end was $600. Of course, this will also involve all sorts of blood tests, knocking him out, and of course, the teeth cleaning. Apparently, he has some tartar build-up, and that can lead to problems.
It's funny, but I've had cats pretty much all my life. My last cat, Tyson, lived to be eighteen years old. Guess how many teeth cleanings she had? Zero. Guess how many teeth she lost? Zero. Of course, that's not proof of anything. I managed to skip going to the dentist for more than ten years and I didn't have any cavities. Some folks who brush, floss and visit the dentist far more consistently (Quick side note - Oliver just hopped in my lap) than me have far more dental problems than me. After all, genetics does have a part, as some mammals have more troubles than others.
Still, I'm not going to spend all that money to have his teeth cleaned. I figure if something comes up, then I'll deal with it. Until then, my wife and I got this guy out of the animal shelter, and before that he was prowling around and no doubt impregnating dozens upon dozens of homeless females. How long would he have lasted living a life like that? His tartar would have been the least of his problems.
Does that mean that Kirsti and I are going to do nothing? Nope. Kirsti went to PetCo and bought some kitty dental care goodies. There's a little brush with some kitty toothpaste, some treats that help remove tartar, and a rubber mouse that cats like to chew on (because a treat gets lodged inside) and that helps remove tartar. The toothbrushing thing will probably take awhile until we have a successful trial, but considering that he purrs and cooperates when we hold him down to clip his nails, I'm confident that we can eventually get this done.
Total cost of all this kitty dental care? 20 bucks. That's a bit more like it.
Friday, January 2, 2009
I've written in my blog about some pretty high-profile superhero movies - namely the Batman and Spider-Man films. And one day, I'll get to writing about the Superman films. However, I just watched my Blu-Ray of Hellboy 2, and I thought that I'd write my thoughts about the Hellboy movies. Unlike pretty much every other review you'd read though, this one will be written by a fan of the comics.
Not only am I a fan of the comics, but I am a fan of Mike Mignola in general. He's the guy who created the character, and for the most part has written and illustrated all of the comics. I don't remember exactly when his work caught my attention, but it was likely the graphic novel Gotham by Gaslight, which tells the story of an alternate Batman who has to face-off with Jack the Ripper. (I've always had a bit of a Jack the Ripper fixation - which is yet one more thing that I need to eventually write about.)
So, when I heard that Mignola was going to be producing his creator-owned book, I knew that I had to pick that up. I believe that was in the early 90s, and I've been consistently picking up every new series since then. (But I haven't picked up the offshoot projects that featured Hellboy's supporting characters - mainly because Mignola himself doesn't work on them.)
If you've seen the movies, then you have somewhat of an idea as to what Hellboy is like and what it's all about. However, there are some pretty big differences as well. Basically, what's the same is his origin story - the Nazis (assisted by a resurrected Rasputin) inadvertently brought forth a demon-child from the depths of hell into our world. The child is supposed to herald the end of the world. However, he's raised by a caring old man and trained to fight monsters and other supernatural threats, and he rejects his destiny.
Also, just like in the movies, he's supposed to be an investigator. However, as Guillermo del Toro (the director of the films) once pointed out, Hellboy's idea of investigation is to open a door, see a monster, and then proceed to beat the crap out of it. There are also a lot of other little details that the movie includes, like how he says "Oh, crap!" a lot. Also, he tends to take some pretty heavy beatings. (Once he jumped out of an airplane and his jetpack exploded with him on it.)
So, the basic premise is the same. What's very different is the tone. The comic is darker and a lot less jokey. Also, the main character is even more two-dimensional in the comics, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it tends to fit his adventures a bit more. Most significantly, there is no love story. Sure, Liz Sherman is in the comics, but the stories that Mignola tells are more about fighting monsters and exploring mythology.
Anyway, when I first heard that they were going to feature Hellboy in a movie, I got pretty excited. I got even more excited when I heard that Guillermo del Toro was going to direct it. Not only do I feel that his installment of the Blade franchise the best (part II), but I also enjoyed his smaller, independent films The Devil's Backbone and Chronos. (At the time, his hands-down best film Pan's Labyrinth hadn't come out yet.) I figured that if anybody could really get Hellboy, it would be this guy. Oh, and it turned out that he was already a big fan of the comics, and not only that, he knew exactly who needed to play the part - Ron Perlman.
So, what did I think of the movies? I liked them both tremendously. I'm not sure which one I like more. The subject matter of the second one is definitely more up my alley - as I agree with the message of the film that myths, fairy tales, etcetera are important, and it would be a shame if they all went away as we enter into a more technologically-advanced world. The first one had some cooler villains, and fewer moments that I really didn't enjoy (like lil' Hellboy in part 2).
The thing is though, I don't really recommend these films to everybody like I would something like Iron Man or The Dark Knight. I think that these movies are definitely aimed at a particular audience, and I just happen to be a part of that audience. It's not even so much a comic book fan audience as people who have and appreciate a big imagination. With both films, it's like Del Toro took Mignola's creation, tweaked it a bit, and then threw every idea he had at the wall. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't, but when they do work they're pretty tremendous.
For instance, in the second movie, there's a great scene where the main characters enter the troll market. A lot of critics praised that particular scene, as it's up there with the cantina scene in the original Star Wars as far as the sights to discover and the sheer reckless creativity that went into making it. Also, there's just something cool where the heroes consist of a demon, a fish-man, and a guy made out of smoke. If just the idea of those three characters working together makes you smile, then you just might be the proper audience.
If you haven't seen the movies, and you're not sure if they would appeal to you, I think that the real test is this: Do you find the idea of a demon and a fish guy singing a Barry Manilow song together to be just slightly shy of sublime? If the answer's yes, then these movies are for you. If you think that's one of the lamest things you've ever heard, then trust me, you'll hate them.
Oh, and in case you're wondering how the critics liked them - 80% on Rotten Tomatoes for the first; 88% for the second. Frankly, I'm surprised that they went over that well, but maybe most film critics are like me where a scene like that pretty much wins them over.
Thursday, January 1, 2009
The thing is, I basically agree with him. After all, he is right - both of those things do violate the Establishment Clause. However, I must say - come on, dude. Is this really a battle we need to fight? Will this do anything to further logical thought, critical thinking, and the absence of superstition?
Personally, I think that the Pledge is pretty meaningless for starters. People recite it without even thinking about what they're saying. You pledge allegiance to a flag? Really? And what if the flag, the Republic, the nation etcetera starts to head down a dangerous and evil path? Should you really continue to be loyal to it? Whatever, it doesn't even mean anything, and when you have little kids say it over and over again, they're just doing it because that's what they were told to do. I remember when I was in middle school, this one guy and I would always try and add in all sorts of silly words and phrases - and I'm sure that we weren't the only ones. I doubt that we would have done that if we only said the Pledge a few times a year, but saying it every day just becomes drudgery, and we were both far too young to even contemplate what it even meant. (It's like when people talk about little kids getting "saved". Yeah, they understand what they're doing.)
As for the Presidential oath - ho hum. I mean, I'm an atheist, and I find myself saying "Oh God!" all the time. What does it mean? Nothing. And the same goes for that oath. It's an expression, and it doesn't take away anybody's rights. Now, if a President would dare to say that he didn't want to make that part of his oath, then he should have that right. However, I don't really have a problem with somebody who believes in God saying that he would like the help of Him. Would I prefer to live in a world where people didn't call upon fictional characters to assist them with real problems? Yeah. But that's not happening in my lifetime.
The worst part about all of this is that when they interview people on the street about this, I'm quickly reminded as to just how ignorant people can be. On the news last night, one woman was criticizing him and her reasoning was that God was written on our money. Ummm...okay. I mean, that doesn't belong there either. (But again - who cares?) No doubt, you'll also have to hear stupid comments like how we were founded as a Christian nation (tell that to the fella who wrote the Declaration of Independece - Tommy Jeff, as I like to call him).
Basically, all this does is get people upset and accomplishes nothing. The thing is, I really would like to see everybody in this world come over to atheism. However, it's one of those things where if it is going to happen, it's going to have to happen naturally. People are going to have to see the virtue of it for themselves. If we try and force it, then we'll just wind up with what they had in the communist countries - a phony atheism where superstition and noncritical thinking prevailed. Now, I'm not saying that Newdow's struggle is up there with what Stalin was doing, but trivial little battles like this only hurt the cause.