Sunday, June 27, 2010

What are you afraid of?

I find it odd that here I am, with my son due to be born less than two months from now, and I haven't written about this impending life-changing moment more often. I really figured that I would have had several entries by this point, and I can assure you that it's something that's been on my mind quite a bit. Maybe I feel as though I'm still in the middle of processing all my feelings, so I'm not quite ready to write about them.

Obviously, that's changed today. It came up when Kirsti and I were discussing day care. Turns out that this is something that will not exactly be cheap. I was hoping that our new puppy would be old enough to watch out for our son, but I'm having a tough time training her to change diapers. It looks like, for the first year at least, we're going to be shelling out some serious moolah and making a few adjustments to our spending habits.

While discussing this, Kirsti informed me that when Logan's a bit older, we could save some money by having him attend a church-run preschool. Of course, I bashed my fists on the table and cried, "By Odin's beard! I say thee nay!" After all, I don't believe in Jesus; therefore, I need to make absolute certain that my son never even hears about Christianity. When Christmas rolls around, I will simply refer to it as "The Holiday". I will make sure that all people say "gesundheit" instead of "bless you" when he sneezes. And I will personally tear down all the crosses that adorn the churches in my neighborhood. After all, that contradicts my beliefs, so I can't have him being exposed to it.

Of course, that's idiotic. My actual response was, "Cheaper, eh?" In all honesty, I don't even see it as being a compromise. I have no problem with him being exposed to religious beliefs. In a way, I think it will be good for him to hear some Bible stories from actual Bible believers. When he asks me what I think, I will be honest, but I'd prefer it if he made up his own mind about it. (And I'm realistic enough to know that no matter how much I encourage him to think for himself on the matter, until he reaches his teen years, he's probably just going to agree with me.)

I do want to make clear though that I don't want him going anywhere that plants fears into his mind about going to hell. I think it's safe to say that most of these preschools aren't really that interested in doing that sort of a thing either. I'll take the time to ask the faculty there about that sort of a thing, but I'd like to make sure. I don't want him to worry about things that in all likelihood simply don't exist. I also don't want him worrying about being caught in a tractor beam of the Death Star.

I thought of this again just recently when talking with some relatives. Apparently there is a certain somebody in my family who forbids not only his children, but his wife even, of seeing or hearing anything that goes against his belief system. On the list of banned movies were Brokeback Mountain and anything starring Jane Fonda. I was pretty puzzled by this behavior. Not only can I simply not imagine telling my wife what she can and cannot see, I think that once my son is of a certain age, it will up to him to determine what he wants to watch. If they want to check things out that have some sort of political/philosophical difference with my own beliefs, then that's fine with me. I'm secure enough in what I know and believe that I don't feel threatened by it. In fact, I welcome challenges to my beliefs, as if there's a better way of looking at things, I want to know about it. I figure that any opposing viewpoints will either sink or swim on their own merits.

I took a moment to ask myself if I really was so different than this particular relative. The first thing that came to my mind was my willingness to have my son be exposed to religion. The way I see it, I have nothing to fear. I'd rather he rejects it because it doesn't make sense to him than reject it simply because I told him to, and if this means that he winds up accepting it, than that's the price I'm willing to pay.

Comics Roundup for 6/23/10

Avengers #2 - My only complaint with this issue is a common complaint that people have with the writing of Brian Michael Bendis. All the characters often sound the same. He makes too many of them sound like smartasses, and he's a bit too indulgent in "clever" dialogue. It's a minor complaint, but it bears noting. Other than that, this was a fun issue, as it follows up on the new Captain Marvel and gives him a place in the new status quo. I would have liked to have seen some more personal interactions between the characters, but this series is starting to feel almost more like the Justice League, where it's the huge, universe-shattering challenge of the moment. Whatever, it was a fun read, and I look forward to the next one.

The Amazing Spider-Man #635 - I'm continuing to not only enjoy the main story but the backup features as well. My favorite Spider-Man stories always involve him faced with a challenge where it looks like there's just no way to win, yet he continues to persevere despite the odds. This story also features a lot of twists, and it's good to see the current creative team building on some of the stuff from the pre-One More Day team.

Batman: Streets of Gotham #13 - This was a fun read just like the last one, but what really got me interested was that it followed up on the whole storyline with Hush posing as Bruce Wayne. As of right now, the good guys have the upper hand on him, but he's a schemer, and this issue lets us know that he's not just given up. With the return of Bruce Wayne coming soon, I wonder how it's all going to pan out. Plus, it looks like we have the return of Mr. Freeze next issue by the man who made him a cool (no pun intended) villain in the first place.

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #3 (of 6) - Batman continues to travel through time, and this issue we get him as a pirate. Just like previous issues, there's all sorts of weird twists and turns, and a lot of the stuff that didn't make a whole lot of sense is slowly starting to make sense. I think that this series, just like the whole RIP storyline, will read a lot better in one sitting where I can keep all the twists and turns straight in my head.

Superman #700 - I was really getting into the Superman books when Kurt Busiek was writing the main title and Geoff Johns was writing Action Comics. I started to lose interest when the whole New Krypton saga was dragging on for far too long. With this issue, it looks like a new beginning with J.M. Straczynski taking over the book. It ends with an interesting premise, but I think that I'll flip through the next issue before committing myself to buying this title again.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

You're freakin' me out!

Yesterday I saw something that no human being should ever have to see. I saw two old people "freak dancing". Of course, this term really is a misnomer. To call it a dance is to call it an art, and there is no art to something that my dog tries to do to my cat. Dry humping to music is what it really is, and it needs to stop - right now. No, wait, it should have stopped before yesterday because now my psyche is permanently damaged. And whom do I blame for all this? Lousy teenagers - that's whom.

Brief digression before I continue: I saw this while at a Chicago/Doobie Brothers concert. A friend of mine gave me free tickets, and in all honesty, I thought that it was going to be only mildly entertaining and maybe even slightly lame. That turned out to be true for Chicago, not so true for the Doobie Brothers. Those guys were really good, and their music had the right mix of professionalism and raw energy that one should get from a live show. Not only that, but the vocals of the Doobies were in top form.

Okay, enough of that. This is about lousy teenagers and why they are destroying the world.

Dry humping to music (I shall no longer refer to it by its misnomer) has been quite the controversy at the high school where I work. I think it's safe to say that it's been a controversy at high schools around the country. While I didn't chaperone any dances this year, I heard that at the Junior Prom, the administration turned on all the lights due to the fact that there was too much dry humping. I know that at the past dances where I have chaperoned, I was instructed to break up any dry humpers. (I really wasn't interested in getting in the middle of that. I think I may have given a few glares, and it's not like I was getting paid to be there.)

If you want to try getting the teenagers you know to listen to reason on this, don't bother. They are amazingly obtuse when it comes to this issue. (I should point out that there are probably a lot of teens out there who really don't see this much differently than I do. They're still lousy for other reasons, I'm sure.) One of their arguments almost sounds reasonable until you take a half a second to think about it. It basically goes along the lines that the older generation has always looked down on what the younger generation has done, and in time, what was controversial eventually becomes accepted. Just look at what they thought of Elvis!

This is almost convincing, but I will make the bold statement that you will never have a dance class where dry humping is one of the "styles" that you learn. If they still have shows like Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance in another thirty years, one of the themes will not be dry humping. You will not hear professional dance judges be able to go into detail about what was good and bad about a dancer's dry hump. They can do this with ballet, they can do it with tap, they can do it with hip hop dancing, but they will never do it with the dry hump. If they do, then my dog will get to be a contestant on those shows.

Let's face it, dancing, as an art form for the masses, has degenerated with every passing generation. It was no great shakes when I was a kid either. At prom and ball, nobody learned how to dance beforehand. You just moved around and did whatever you felt like doing. There were no steps, no moves. Is it a surprise that it degenerated into this? A lot of great dances involve sexual tension, but when you take the art away from it and keep the raging hormones, you're left with today's sad state of affairs.

I'm on Facebook, and I have a lot of students and former students on my friends list. Oftentimes, kids will post pictures of themselves during prom. Most of them are pretty innocuous with them just posing and smiling with their dates before they get in their limos. Sometimes though, you'll see photos of the dry humping. And it's not the boys who are posting them. It's the girls who do it. I was attempting to give a description, but look at the above photo and you'll get the idea. I'm tempted to comment and write things like, "Does your mom know you posted this?" or "Do you have any idea how degrading that is to yourself?"

But what's the point? They'd respond the same way teenagers have always responded. They'd tell me that I "don't get it". (The problem is, I do get it. I get it better than they do.) They'd say, "This is just the way we dance nowadays."

Of course, I could then explain why it's not really accurate to call it a "dance" and give the explanation that I just wrote above about why it isn't. But there's a saying that you can't reason somebody out of something that they were never reasoned into in the first place. I don't think anybody ever followed a logical progression, even a flawed one, in to thinking that dry humping was a form of dance. They do it because they see other people do it, and oftentimes there is little difference between humans and sheep.

Then again, maybe I should have taken a photo of the old couple. I could send it to them and say, "See! See what you're doing!" Nothing makes something instantly uncool than if old people are doing it.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Subjective Reality - On the March!

Reading the paper today, I was twice (that's right - twice!) reminded that this world has a serious problem with the notion of subjective reality. Things like facts and evidence are given equal time, or sometimes even a back seat, to gut feelings.

The first article was about the current Prop 8 trial in California. I've been following this story, and a friend of mine has been writing about it for SF Public Press. It's a pretty interesting process from what I'm reading, and the judge is asking a lot of tough questions from both sides. (Of course, if he rules against Prop 8, conservatives will call him an "activist judge" and not allow room for any further debate beyond that particular ridiculous talking point.) As I was reading the latest article on the story, I was struck by one thing in particular. Apparently one of the defense's main arguments was that upholding Prop 8 (which means that dudes can't marry dudes and chicks can't marry chicks) was "fundamental to the survival of the human race".

Okay, hold on...I'm building to a point here, but I just can't let that go. Fundamental to the survival of the human race? Are these people REALLY that stupid? (Yes, they are.) Men are no longer going to want to have sex with women if gay people can get married? Maybe they have a point. I know that for the few months there when gay marriage was legal, I was thinking about leaving my wife and seeking out a Brad Pitt-type man to be with. (The man is handsome; you have to give me that.) Once it was illegal again, I found my wife attractive once more. And guess what? We're due to have a child! These people just might be on to something. I will tell my son, once he's old enough to understand, that he owes his very existence to Californians making sure that homos can't marry.

Sorry for the digression there. Anyway, the judge asked the defense why they only called up one witness - and a pretty lame-ass one at that. (I might be paraphrasing a bit here.) When asked what testimony was given to prove this assertion about the survival of the human race being at stake, attorney Charles Cooper responded by saying, "You don't have to have evidence of this."

Once more for dramatic effect: "You don't have to have evidence of this."

That's an argument. That's what somebody said. No, not somebody. An attorney. In court. That was an argument. Maybe there's more to this quote. Maybe the full response was: "You don't have to have evidence of this, because it's such a bat-crap crazy idea that there is no way to actually get any for it. But doesn't it just feel right?"

An hour later, when I woke up from having passed out from the stupidity-induced coma that I went into as a result of reading that, I came across another interesting little news item. Apparently, Obama and BP conspired to create the current oil spill disaster. Who do we have to thank for this bit of information? Bill Randall, a congressional GOP candidate in North Carolina, is the man to thank for telling the world.

You'll never believe his evidence. Hold on, I need to look it up.

Here it is: He feels that there is a possibility. He feels it. Well, hey, there ya go! Who needs evidence when you've got a feeling! You'll also never believe this. The man is associated with the Tea Party. Well, those folks have demonstrated that they only subscribe to the most rigorously tested and scrutinized theories, so that gives him even more credence if you ask me.

Ugh. This is the problem, folks. This is why former Playboy models are given the same amount of authority as scientists. This is why there are "science museums" that show Adam and Eve playing with velociraptors. This is why even though the glaciers are melting, Global Warming is simply a hoax. (After all, we have a few out-of-context quotes from some emails! That debunks the whole thing! So what the data still shows that the average global temperatures - including the ocean temperatures - are rising?)

I was going to try and make the point that Charles Cooper and Bill Randall have fecal matter in their craniums. However, I actually have evidence to back up that assertion. (What else can explain the stupid stuff they say?) However, it's pretty obvious that evidence no longer has a place in the realm of public discourse.

(Oh, and what does the image have to do with this blog entry? I did a Google image search for Bill Randall. Some images of an African American man came up. This image came up as well. I feel as though this is a picture of the congressional hopeful.)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Comics Roundup for 6/16/10

Slow week, but I liked everything I got. Here goes:

New Avengers #1 - I had expressed before that I really didn't see much of a point in the New Avengers series continuing, much less being rebooted. After all, the first New Avengers series replaced The Avengers, and now that The Avengers is back, why should this even exist? I had written some time ago that I was worried that the franchise was being diluted a bit, and this was way back when Mighty Avengers was still going on after Secret Invasion was all over. Still, I was determined to at least give this one a shot, as it was being written by Brian Michael Bendis and was being illustrated by Stuart Immonen.

With all that out of the way, I have to say that this was my favorite of the three new Avengers series to come out post-Siege. With just a few pages, it makes sense why there's yet another Avengers team. Not only that, but it's great to see that Luke Cage is such an integral part of the Marvel Universe now. I don't think that anybody could accuse him of being a token black character, as you might have been able to make that case a long time ago.

Essentially, the "New" Avengers were basically the rogue Avengers ever since the end of Civil War. This continued during Dark Reign, of course. And with this new incarnation, while they're not exactly rogue, having gotten the thumbs up from Steve "Don't call me Captain America" Rogers himself, they are a bit more of an "unofficial" team. Not only that, but they're getting the respect they deserve, with Luke Cage having now being the owner of the old Avengers Mansion. I wonder - does this make him team leader? Ms. Marvel seems to be a better fit for that, but he's definitely the heart of this new team, and I don't see much point in it at all if he's not in the book.

Who's the team? It looks like Cage, Spider-Man, The Thing, Wolverine, Ms. Marvel, Iron Fist, Hawkeye, Mockingbird, and Jewel. For the most part, it's not too different from the team that we've gotten to know over the past few years.

I'm not quite sure what it was, but there was something about this comic that really made me feel good. Maybe it was finally getting to see these heroes get the respect they deserve. Maybe it was the fact that Stuart Immonen is really firing on all cylinders with this issue. Maybe I'm just a big sap who loves superheroes. It's probably a little bit of all of that.

The Amazing Spider-Man #633 & 634 - The final chapter of the Lizard story had a satisfying conclusion, but I'm wondering when they're finally going to settle this whole "Dark Aunt May" storyline, as it crops back up at the end of 633. As for 634, it begins the "Grim Hunt" storyline, and I'm pleased to see that Michael Lark is drawing it. I don't have too much to say other than it was a fun issue, and I'm curious to see where this is all going. One thing that I am disappointed in though is that once this arc is finished, an artist who I REALLY didn't like is coming back for six issues. I've been reading Amazing off-and-on since I started reading comics in the sixth grade. I've been reading it consistently for nearly a decade now. It looks like that streak is going to come to an end. I'll probably start picking it up again afterward, but six issues of an artist I really can't stand? Not gonna happen.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Al Williamson - One of the greats

The comics industry lost one of its greatest artists today with the passing of Al Williamson. His earliest work dates back a bit before my time, as he got his start during the 1950s. Assuming his Wikipedia biography is correct, he did a lot of work on EC's horror comics, and he eventually went on to work on the newspaper adventure strip Secret Agent X-9. He also did some work with the character Flash Gordon, drawing a few issues of an ongoing series, the movie adaptation, and a two-issue series for Marvel Comics. (Both Flash and X-9 were created by his artistic mentor, Alex Raymond.) Toward the end of his career, he mostly inked, often over artists like Pat Oliffe and Rick Leonardi. (I had to consult my collection to confirm the last one.)

While most of my collection probably features his inking, rather than his penciling, work, I definitely have to say that I've been a fan of his pencils long before I even paid any attention to just who worked on these comics that I love so much. My first encounter with his work was on the comic book adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back. He would also go on to do the adaptation for Return of the Jedi. As a kid, comics adaptations were a big deal. This was before I had the movies on video, and I would have to relive the stories through various books and comics. No doubt many of my earliest visual impressions from the Star Wars trilogy were filtered through the work of Al Williamson.

When I was in college, Dark Horse Comics began a Star Wars series that reprinted the old newspaper strips. The longest-running one was drawn by Williamson. I was buying pretty much all the Star Wars comics at the time, but even if I was being more selective, the artwork alone would have been enough to sell me on the series. What was great was that they didn't simply reprint the strips exactly. They reformatted them to fit a comic book, and they'd delete various redundant panels. That made for a better reading experience, and it was made even better by the fact that they got Williamson to do some new artwork for the series - including some really fantastic full-page (and double-page too, if I remember correctly) spreads.

By the time the series was done, I was an unabashed Al Williamson fan. I even picked up the two-issue Flash Gordon series from Marvel, even though I really didn't have all that much interest in the character. It didn't matter though because the artwork was more than enough to keep me interested, but I have to admit that the story by Archie Goodwin (his collaborator on the Star Wars newspaper strips as well) was pretty engaging as well.

Aside from that, the only stuff of his that I was getting was the aforementioned inking jobs. For those who don't know comics, and the only thing you know about inkers is from the bit about they're just "tracers" in Kevin Smith's movies, let me assure you that's not the case. A good inker can make a real difference in the finished product. Personally, I think that Williamson's fine lines made the best compliment for Rick Leonardi on Spider-Man 2099, but you could always count on a nice looking finished product no matter who the penciller was.

Not long ago, I picked up Al Williamson's Flash Gordon: A Lifelong Vision of the Heroic. I'm still not that big of a fan of the character, but after flipping through this rather hefty volume, I just had to have it. It reprints all the work Williamson did for the character in black and white. As great as his stuff looks in color, the black and white treatment (especially in a large, coffee table sized edition) really looks gorgeous. I'm thinking that I'm going to have to spend some time flipping through it again tonight.
I'm sure that there are some old-timers out there who are probably writing better and more thorough tributes than I am, and with those you can no doubt read about his early days and his comic strip work. I thought I'd just give a little shout-out to an artist whose work has been filling my imagination since I was in elementary school. Rest in peace, Mr. Williamson; see you on the planet Mongo.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Chili Ale - final thoughts

Sorry, this chili ale update will be one that you'll have to read.

I got a chance to have several of my beers now, and I have to say that I'm pretty pleased with the result. As for the ones with the Serrano in each bottle, where I feared that they were ruined, it turns out that they're just a tad bit over-carbonated. If I open the bottle slowly and let the air escape a bit at a time, then it's just fine. This is much different from having a "gusher" which takes a moment to even start foaming up, and then it just keeps on getting foamy and pouring out the top.

Overall, I have to say that I like the version without the pepper in each bottle better. It has a smoother taste and is a little less spicy. Personally, I'm thinking that Habaneros just might be a bit better of a compliment to the sweetness of a Blonde Ale than other peppers are. Next time, I think that I will use them exclusively for the entire five gallon batch, and I'll skip putting individual peppers in each bottle.

I've been to a couple of parties and got to see some other people's reactions. You always have to be careful with this, as people will often tell you that they like something just so they don't hurt your feelings. Basically, my overall impression is that it's not for everybody. I saw a few people drink them rather enthusiastically (and in both cases, it was the one without the Serrano in the bottle). Other people seemed to like them fine. One friend, who I know likes spicy stuff, didn't quite finish his entire bottle (it was one with a Serrano). However, I'm willing to chalk this up to the fact that he was having it with some hot wings - including the absolutely ridiculous atomic wings from Wing Stop. You don't really want a spicy beer to wash down insanely spicy wings. I figure he might want to try one again when he has a more appropriate food pairing to go along with it.

Will I make this again? Probably. I don't know if I'll make it often, but I'm sure that I'll get a hankerin' for them again - probably around this time of year.

Comics Roundup for 6/9/10

Batman #700 - Grant Morrison's back, and once again I feel somewhat intrigued along with a sense of confusion. I'm not entirely sure what happened, and I don't quite get how the "time hypnosis machine" works, but it almost doesn't matter. With this issue, we get a three-part story, one with Bruce Wayne as Batman, the next with Dick Grayson as Batman, and then the third with Damien Wayne as Batman. Beyond that, we're given views of other, various Batmen of the future, including Terry McGinnis. I'm wondering if this means that the Batman Beyond continuity is somehow going to become more a part of the mainstream DC continuity. I wouldn't have a problem with that, and it makes me want to re-watch the shows on DVD.

Captain America #606 - While I enjoyed the last storyline well enough, this issue is more like it. It features the return of Baron Zemo, who pretty much disappeared after Norman Osborn took over The Thunderbolts. There's not much else to say other than this was a thoroughly enjoyable installment of a rather lengthy run by Ed Brubaker. I think I also prefer it now that Butch Guice is the main artist.

Daredevil #507 - Daredevil concludes his business in Japan, and it looks like this whole storyline is going to be continuing for some time. Personally, I'm not necessarily looking forward to that, and I'm always looking for an excuse to drop a title. It's all just getting too far away from the basic essence of the character. Maybe I'll check out the next issue, but we're going to need this to get a bit closer to DD being a street-level hero again.

Echo #22 - Not as much happened with this issue as the last few, but it continues to be an enjoyable ride. I don't have a lot of comments that won't repeat what I've already said a million times about this series, so let's just say that I'll be around for the next issue.

The Invincible Iron Man #27 - As impressed as I was with the first issue of this current arc, I find myself a little bored with the last two issues. Maybe I'm just reading too much stuff, and maybe the problem is that this series reads better in trade paperback form. With a baby on the way, I need to cut stuff, so I'll pass on the next issue.

Nemesis #2 - Speaking of bored, I never get that feeling when reading a comic written by Mark Millar. Sometimes I feel at the end that it wasn't really very good, but I'm always entertained. This one actually happens to be pretty good. Just like any good issue of a comic series, the stakes get raised, and then they get raised again. We find out the origin of Nemesis, and we discover that him targeting police chief Blake Morrow isn't just the latest in his series of humiliations of famous police officers.

Tom Strong and the Robots of Doom #1 (of 6) - I really should have passed on this. After all, what's the point of the America's Best Comics line if Alan Moore isn't writing it? Sure, Chris Sprouse is drawing the character he co-created, but how can anybody capture the same mood that Moore did. Plus, four bucks an issue? I should at the very least wait for the trade. There's also a chance that the issues will be ridiculously delayed. Maybe I'll just stop with this issue and wait for the trade. Ugh - who am I kidding? Peter Hogan does a great job with this first issue, and it's too damned fun to resist. Yeah, I'll probably stick around.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Nook to the future!

Despite the warning of a friend of mine, I went ahead and bought myself an eReader. To be more specific, I bought myself the Nook, which is the one made by Barnes and Noble. I've been contemplating getting one for some time for a few reasons. The first is that while I probably read a lot more than the average person, I don't feel as though I read nearly enough. (And while I do consider reading comics as actual reading, I feel as though I should spread out a little and read some more prose.) The second is that while I want to read more, I don't want to crowd up my house with more stuff. It's bad enough that I keep bringing in more comics every week. After all, one of the things that I liked about DVDs is that they took up less space than video tapes. One of the advantages of Blu-Ray discs is that their cases are even smaller. And then you have Netflix's streaming queue, which shortened my DVD want-list by a huge list. (Why buy all seasons of Arrested Development when I can watch them any time with my streaming disc and Playstation 3?)

So, why go with the Nook? Well, I quickly ruled out's Kindle, as it seems to be a lot more limited as to what kinds of files you can read. With the Nook, it not only reads files that you can get from Barnes and Noble, but it can also read ePub files. What the hell does that mean? Well, if you search for public domain books online, you can find a whole bunch of free books in the ePub format. What's in the public domain? A hell of a lot, including some books that I've been meaning to get for some time now, including The Art of War, The Ramayana, The Prose Edda, Twelfth Night, The Nibelungenlied, and a whole bunch of other stuff from long-since dead authors. Check it out.

It was then between the Nook and Sony's eReader, but I went with the Nook because it had more memory. Also, while it cost a bit over 50 dollars more, it came with a $50 gift card to buy some books. There were also some other features that appealed to me a bit more, but I can't seem to recall them right now. (Oh, and why not get the iPad? That's really expensive. Maybe in the future it'll be less of an investment.)

Overall, I have to say that I'm impressed. I like the screen, and I love the fact that it's so easy on the eyes to look at. You don't feel the same as you do when you've been staring at a computer screen for hours. It basically looks just like print on a page. Currently, I'm reading Ayaan Hirsi Ali's latest book, Nomad. I can definitely say that I'm reading more than if I got it as one of them old-timey books. For one thing, I can read my Nook while I'm eating. You don't have to worry about weighing down the pages to keep the book open. Also, it's so conveniently portable. I was reading it while my freshmen were taking their final. I've found myself reading it whenever I have any downtime.

Another plus is that my wife is using it as well. I usually like to read comics before I go to bed, and she's currently reading a book that I downloaded on to it for her. From what I can tell, she's reading more now than she normally would as well. Let's hope the novelty doesn't wear off.

I should also point out that I got Moby Dick from one of those public domain sites. I just might be more likely to finish it now that I don't have to haul around that huge, leather-bound copy with me. I'll have to figure out where I left off...

Book learnin' - God is Not One

A few weeks ago, I finished reading Stephen Prothero's God is Not One. It's basically a follow-up to his excellent Religious Literacy. In that book, he pointed out the fact that even though the U.S. is a very religious country, its citizens are exceedingly ignorant when it comes to knowing some of the basics of exactly what it is they believe. In that book, he touched on the notion that it's a mistake to view all of the world's major religions as being "different paths up the same mountain" since the major religions of the world concern themselves with some very different things. With God is Not One, he follows up on that idea and explains the differences.

The book is divided up into nine chapters where he covers Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Confucianism, Yoruba Religions, and atheism (more on the last one later). Much of what I read I already knew, but there was a lot more that I certainly didn't know (especially when it came to Yoruba Religions. I must confess that I knew next to squat about that particular system of faith). It was also interesting to get it all in this particular context, where you are made to see just how totally different they all are.

Essentially, the thing that unites all of the religions is that they all identify a problem in this world, and then they offer the solution. One of the problems that people of different religions have with one another is that they just don't get why the other person doesn't seem to have the same priorities. For instance, Christians often talk about how their religion is the only one that offers them salvation. However, this is completely unappealing to a Buddhist, who isn't interested in salvation. They see finding happiness in the present life as being the thing for which we need to strive.

It's definitely a good read, and I agree with Prothero's assertion that the only way we can deal with people of different faiths is if we understand where they're coming from in the first place. I also thought it was interesting that he started with Islam, as he thinks that it's the religion of the 21st Century, and Thor help us, he just might be right. I also appreciated just how level-headed the whole book was, yet at the same time, he wasn't afraid to explain his personal issues when it came to certain faiths. For the most part, each chapter is an objective account of what the religion is about, but usually toward the end he gives some of his thoughts. What's good about it is that it's clear that he's giving his personal opinion at that point, and the reader is given the impression that he or she can take it as just that rather than an objective deconstruction of that religion's particular flaws.

I suppose that if I have any issue with the book, it's his final chapter on atheism. He certainly seems to have a bone to pick with the likes of Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, etcetera. I have to admit though that he makes a good case for how their anti-religious sentiment almost resembles a religion as well. At the same time though, he doesn't make the fallacy of equating atheism with being a de facto religion of anybody who simply chooses "none of the above". He makes it clear that for a lot of atheists, they simply just don't believe, and in that case it's hardly a religion.

Still, he sidesteps the point of guys like Dawkins. Are they right? Is religion harmful? Then again, maybe that's not his point, but he does seem to find that their rhetoric only preaches to the choir. I don't quite agree with this, as I know enough that a lot of people have read the works of the "New Atheists" and were finally able to find the words for the objections to religious thinking that they've had all along.

Whatever, it's a small quibble. A book like this is too important to get all upset over minor things like this. After all, one of my problems with religious people is how dogmatic they are, and how they often bristle at anything that dares to challenge their beliefs. I guess it's a good sign that it doesn't bother me too much. After all, I like how he concludes the (brief) chapter on atheism. He relates the story of one Amanda Gulledge, a mother who lives in a conservative, Christian area. She told a crowd at an atheist meeting of how her children sometimes lose friends because they're not Christian. He concludes the chapter by writing:
I wouldn't walk around the block to hear Christopher Hitchens take cheap shots at Christians. But I'd get on the subway, and maybe even a plane, to hear Amanda Gulledge tell me why her kids are good people too.
Would I prefer it if everybody could throw off what I see as the shackles of religious thinking? Sure. Could I live with it if they could simply learn to tolerate and respect those who didn't share their particular belief system? Yes, I could.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Comics Roundup for 6/2/10

Not much this week, but here goes:

Avengers: Prime #1 (of 6) - While there certainly seems to be a lot of "Heroic Age" filler on the stands lately, I picked this one up for a few reasons. First of all, Alan Davis is drawing it, and I buy pretty much everything he does. Secondly, Brian Michael Bendis is writing it, so it's obviously an important enough of a project to get the main Avengers writer on board for it. Thirdly, this is a story that actually needs to be told. In Avengers #1, we have Steve Rogers, Thor, and Iron Man getting along well enough. Sure, Iron Man feels a bit out of place considering all that's gone down with the last few crossovers, but there really isn't much that deals with the friction that absolutely must exist amongst these three. In other words, this was a story that needed to be told, and considering that I like the fact that Avengers #1 wasted no time getting to the superheroic fare, I have no problem with them dealing with this in a miniseries.

So far, it's pretty good. There are definitely some problems with these guys. Thor's attitude is somewhat muted from what you might expect, but considering that Iron Man pitched in to help during the Siege of Asgard, it's understandable that he's not quite willing to jump all over Iron Man's case about what happened during the whole Superhero Civil War. However, this isn't going to be six issues of talking, as the three heroes instantly get transported to different "worlds" of Norse mythology. Could I have settled for a six issue series with these guys arguing and discussing? Sure. But this is superhero comics, and action comes along with the genre. Hopefully the characterization won't take a back seat though.

Brightest Day #3 - This was interesting enough, but honestly, I don't remember much of what happened. I know that Deadman had to confront the Anti-Monitor, and that was actually a pretty good bit. The whole thing with Firestorm is interesting enough, even though I don't have a whole lot of history with the character. I still am intrigued by Aquaman's plight. Will I see this series through to the end? Considering that it comes out twice a month, we'll have to wait and see.

I, Zombie #2 - You know it's a bad sign when you're on the second issue, and you can't quite keep track of all the characters. I liked the bit about how the main character would absorb the memories of the people whose brains she has eaten (she doesn't kill them - she gets them at the cemetery). Still, this issue also had some vampires, and was that a mummy of some kind? I couldn't keep up, and I need an excuse to drop anything that doesn't really interest me. The only plus was Mike Allred's artwork.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Chili Ale - The early results

Early results are promising, especially with the CP2 Ale:

I'm a bit concerned about the CP1. As you can tell, it gushed a bit. I'm hoping that it's just because there might have been something in or on the pepper that added some wild yeast to it. That way, even if I wind up having to dump that half, the CP2 is still good. I should also point out that the CP1 grew on me as I continued to drink it.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Will she smell like tomorrow?

I just got back from a walk, and while out I listened to the new, eponymously titled release by Stone Temple Pilots for the second time. I have to say that I'm pretty impressed so far, and it definitely has more than a few good songs on it. This got me to thinking about how they were probably one of the best bands of the 1990s (and beyond, by this point) despite the fact that they got such a bad rap at the beginning.

I remember liking their first song, "Sex Type Thing" well enough, and it was their second single, "Plush" that got me to buy their CD. Listening to that song now, I think that some of the lyrics are almost ridiculously silly, but the music is good, and it has a good melody. Of course, this was when the comparisons to Pearl Jam came from every corner. I even remember David Spade on Saturday Night Live making a crack about how he really liked STP "the first time when they were called Pearl Jam." Not only that, but I would hear from friends and family members who thought they sounded the same as well. As for me, I was a big fan of Pearl Jam, so I didn't really see this as a huge problem. Not only that, but the more I listened, I could hear a fairly significant difference. I also thought the comparison was unfair considering that I had the CD and the comparisons pretty much ended with that particular song.

I continued to like the band with their second release, Purple. I remember buying it pretty soon after it came out, and I thought it was pretty solid all the way through. I also remember being frustrated, as I lived in the dorms at the time, and all I could hear people who had the CD booming from their rooms was "Vasoline". Don't get me wrong; it's a good song. However, I thought that there was a lot of other great stuff on there, and it wasn't until MTV started playing "Interstate Love Song" that I would hear that song being blasted as well. Apparently many people can't decide that they like a song unless it has some kind of mainstream approval first. I mean, did the song suddenly get better once it got some airplay? (Note, if you want to hear the song, it doesn't start until about 35 seconds into the video.)

Of course, the critics still raked the band over the coals, and I knew plenty of music snobs in college who would have nothing to do with them. After all, Pearl Jam was supposedly a horrible band in many of their eyes, so why would anybody want to listen to a knock-off of Pearl Jam? By this point, I thought that the comparisons were starting to get quite a bit lamer. After all, a song like "Interstate Love Song" doesn't sound a thing like Pearl Jam's style. The only similarity is that both lead singers have voices that are deep and slightly gravely, but if that makes them the same, then Jim Morrison sounds like Johnny Cash.

By the time their third CD, Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop came out, I remember reading a review in either Rolling Stone or Spin that raked them over the coals, continuing with the constant Pearl Jam comparisons. I had to wonder if the idiot writing the review had even heard a single song. How anybody can listen to that album and STILL say that is beyond me. I'm not going to post every video from that disc, but here are just a couple of them. If you think they sound like Pearl Jam by this point, please explain that one to me.

Of course, there were more albums, and more good songs, like the following:

Then they broke up, and Scott Weiland went off to sing for Velvet Revolver. While I don't think that band was as bad as some would have you believe, for the most part their music was fairly forgettable and not equal to the sum of its parts (as the band was essentially Guns 'N' Roses without Axl). Of course, there were also Weiland's issues with drug addiction, but I'm not really all that interested in that sort of a thing. I felt bad for the guy and hoped that he would be able to clean up his act since he had provided me with so much music that I liked. Beyond that, I didn't really follow all of his arrests and relapses.

I remember feeling some vindication though a few years ago while flipping through an issue of Spin. I don't know if it was some new, young-Turk reviewer, but basically it was a column about how STP had gotten an undeserved bad rap over the years. The writer also made the bold statement that "Interstate Love Song" was the best pop-rock song of the 1990s. (Perhaps he wrote "one of the best" but still...) Also, a few of their songs were included for playing on Rock Band, which obviously indicates that the makers of that game felt that their songs had the staying power of bands like The Who, Bon Jovi, Nirvana, and, well...Pearl Jam. It seems to me that the world is coming around to understanding what all of us STP fans understood all along - they're a damned good band.

As for the new album, I have to say that if you were a fan of the band, and you're a little hesitant in fear that this might be the dying gasp of a has-been band, I can assure you that it isn't. Their first single, "Between the Lines" is fine enough, but it's not one of the ones that really stood out for me. There's a great combination of hard rock and catchy pop tunes on this album, and Scott Weiland continues to mix up his vocal styles to suit the song. It's good to see these guys back again.