4 June 2007

Mead update

Posted in sit and wait for some sensation, we are drinking beer at noon on tuesday at 12:11 am by indecisive79

Update from this post from September:  Make that first-place award winning Orange Blossom Mead.

Life is a great big bang-up— / Wherever there’s a hang-up, / You’ll find…

Posted in I don't wanna believe that all of the above is true, I'm a sweetheart genius reckless jerk, maybe everything that dies some day comes back, people you've been before..., this property is condemned at 12:07 am by indecisive79

Warning, spoilers (for multiple movies/shows, actually, but mostly just S3):

A friend of mine recently reported that people who had read the Spiderman comic books liked the third installation of the franchise better. Possibly. But the problem with Spiderman 3 wasn’t knowledge about comic books. (And I should note that I think comic book movies always have to be evaluated on how they hold together as movies; it’s OK if you understand more if you’ve read the comic books, and I’m certainly willing to allow for certain latitudes based on conventions that apply in the comic book genre but not really anywhere else, but they need to stand by themselves from (and be judged by) a narrative /film aesthetic perspective (and by the way, they actually can do this and still be (mostly) true to the comic book, if the comic book was a good storyline to begin with).) I’ve never read a Spiderman comic book, but I thought the first movie was great and the second was pretty good (perhaps it was these expectations that lead me to judge this movie so harshly, or perhaps that I’ve seen A Simple Plan recently; Sam Raimi just has too much talent to create this kind of film). However, the third was kinda-OK for nearly two hours until it became utterly unwatchable in the third act. The dialogue completely fell downhill, the New Goblin’s butler came in as a deus ex machina to completely change things around unrealistically, and they tried to end the movie on a sappy note in which everything turned out well (even the two deaths, one to an incredibly underdeveloped character, and the other a sacrificial death of someone seeking (and desperately needing) redemption, can’t really be called sad in any sense).* Remember the note of sadness, the tragic loneliness that was Peter Parker’s plight at the end of S1 (~ “I can’t get close to people b/c I’ll only put in danger those I love”) or the tension-filled relationship that ended S2 (Parker and MJ are finally together, but Parker’s commitment to helping people still is leaving a rift in the relationship, revealed in MJ’s only slightly forlorn “Go get ‘em tiger.”). S3 really had nothing like this to give a sense of the complication of life (except maybe the Sandman’s potential legal problems…).

But the real fault of the movie is that by the end of the movie, there was no real villain except a meteorite. A METEORITE! When a meteorite fulfilled a villain role in the Superman movies, there was Lex Luthor (or others) behind the employment of kryptonite, but in this movie, the meteorite, a malevolent force that nonetheless had no apparent personality of its own, temporarily ruined Peter Parker’s social life and ended up destroying the annoying kid (sorry, one of the many annoying kids) from That 70’s Show (for which it should be applauded, by the way), but that’s not enough to really make it the only villain.

The other possible villains really weren’t too villainish. As I said above, Venom/Topher Grace’s character was underdeveloped, and he was more the victim of circumstance than evil; he was really mad (who wouldn’t be) at Parker for stealing his blonde girlfriend (who, by the way, looked (and acted) much better as the blind redhead in The Village)**, but then that black goo fell on him, forcing him to become evil. The Sandman was too noble, trying to provide for his crippled daughter (how manipulative can you get!) and being himself a victim of a science experiment; the one man that he killed (if I remember correctly) was Peter’s uncle, which was an accident by a desperate thief (oh, and by the way, happened two movies ago, though we only found out about it now). Yes, I like complicated villains, but not utterly redeemable ones, which The Sandman becomes at the end (yes, the whole forgiveness motif at the end could have been a nice touch, but it is much more affecting/effective if that forgiveness isn’t so completely deserved; that’s certainly the Christian story, anyway; for a great vision of this kind of forgiveness, watch The Mission). And the best friend/New Goblin becomes Spiderman’s sidekick until he dies about fifteen minutes later (in both screen time and story time). So none of those three could be real villains. Leaving only an inanimate object. And for any kind of action or comic book movie to work, you have to have a villain. A real villain with an actual personality (and yes, inanimate objects can have personality if you try hard enough; take, for example, Frodo’s ring; the black goo, creepy as it was, didn’t have it). You can actually go pretty far without a real hero (say, for example, Dolph Lundgren’s Punisher), but not without a real villain. Some reviews claimed that the problem was too many villains, which @ the 1:30 mark I agreed with, but at the end, there weren’t enough of them.

*I think Joss Whedon is right about this: in order for a happy ending to work, there has to be a tragedy that the survivors go through, like the death of a well-liked, well-developed, good character (hello Anya, Wash, and the entire cast of Angel (OK, bad example, since it wasn’t that “happy” of an ending; it was quite cool, though, to see a show kill off nearly everyone (well, except Harmony and Lorne); in S3, Grandma Parker might have worked, perhaps, but I doubt it)).

**Which I only saw recently; it worked poorly as a “go ahead, try to outsmart me kind” genre of movie (but then again, I’ve always thought that way of watching a movie was rather childish, especially when otherwise very smart people do it), but interesting as a utopian attempt to solve/protect oneself from the potential dangers of living in society.

19 April 2007

When is a Bird not the Bird?

Posted in complications you could do without, I'm a sweetheart genius reckless jerk, man I hate playing vampire towns at 2:40 am by indecisive79

Whenever I go to a concert of any kind, I find myself imaging what it might be like to be able to stand up there and perform. I’ve had a certain amount of experience playing piano (badly) as well as rhythm guitar and djembe (competently, though still not with much actual talent) in my day, but I know that I could never be a performer in a real band. Why not? I could often come up with musical ideas and I was good with theory, but I could never force myself to practice. Thus, I never got good enough. And besides, I don’t think I could’ve handled the stage fright.

But these musings bring me to my inaugural concert review. I recently saw Andrew Bird. I won’t spend much time on the forgettable opening act except to say this: I suspect that Bird had her opening because her meandering, unpolished (in a bad way) set mirrored his own. There was only one good song (the only one that didn’t sound like all the others, just as in Bird’s set), and it was buried amidst a sea of slow, plodding, unimaginative melodies. We joked (though with some justification) that her opening song, with only voice and guitar, sounded as if it might actually be a soundcheck instead of an actual song. One bright spot, however: through earplugs, her voice sounded like Karen Paris of The Innocence Mission. Now if she could only get Karen’s husband Don to play guitar for her…

Andrew Bird, it turns out, is pretty good at playing the role of improv comedian. After one song, they had to pause for technical reasons, so he pulled out the ventriloquist-puppet-looking doll that he had been recently given and proceeded to describe it and its accessories (including a Bears sweatshirt, which garnered a lot of cheers). I think it was something he came up with on the spot, and it came off quite well. Unfortunately, it was the only real successful improv of the night. Heir to the real Bird he is not.

In one sense, my later comments might sound quite unfair and harsh, considering that I respect what Bird was trying to do and would love to see someone do it well. All but one or two songs featured attempts to present multi-layered sound loops through the use of a JamMan (or similar device). You can record several layers at the beginning of the song and bring them in and out on cue to fit in with the live instrumentals. It sounds great if you can pull it off, and I’ve seen it done well, most notably by Phil Keaggy and Christine Lavin. However, it’s also an incredibly difficult device to use, especially when playing with a band (although with just three members, they should be able to coordinate without too much trouble). Bird had to stop songs five times because he hadn’t quite mastered how to use the technology. Simple adequacy in playing your instrument is the bare minimum of what fans should expect when they’re shelling out anything more than five bucks, and they certainly didn’t get it at this show.

About two-thirds of Bird’s songs followed a very simple formula: cool violin-layered loops at the beginning, a couple verses with him playing riffs or chords on the guitar with the violin loops turned off, followed by a long drawn-out section where he improvs solo guitar over the looped violin. It was kinda cool the first two or three times he did it, but it got old quickly. The main reason: Bird simply can’t (or didn’t) improv very well. Some jam bands re-hash (pun intended) the same formula song after song for years, and it works because they are good enough musicians to make each song new. Take out the intricate new sounds of a skilled improviser, however, and you hear the same song for two straight hours. Occasionally something noteworthy would come out of these improv moments, but not often. The show just wasn’t musically-interesting enough to keep one’s attention for the entirety of a set. It seemed Bird was playing around in places he’d never been to before, and so was hesitant to do anything very assertive. This was perhaps most apparent in the most annoying part of the show: Bird’s vibrato whistling, which, while cool only on the first song but tedious thereafter, he seemed to throw in whenever he didn’t know what else to do. In fact, most of this show seemed like a warm up for the real thing, that the real tour starts tomorrow night, and the shows he’s been playing are mere practice.

This tour is apparently considered “green,” which means that, among other things, they use biodiesel fuel for their tour bus and they sell magnets, the proceeds of which go to development of alternative fuels. Supposedly the tour is carbon-neutral (though I doubt their calculations includes the energy that the venues use, the gas that attendees consume, etc.). These all sound like great ideas. However, since this concert was basically a rehearsal with fans watching, it seems like the more environmentally-friendly choice would have been to stay home to practice. At least it would’ve cut down on noise pollution in my neighborhood. Bird might eventually become a good performer in the future. Needless to say, after he wasted my three hours and $18 on a practice session, I won’t be there to see it.

18 March 2007

Disqualificatory cynicism?

Posted in bein' caught in between, like all true believers, people you've been before... at 9:32 pm by indecisive79

“‘Cause like all true believers, I am truly skeptical of all that I have said.” -OtR

I think I’m somewhat of a strange person in at least one way (and my two or three readers can certainly add others): I am simultaneously utterly skeptical/cynical of a great many things, but I also have typically have an oddly realistically-optimistic view of the world. For example, I know that my chosen field of study has severely limited job possibilities, which I make jokes about all the time, yet I am almost completely free from anxiety over my future, figuring that something will turn up when the time comes. But it seems that many people see only the skeptical/cynical side of me, which they tend to interpret as pessimism. Which brings us to a comment I heard today that brings up a topic I’ve been meaning to write on:

It was indirectly but not very subtly communicated to me today that because I’m cynical about a particular subculture which I grew up in (i.e., American evangelicalism), I really have nothing of value to say in critiquing that subculture. This strikes me as quite odd, especially because it came from someone who is highly educated and seems to be fairly smart; perhaps I misunderstood, but let’s assume for the remainder of this post that I didn’t. Part of this reaction, perhaps, is a bit defensiveness, since she has a greater level of integration (pun intended…) into that subculture, of working professionally in it, even though she has lived in it a shorter amount of time than I have. Regardless, what this person said disqualifies me from identifying and addressing those things which have made me so disaffected with that subculture in the first place. Such thinking strikes me as being particularly apt for this subculture, and is in fact one of the (many) things about the subculture that I tend to be quite skeptical of. I don’t think it’s unfair to label evangelicalism as a whole as extremely resistant to self-criticism, a very non-Over-the-Rhine-ish conception of what it means to be a true believer.

As I was growing up in the church, everyone noticed that I was quite the bright young budding potential scholar, and I was continually encouraged to pursue my studies to the fullest. I was taught to be afraid of going off to college because it was a very hostile place that was going to attack my Christian faith from any and all angles (imagine my surprise when it never really seemed to be an issue with anyone; turns out, if you’re not an ass, people tend to get along with you—who knew?). Yet I wasn’t pushed away from going off to school. Quite the opposite—I was told that we (i.e., evangelical Christendom) needed good Christian scholars to go to university, get grad degrees, and become professors in order to tell all those secular humanists working in academia that they’re completely wrong on all sorts of issues (note—I have since found out that secular humanists are indeed wrong about many things, an unfortunate consequence of their being human just like the rest of us). What was assumed, of course, is that my goal should be to go to college to be able to defend evangelicalism. I don’t think it even occurred to most people who were encouraging me in my studies that I might potentially learn something from the university; I was to go there to teach them how they are the ones getting everything wrong. To make a long boring story short and boring, I actually found a wide variety of areas to explore, new ways of examining the world that didn’t fit into the neat evangelical categories, and often criticized the too-narrow visions that evangelicals typically prescribe. I figured that if evangelicalism was worth anything, it would have to withstand a skeptical view, a skepticism that I am still ruthlessly employing. Even the close oversight of a campus ministry association wasn’t able to keep me from asking the truly difficult questions that, quite frankly, evangelicalism as a whole hasn’t even realized have been asked of it. I have become so disaffected with evangelicalism that I’m not sure I identify as one anymore (especially insofar as being “evangelical” is tied to conservative politics, resistance to real peer-reviewed scientific discovery about the origins of the earth (and the concomitant acceptance of the non-science of “intelligent” design), pragmatic/realist/unchallenging conceptions of art, and “book-“/gift-store kitsch (Testamints, anyone?)), but I still hold out hope that what I’ve learned can hopefully be used in a constructive way to aid evangelicalism…or at least to destroy it in a productive way.

I suppose one of the cliched morals of this story is to be careful what you ask for; evangelicals asked me to start thinking, and a good chunk of my thinking has been dedicating to identifying and critiquing the shortcomings of the evangelical background that I grew up with. But perhaps even greater is this: I think that to be a true (rather than merely passive) believer (of anything), one must be truly skeptical, one must test ideas, and not being afraid to ruthlessly critique when ruthless critique is warranted. I maintain that doing this actually shows an optimistic streak, because criticism implies a desire for something better, something truer and more authentic. But what could I possibly say to help. After all, I’m just a cynic…

5 October 2006

a long post where I out myself as a “liberal” but also criticize the rhetoric of the Christian left

Posted in children hug his neck unaware of their inheritance at 10:29 am by indecisive79

I recently received an e-mail from DC that asked me what I thought of the Red Letter Christians. I thought it would be worthwhile to respond on this site rather than merely by private e-mail. So here it goes.

Let me begin by saying that for a number of years now I have deplored the fact that faith and politics have been so aligned in public perception such that one party is seen as the natural and only possible home for Christians, a party that is interested in “returning” America to it’s “founding principles” of having government rooted in their very narrowly defined version of Christianity (newsflash: the founding fathers weren’t uniformly Christian, and they intentionally formed the US as a secular state to get away from the huge problems Europe was having with established state churches), a party that promotes “values” but for the most part mean only two issues (you know what they are), issues that they really only talk about and make pitiful attempts to legislate on if there’s an election within a few months (yes, wasting time voting on a constitional amendment that everyone knows will fail, again, is a suppreme waste of time from a legislative point of view, and only has meaning by identifying those in Congress who supposedly “hate family values,” which everyone already knew anyway). So it delights me to no end (note: I don’t delight to see negative consequences listed here; I delight that they’ve been finally opened up to public scrutiny for all to view) to see the wheels coming off the Grand Old Party: former House majority leader Delay resigned because of mounting ethics charges, former Illinois governor George Ryan getting 6.5 years in jail for corruption in office, a number of congressmen have been implicated in basically bribe-for-vote scandals involving lobbyist Jack Abramoff, federal spending by the supposedly “small government” party is way out of control thanks in large part to misguided tax cuts for the rich and poorly-planned war that has no end in sight, a recent CIA report indicates that they have evidence that future problems with terrorism will actually be much worse b/c of the recruiting and training ground known as the Iraq War (isn’t that quite the “Mission Accomplished”…?), Bush has recently pushed through the Senate (even with the support of former Vietnam POW John McCain) a bill that basically says he can torture anyone suspected of being a terrorist (even if they are ultimately innocent) as long as we don’t use the word “torture,” Bob Woodward just published a book that details infighting throughout the White House staff, with reasonable and respected voices like Colin Powell being shut out by warmongers like Rumsfeld, and the most recent scandal involves a congressman who resigned when it became known that he had sent sexually explicit messages to a page, followed by revelations that the House leadership, including Speaker Hastert, knew about the issue at least months if not years ago and decided to do little about it because it might hurt them politically (how long will it be before one of the religious right’s rhetorical shock troops (i.e., Robertson, Falwell, or Dobson) claim that this scandal proves that gays are pedophiles (which is complete rubbish) while ignoring the use of sex in the abuse of power on a scale worse (b/c the pages were minors) than Clinton-Lewinsky? I give it about 48 hours.).

(yes, that paragraph was two sentences long)

The current leaders of the Republican party have been revealed to be rotten-to-the-core hypocrites who are willing to use the language of faith to gain votes but whose main concern has been amassing their own wealth and power. Yes, there are certainly exceptions to this tendency, but even those exceptions have usually been cowed into silence, unable to criticize their party for fear of losing party privileges/seniority. The biggest tragedy in all of this is that there are millions of good moral people who have been convinced that this party works for their interests in promoting their deeply held moral beliefs, but evidence that they do so (rather than merely talk about doing so) is thin indeed. I’d speculate that the cause of this long record of hypocrisy is in part that there has been no one to keep them in check, to make sure that their political choices line up with their faith; if Reps are “God’s Own Party,” and if Dems aren’t associated with God at all, then no matter what they do the Reps will still be the party of Christians.

Bothered by this trend for a long time, Jim Wallis has been using his magazine Sojourners to try to change the conversation about faith and politics so that Christianity and moral values are no longer viewed as the exclusive property of Republicans. In 2004, they spearheaded the campaign “God is not a Republican … or a Democrat” to try to show people how legitimate Christian faith can also lead to political positions on the liberal side of the spectrum. They aren’t pacifist (I believe Wallis supported the war in Afghanistan), but they have argued against both the justification for and the abuses in the Iraq War from the start. Wallis has also tried to expand people’s views of what counts as a moral issue by saying that “Budgets are moral documents,” that we can see what a nation truly values by what they spend their money on. Wallis has also argued that the way to actually lower the number of abortions is not to pack the Supreme Court but to fix the root cause of a majority of them, poverty; abortion rates have gone up during Bush’s administration (after declining during Clinton’s) largely because poverty rates have increased.

I generally like what Jim Wallis has done. It is true that he often depicts himself as nonpartisan while basically backing a slate of issues that can be generally described as “liberal.” I usually don’t see this as that bad of a thing, primarily b/c there are so many organizations out there who imply that Christians are sinning if they don’t vote Republican; Wallis and Sojourners provide a bit of a ballast, and his growing popularity is a sign that his message resonates with a large number of disaffected Christians like myself. But I have a problem with this new group he’s starting called Red Letter Christians, and not only because I’ve never liked red letter editions of the Bible. I like what they stand for (fighting poverty, preserving God’s creation through environmental protection, promoting a consistent ethic on life (which also includes stands against capital punishment, while also trying to give people the ability to live life to the fullest by making sure there’s adequate access to health care), etc.), but I don’t like how they have named themselves. They are trying to say that they are following Jesus’ words, which is a good thing (for example, I can’t for the life of me figure out how one can condone torture and be a follower of the man who said “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”). They are also trying to be a corrective on mainstream evangelicalism’s tendency to concentrate primarily on a small subset of the Bible (i.e., Paul’s letters) in developing their theology (those evangelicals love to quote Romans 13, especially when Republicans are in power…). My objection is twofold, and both of them involve their using a bad strategy from their conservative opposition: first, emphasis on the red letters alone is as much of a foreshortening of the biblical witness as focusing on only Pauline texts. The upshot here is that they need not restrict themselves to merely the red letters, since their policy positions could actually be derived from the entirety of the Bible (and, quite frankly, it’s hard to get environmental protection out of the words of Jesus, whereas it’s quite easy to find in a holistic doctrine of Creation that takes into account the whole narrative of Scripture). Second, and more importantly, naming themselves as Red Letter Christians tends to identify themselves as the exclusive purveyors of Jesus’ ideas, which is quite untrue. This is the sort of rhetorical move that evangelical right has been using for years, with the most recent example that I’ve found being Focus on the Family’s rather arrogantly named The Truth Project, which name implies that what it teaches is all 100% truth and perhaps the only source one needs for hearing the truth, both of which are extremely shaky (at best) epistemological positions. I’d have hoped that Jim Wallis, with all his positive and earnest work thus far, would be above such rhetorical one-ups-manship. I hope and pray that the Red Letter Christians can do some good and can help change the discourse on politics and religion in this country, but I also hope that this isn’t the first step in Wallis becoming what he’s tried so hard to resist.

30 September 2006

It also contains very high levels of electrons!

Posted in And I left the ring... at 9:05 pm by indecisive79


This is a real sign found at a real lake. So the person responsible for this sign claims to have known that it is completely ridiculous. The lake had bacteria problems, so to keep people from swimming in it, they put up this sign. Apparently, the guy in charge thought that people would associate the word “hydrogen” with “hydrogen bomb” and be scared enough to stay away. What I find interesting is not that someone would put up a ludicrous sign for an even more ludicrous reason; what’s surprising is that this guy didn’t think that the word “bacteria” might scare people into not swimming in the lake, given our culture’s penchant for anti-bacterial everything.

20 September 2006

Mead (again) #4: Anodyne

Posted in we are drinking beer at noon on tuesday, without a reason anymore at 1:06 am by indecisive79

I didn’t wake up with the intention of making mead today; it just seemed like the thing to do at the time. Same as last time, except I didn’t use a starter, added more yeast nutrient, and made it with a bit higher gravity (i.e., higher sugar to water ratio), though it still should be somewhat dry, especially since I think this yeast strain dries out a must a bit more than the Premiere Cuvee. The pace of fermentation never got going last time, which led to me adding extra nutrient and energizer after a couple weeks. Hopefully this will be fermenting faster (though maybe not quite as soon, since I didn’t use a starter).

P.S. Does anyone recognize the pun in the name of this mead?



Red Star Pasteur Champagne yeast

4 tsp yeast nutrient

2 tsp yeast energizer

~10.75 lb Campbell Apiaries tupelo honey
enough water to hit ~4.25 gallons of must


made mead @ 11:50 p.m. on 19 Sept 2006
original specific gravity (SG) = 1.088

expected final SG = 1.000(?)

expected alcohol content (by volume) = 11.6%

14 September 2006

hit and run communication #3

Posted in another postcard from the highway at 11:19 pm by indecisive79

The apartment complex I live in has two signs that I see while I’m across the street waiting for the bus.  They both say “Apt’s” instead of “Apartments.”  I can’t figure out if this is the nongrammatical use of an apostrophe to form a plural (i.e., more than one (abbreviated) “apt”) or the quite grammatical, though nonstandard and not formal, use of an apostrophe to indicate the ellision of letters due to limited sign length (such as “int’l” for “international” or “gov’t” for “government”).  Both because I’m a cynical masochist (masochistic b/c I chose to live here), and because I’m not inclined to think that businesses should use shorthand on official signs that represent themselves to the world, I tend to presume the former.

7 September 2006

hit and run communication #2

Posted in another postcard from the highway at 9:28 am by indecisive79

Recently seen on a T-shirt:

“Muslims love Jesus too.”

A sword for the Lord and contemporary Bible distributors

Posted in if I'm stuck in this motel room at 9:26 am by indecisive79

So yesterday was Gideon day on campus. Nice-looking guys in suits distributing green New Testaments to anyone who wants one. They’re non-professorial old men on a college campus who (usually) manage not to look creepy, which isn’t an easy task.

So there are a few things that seem very weird about them. First, they have named themselves after a biblical man who is a hero in his young life (the story everyone remembers), swears he won’t lead his nation into monarchy, but then makes himself de facto king while he allows the country to fall into all manner of paganism. Did the Gideon Society take on this name to provide an institutional trajectory? Let’s hope not. Second, I find it curious that the society which is probably responsible for the most widespread free Bible distribution in America, and maybe the world, would assume that the only proper form of God’s holy word is a four hundred year old translation commissioned by and named after someone who was almost certainly gay, a lifestyle condemned by nearly all the KJV-only crowd. (And yes, I’m giving props to an old professor of mine; deal with it.) And don’t get me started on the incompleteness of these New Testaments+Psalms+Proverbs that they hand out; I’m not sure there’s even a reference to Gideon in them… Third, I believe their membership consists only of men. Though I don’t agree with the theology, I understand why some Christians think that women should not hold office in the church or preach from the pulpit. But for goodness sake, these guys aren’t preaching, and they’re barely even talking! Can’t a woman hand out a Bible just as easily as a guy?

I suppose that I appreciate something about what they’re doing. They are trying to spread what they see as the good news, and they are doing it in about the most polite manner possible, which is infinitely better than the typical hellfire and brimstone quad/street preachers (whom I haven’t heard from in awhile, actually). They just stand there and offer a Bible to anyone who will accept it. But simply offering a Bible–or, I should say, about a quarter of a Bible–seems like such an inadequate gesture compared to the task that the church is called to, i.e., to invite people to join in the furthering of the kingdom of God by letting them see the community of faith in action. But even so, I always take one of their testaments; after all, this outdated text actually functions quite well as a handy reference work in my field of study.

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