Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Real Heroes

These guys are the window washers at the children's hospital in Pittsburgh.  In my opinion, they are real heroes.  As a child, I had some extended hospital stays, and I can't tell you what this would have meant to me.  You guys are truly amazing.  Thank you.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

A Commonwealth Of Dunces

I live in Pennsylvania.  Apparently with a huge number of dunces.

Pennsylvania does not have a State Fair, it has a Farm Show.  This traditionally takes place during the second week in January at a large complex of buildings built and funded by Pennsylvania taxpayers which is called the Farm Show Complex.  It's here in the state capitol of Harrisburg.  Obviously, it doesn't make sense to keep this huge facility idle for the other 51 weeks so the Complex is leased or rented out to various other groups throughout the year for things like the PA Auto Show, the National Horse Show, and the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show.

The Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show is basically a gun show.  Yes, it has kayaks and canoes and fishing stuff and camping gear, but it is above all else, no matter what anybody says, a gun show.  The organizers, Reed Exhibitions, actually tried to show a little bit of empathy this year and told its exhibitors that assault weapons would not be permitted at the show, out of deference to families and the Newtown massacre.

The exhibitors' howls of protest could be heard from sea to shining sea.

The organizers claim that banning "modern sporting rifles" from the show help keep the focus on "the hunting and fishing traditions enjoyed by American families."  The ban would only affect a tiny percentage of exhibitors.

Instead of going along with this extremely sensible -- and sensitive -- policy, so many vendors have pulled out of the show in protest that the show has been canceled.  The organizers are claiming that it's only being "postponed for now," but it's been canceled.

I just don't get it.  I don't get why deciding not to allow the sale of automatic assault weapons and high-capacity magazines at what was originally a hunting and fishing exposition is making people crazy.

This nation needs to get over its addiction to guns.  The Second Amendment has been warped beyond all recognition of its original intent by these C-student losers who are convinced that their government is their enemy and that therefore they need to be armed with the most effective killing technology available for when Uncle Sam comes knocking.  It's why they don't want national gun registration databases, because, well, that's a list which can be used by the government to round up and seize guns.

Which, in my opinion, would be a great idea.  But that's not the point of this essay.  The point is, that in spite of the fact that these weapons are being used to kill our children and are entirely too abundant and easy to acquire, my fellow Pennsylvanians are raising a huge stink about not being able to buy them at a fishing show.  A fishing show held less than two months after the worst mass killing in our history outside of the World Trade Center.

What the hell is wrong with people?

When is the killing going to be enough?

I hope I live to see a couple of sea changes in our American culture, I really do.  I hope I live to see gay marriage become as universal and commonplace as straight marriage.  I hope to see that women finally achieve true social and financial equality, and that they finally get the unquestioned and unquestionable right to decide what happens to their bodies.  And I hope to see the day when the rest of us normal folks finally have had enough of killing, flip the bird to the NRA and grow the stones to do something about the guns in our society.  I really do.  Instead I live in a time when the reaction to a mass killing of kindergarteners and first graders is to line up at the gun stores and buy automatic weapons and super-sized ammo magazines before they're taken off the market.  Who needs this crap?  I want my police and my military to have them, not my freaking NEIGHBOR.

There was a woman on the NPR radio program Here And Now who was telling the host about a terrible tragedy in her life:  a few years ago in Texas, she was with her parents when another of these loons barged into the cafeteria where they were dining and started killing people.  Her parents were murdered.  Her response was not to advocate gun control, but to bitch and moan about the fact that "things would have been different" if concealed-carry had been legal and she had had her Colt .45 in her handbag instead of out in her glove compartment.  She has been carrying this anger around for YEARS.  And she clearly had recited her story so many times that she truly believes that things would have been different if she'd been allowed to have her gun in her handbag -- that she would have taken down the murderer and saved her parents and would thus have had a much different life.

She's delusional.  In my humble opinion, she is delusional.

There is no guarantee that she would have made any difference.  She may have been killed herself.  Her parents may have died anyway.  She may have opened fire on this guy and missed, or worse, hit an innocent bystander or a child and ruined someone else's life and world as thoroughly as she has convinced herself that gun control laws have ruined hers.  She has "what-if"-ed herself into the same delusion that so many others have in the wake of such killings, that a surfeit of guns in the hands of the entire population would have saved lives in these awful tragedies.

I would respectfully remind her that gun laws are not responsible for her parents' deaths; the sociopath who pulled the trigger is responsible.  And I would respectfully remind her that, metaphorically speaking, her right to swing her fists around stops just at the tip of my nose.  We have the right to go about our lives free from the fear that the guy next to us might shoot us.  The Second Amendment provides for the existence of a WELL-REGULATED civilian militia -- in itself an idea that has become outdated and archaic, because we have the finest armed forces and police on the planet, but never mind that now -- but it does not automatically give her or anybody else the right to own military grade hardware.  It was intended to allow farmers and business owners and bakers and printers and librarians to keep a rifle handy in case the British dropped in to take things back for the King, in a time when there was no national armed force of any kind, and precious little in the way of local law enforcement outside the largest communities.  Clearly, this is not the world we live in any longer.

No, the world we live in is one where paranoid fantasies rule a huge chunk of our citizenry and keep our lawmakers ineffective because they are too afraid of losing their precious jobs to do the right thing and get rid of all these advanced high-capacity killing machines.  You don't need an assault rifle to put food on the table, or for so-called "sport," and nobody outside of Seal Team Six needs a weapon that fires six shots a second and holds ten full seconds' worth of ammo in the bargain.

Those who say different are dunces.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Family Matters

I am pretty much estranged from my own family.  I have one sister to whom I am relatively close.  My other two sibs are pretty much strangers.  And I only have perfunctory contact with my surviving parent, my dad.  If it wasn't for the fact that I wanted my daughter to know she had a grandfather, we would have been quits a long, long time ago.

So most of my family stuff comes from my wife's side.  She has three surviving sisters, and her mom is still alive and going strong into her 80's.  And while I don't always agree with their politics or religious views, I care for them all quite a lot.

But their kids suck when it comes to choosing spouses.

Well, that's not entirely fair.  I am writing this to commiserate over two of my nephews-in-law, and only one of them came to us through marriage to a niece.  The other one we inherited from a previous marriage.

After the Colorado theater shootings, the former nephew-in-law (or "nil") was all over Facebook going crazy over gun rights, concealed carry laws, and how things would have been "different" if HE'D been at that theater.  Why, he would have Dirty Harry'd that bad guy in the first two seconds.

Right.  Because firing a weapon into a smoke-filled darkened room full of screaming children is such a good idea.  This guy is the poster child for idiocy.

And the other nil is the one that prompted today's mini-essay.  His dad is a freelance sound engineer who tweeted from ABC on the Capitol Mall as he was getting ready for the Inauguration today.  My nil's response:  "Is that today?  Traffic is going to suck."

Because the first thing we should think about when given the opportunity to see a behind-the-scenes front-row seat of history in the making is that "traffic is going to suck."

Oh, if only we COULD pick our families as easily as we can pick our noses.  Idiots.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Join the Corps!

I couldn't in good conscience call this blog "Citizen of Oa" and NOT mention the fact that a really great Green Lantern collectible is coming!  For the first time at a price point under $200, DC Comics Collectibles is offering a life-sized 1:1 scale Green Lantern Power Battery (i.e., the Lantern that gives GL his name.)  It comes with your very own Green Lantern Ring, and YES, THEY BOTH LIGHT UP WHEN YOU TOUCH THE RING TO THE LANTERN!

The Lantern Battery will be released this May, and is available for order NOW through your local comics shop -- mine is the best in the world, Comix Connection of Mechanicsburg, PA -- or through such e-tailers as Entertainment Earth.  Shop around; it's available in some places already for as much as $30 off the listed price of $199.95.  I have been wanting one of these for over a decade, but my loving wife has always objected because (a) it cost around $350 when you could even find one new (and lately more than double that on the auction sites,) and (b) "What would we do with it???"

This time, she said "yes."  I married a keeper.

"In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight.  Let those who worship evil's might beware my power:  Green Lantern's light!!!"

More information on the prop replica battery can be found here:

And the official video can be seen here:

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Atheist Outrage (But Not What You Think!)

A few months ago, my wife and I went out on a sort of a quest to find this family diner.  The owners are also the parents of an artist acquaintance, and we had good reason to believe that the food there is excellent.  Sadly, we arrived at 7:00 PM on a Saturday night but found the diner closing for the night.  We had to drive for almost an hour only to be disappointed, and we were hungry, so we whipped out the smartphones to look for something nearby.  We found what turned out to be a superb Cajun place, Prudhomme's Lost Cajun Kitchen, where we had an excellent meal and enjoyed some great live music in the bargain.  It has become one of our favorite places, especially since its discovery was so serendipitous.

Imagine our surprise to find this little restaurant in the news this month.

An atheist and member of the Pennsylvania Freedom From Religion Foundation had filed a complaint with the Human Relations Commission because Prudhomme's was giving diners a ten percent discount on Sundays if they brought in a church bulletin.  The restaurant and the complainant settled out of court, with the restaurant being allowed to continue their promotion as long as they changed the wording to make it absolutely clear that no type of religious institution is excluded.

This is the kind of crap that gives us atheists a bad name.  No wonder people of faith hate us.  This has to be the most petty, useless, time-wasting BS I have heard of in a long, long time, and it's happening in my own back yard.

The restaurant was simply trying to boost their business on an otherwise slow day.  That's all.  It isn't about religion, or exclusion, or inclusion, or anything of the sort.  This is not hanging a big ol' crucifix behind the judge in the courthouse.  This is not discriminating against other beliefs or faiths.  This is not reading the New Testament to Jewish and Muslim and Hindu and Atheist kids in school.  And it isn't, as the complainant insisted, "pushing religion."

The Golden Rule works both ways, bud.  Pick your battles with a little more intelligence next time.

Now let me make it absolutely clear:  I am an atheist.  I am actually an antitheist.  I reject the notion of any kind of god.  I believe that humans must be good without gods, because being "good" -- i.e., behaving ethically and treating others the way you yourself wish to be treated -- is the moral, ethical and "right" thing to do.  There is no afterlife.  There is no soul.  There is no Heaven or Hell or Purgatory or Limbo or reincarnation or ANYTHING after we die.  Therefore it is even more important that we live this life as though it's our only chance to appreciate the beauty of life and each other and the universe.  This I believe.

There is a great billboard that pops up now and again.  It says something like, "Religion is like a penis.  It's great to have one, and it's great to be proud of yours.  But please don't whip it out in public and wave it around, and please, PLEASE don't try to shove it down my throat."


I do not proselytize.  I will never try to convince a person of faith that they are "wrong," and I only ask that they give me the same respect.  If this atheist idiot didn't like the restaurant's promotion, he has the right to vote with his feet by walking away, and with his wallet by keeping it in his pants. So to speak.

Prudhomme's is not a public institution.  They can have flip-flop night and are not discriminating against the shod.  They can have tank-top night and are not discriminating against the sleeved.  And if they want to, they can have church bulletin Sunday discounts.  It does no harm.

Let me repeat:  It.  Does.  No.  Harm.  It doesn't "push religion."  It just drums up business on a slow night in what is a very rough economy.

So Mr. Fellow Atheist, take that outrage and that energy that you have been wasting, and go and apply it to a battle that is actually worth something.  Fight hate.  Fight sexism.  Build homes for the homeless. Feed the hungry.  Lobby for gun sanity.  Lobby for equal pay for women.  There are lots of things that you can do to make things better right here where we both live.  But please stop wasting everyone's time with your phony outrage over this non-issue.

If you do, I will cheerfully give you the 89 cents you would have saved on your blackened catfish last Sunday.  Asshole.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Overdue! The Flu! And Spider-Man: Eww!

So much for my trying to get in one post per week!  The flu shot that goal right out of the gate.  I am slowly recovering, but I'm not quite 100 percent just yet.  Part of the problem is that I take an immune system suppressant to help control my Crohn's Disease, and that gives me even less ammo than the average person with which to fight off the flu.

I am, however, quite convinced that things would have been far worse, and for far longer, if I had NOT been getting an annual flu shot for over a decade.  It's still not too late to get one, and I strongly recommend that you do so, along with regular hand washing, staying the hell home if you do get sick, and so forth.  It's BAD this year, folks, and every little bit helps.

Enough of that -- this was originally planned to be a comics/geek culture blog, and even though I have strayed far from that and journeyed to all kinds of places, there are times when I actually DO have something to say about comics.  And even though I consider myself a DC guy, this time around I want to comment on Marvel Comics, specifically, The Amazing Spider-Man's last issue, #700.

And when I say "last issue" I really do mean "last" as in "final."  The Amazing Spider-Man debuted in 1962 and has run for 700 issues.  Pretty respectable.  But as Marvel Comics tries to reboot its universe into what they are calling "Marvel NOW!" (even though in every press interview and commentary, they flatly deny that it's a reboot) they are changing titles, team line-ups, and of course, numbering most of their issues over again and starting with new #1 issues.  Because we nerdy collectors do love our #1 issues.

Amazing Spider-Man is the exception.  It will be reborn as "Superior Spider-Man" in the very near future.  And the reason why breaks my heart.  [WARNING!  SPOILERS AHEAD!  IF YOU CARE AT ALL ABOUT SPIDER-MAN AND DO NOT WANT THE REBOOT SPOILED FOR YOU, PLEASE STOP READING RIGHT HERE AND RIGHT NOW!]

Thanks to the recent movies, even casual observers of pop culture generally know that Spider-Man's secret identity is science nerd/photographer Peter Parker.  And they know that one of his main villains is Doctor Octopus, a mad scientist who was accidentally fused to a set of four robot arms which make him a very formidable opponent even for someone with the proportional strength and speed of a spider. In the last few years of comics storytelling, Doctor Octopus has been slowly dying and withering from a mysterious wasting illness.  Mad scientist that he is, he devised a way to switch minds and bodies with Spider-Man.  Peter Parker finds himself in Doctor Octopus' dying body and Doc Ock finds himself in Peter Parker's powerful Spider-Man body, along with access to all of Peter's memories and secrets.  In the final issue, they fight.  And Peter, in Ock's body, loses.  And dies.

The new Superior Spider-Man is actually Doctor Octopus in his new body.  Somehow the mind transfer has made him a good guy again and he has resolved to be the best Spider-Man he can be.  Good Old Peter Parker is gone, baby, gone.

To which I say, what crap!!

Yeah, I know it's a ploy.  Marvel would NEVER dump Peter Parker as Spider-Man immediately after a successful movie reboot.  There is no way Peter Parker will stay dead, and in fact I expect him to be back in his traditional red and blue suit by the time the next movie opens.  Nobody ever stays dead in comics any more.  There used to be a couple of hard and fast rules about that, rules like "[Captain America's WWII partner] Bucky stays dead" and "[Peter Parker's] Uncle Ben stays dead" but even they both came back, eventually.

My objections to the plotline are not that they are killing off a favorite beloved character, it's that they are muddying the waters and the morality for all the kids who are fans.  Doc Ock in Spidey's body, while supposedly on the side of the angels, is anything but "superior."  He talks like a megalomaniac, he ogles Peter's girl's body, and he runs from a fight if it gets too tough.  Just to mention a few.  This is not the lesson I want to be taught to any kids I care about.  This is a fanboy "what if?" argument taken to extremes when it should never have left the comics store floor and made it into print.

The point of the superhero comic is that good overcomes adversity to triumph over evil, eventually.  Spider-Man is based on the concept that "with great power comes great responsibility."  That it is sometimes very hard to do the right thing.  That doing the right thing often comes with a great personal cost.  But you still have to do it.  That lesson, one of the most important and formative that I personally learned from comics and from Stan Lee, has just been thrown out, stomped on, cut up, shredded, set on fire, and then the ashes were peed on.

I don't care that Marvel will bring back the "real" Spider-Man eventually.  The damage is done.  And so am I -- done, that is, with Marvel Comics.  At the end of the day, I can only vote with my wallet and my feet, and that's what I'm doing, Marvel.  I'm taking my money over to the Distinguished Competition, and walking away from you and your Inferior Spider-Man.