Why I’ve Been So Quiet Lately: A Preview

So it’s been a couple of months since i’ve posted anything on here.  i’ve been remiss, i know.  But this time i actually have an excuse, aside from my life being super-busy for the past few weeks.  The fact of the matter is that i have been dealing with something huge in my mind–something large and amorphous that i can never quite get a full grip on in my head.  i’ve tried a few times to sit down and write about this stuff, but there is so much to it… it’s like it’s clogging the pipes in my brain.  So i’m going to try giving you, my reader(s), a quick preview based on a test i just took.

The test is called the S.A.G.E. test (Sex And Gender Explorer).  It consists of about 160 questions that take about 30+ minutes to get through.  From it’s own description:

Welcome to the Sex and Gender Explorer or S.A.G.E. test.  This test is an automated psychological evaluation designed to identify possible gender identity conflicts.  There isn’t a “target audience” for this test.  It doesn’t assume that anyone who takes it must have some kind of conflict – it can just as easily tell you “all is well” as say you should “seek help.”  It also makes no assumptions about your birth sex, so anyone – male, female or intersexed – should be able to answer all the questions.

So the idea is that it’s a relatively gender-neutral way of getting to how an individual expresses their own gender.  The only question that deals directly with the person taking the test is the final one, which asks which gender or biological sex the test taker was assigned at birth.  From there, it creates an impartial result based on the answers given.  Well… here’s what my results were…

Your Raw Score is: 540, which indicates that overall you are Feminine.

Your appearance is Masculine.

Your brain process are mostly that of a Female person.

You appear to socialize in a Feminine manner.

You believe you have major conflicts about your gender identity.

You indicated you were born Male.

ANALYSIS:

Male to Female Transsexual in doubt about your ability to successfully transition.

NOTES:

  • Your Answers indicate your psychological state has likely prevailed since you were quite young.

So, yeah, that’s interesting…  i’m still working some things out in my head, but i’ll try to give a more detailed follow-up on this whole thing soon, including why i took the test in the first place and just what the hell has been buzzing around my brain for the past couple of months…

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Filed under Gender, LGBT, Life, Personality, Quickies, Sexuality

Why i Will Not Be Renewing My Membership With American Atheists

It’s always disappointing when someone you have come to look up to says or does something that you simply can’t support.  It makes you question everything that has come before and creates a sense of cognitive dissonance in which you fumble about, at least for a while, trying to figure out just how badly they’ve damaged your respect for them.  You find yourself trying to rationalize what they said with everything you knew (or thought you knew) about them previously.  When it’s a severe enough matter, it almost plays out like the Kubler-Ross stages of grief… Denial (did he/she really say that?  Surely not…), Anger (he/she did say that?  Graaaah!), Bargaining (okay, he/she did say that, but maybe the rest of the things he/she has done/is doing outweigh all that), Depression (Well, this sucks…), and finally Acceptance (ok, i can live with his/her mistake OR ok, i guess i need to find someone else to look up to).

This has happened for me more times than i’d care to acknowledge within the atheist community.  Most recently, i’ve had to do this intellectual dance with American Atheists President David Silverman.  A couple of years ago, i had the opportunity to hear him speak in person at Skepticon 4 in Springfield, Missouri, and after his talk i had the chance to visit with him.  By the end of the weekend, i made the decision to join American Atheists.  i have had to reconsider that choice recently, after reading Silverman’s words at the Conservative Political Action Conference earlier this month.  Of particular concern was his response when pressed about reproductive rights by an interviewer:

“I will admit there is a secular argument against abortion.  You can’t deny that it’s there, and it’s maybe not as clean cut as school prayer, right to die, and gay marriage.”

Wait, what?!

To begin with, for those of my readers who haven’t already figured it out, i’m about as far out in left-field Progressive land as it is possible to be without crossing the warning track.  As a result, i am sure that what i have to say on this subject will betray a touch of bias, and i will do my best to keep any appeals to rational arguments as balanced as possible.  But i have to start out of hand by asking a very biased question: just what the sweet merciful fuck was American Atheists doing at CPAC to begin with?  Sure, there are most likely members of the Republican party (or just generally conservative people) who are atheists, but if they’re taking up the banner of the Right, are they really people that we want to court as part of our movement?  i can understand the populist idea that atheism can span all sorts of sociopolitical divisions, and i acknowledge that as true, because atheism only means “lack of a belief in a god or gods” (and that’s part of the problem i’m having with it as the rallying term for a movement, but more on that later).

So, yes, the word applies to people in the conservative camp who simply don’t believe in any gods, but by that logic it also applies to the people who believe in UFOs or homeopathic medicine, or the “spiritual but not religious” crowd, or conspiracy theorists, or even anti-vaxxers who also don’t believe in any supreme deity but maintain supremely irrational beliefs regardless.  If the atheist movement at large has rejected those people, then why continue to bother with the sorts of people who attend a conference like CPAC?  Is it just to try to bring on board the silent minority of libertarians who, when pressed, would rather side with the neo-conservative myth of shrinking government than protect the rights of those not lucky enough to be afforded privileged positions in society?  Is deregulating the market (and allowing the rich to get even more massively wealthy than they already are) really worth the anti-LGBT, anti-feminist, anti-human-rights social policies that have been so heavily influenced by religious interests so as to make them fundamentally inextricable?  How is that even remotely an atheist value?

Again i ask, if the by-now-debunked mythology of “unregulated free trade” taking care of itself without government oversight is more important to them than vouchsafing basic human rights and dignity, then who needs their self-righteous claims of “social liberalism but fiscal conservatism” that they use to mask the fact that the real underpinning of their political philosophy is utter Ayn Rand-worshipping selfishness.  Conservatism is in decline, and the rats that haven’t already left the sinking ship are eating their own young (the swift rise and current decline of the Tea Party is evidence enough of that).  i say let them tear themselves apart and make room for the rational values that are already on the rise to truly take hold.

But Silverman’s words are even more troubling than the mere fact that he was there trying to recruit for the cause in the first place.  Silverman made a choice with his words that he would systematically knock down each of the main tentpoles of the Religious Right’s repugnant mockery of morality (and, by extension, that of the larger conservative movement as well).  He explicitly says that the issues of school prayer, the right to die, and gay marriage are “clean-cut” issues, but then, as if to leave the clearly hostile crowd that tiny, dangling carrot, he concedes that a woman’s, or, for that matter, a trans man’s, right to choose whether their body is more than a glorified incubator with a pulse is up for debate in a secular society.  Since when?

To be fair, Silverman’s exact words were that there is “a secular argument” that can be made against abortion, not that he supports or stands by that argument.  But if he’s merely going to say that such an argument exists, it is disingenuous to immediately claim (or at least imply) that no such argument exists for the other issues he names.  There is a secular argument in favor of school prayer.  There is a secular argument against the right to die.  There is a secular argument against gay marriage.  There are, as stated above, secular arguments for UFOs, homeopathy, conspiracy theories, and anti-vaccination movements, as well.  The point is that none of these secular arguments are remotely compelling, and can all be rejected with minimal effort by any person using physical evidence and rational thought.  By privileging arguments against abortion with specific mention and implying that these arguments have any weight whatsoever (by claiming that the issue is not as “clean-cut”) Silverman has effectively thrown all women and trans men (not just atheist women and trans men) under the bus in favor of his attempt to garner a more politically diverse membership.  He has sent the message pretty loud and clear that it is acceptable for members of the atheist movement to believe that a woman’s value in life can be reduced entirely to what’s going on in their uterus.

In truth, the only “argument” that matters in the abortion “debate” is that of bodily autonomy.  It doesn’t matter when, or whether, you think a zygote or fetus is “alive” or “a person.”  It is a violation on both legal and moral ground to force any person to give up any part of their body in order to sustain another person’s life.  If this were not the case, then it would be illegal not to check the organ donor box when you fill out your application for a driver’s license, and the government would have every right to kidnap you, strap you down, and steal a kidney from your body if you were a match for a dying person who needed one.  The fact is that neither of these hypotheticals is the case.  In literally every other case where a person’s right to live is in conflict with another person’s right to bodily autonomy, the right to bodily autonomy wins out.  Even if i had a child (already-born) who was in desperate need of a transplant for which i was a match, i could not legally be compelled to donate one of my organs.  It’s simple common sense, and the only reason it is at all “unclear” is because of irrational thinking, usually of the religious variety.  (Greta Christina gets even more into the bodily autonomy argument much more effectively than i can on her blog, and her other posts are similarly excellent…  Also see Dana Hunter’s phenomenally passionate work on the subject, which was a big part of the inspiration for this post…)

But apparently David Silverman doesn’t get that.  After the fact he has addressed some of the criticisms that have been leveled against him for his words.  For example, he insists that he is personally pro-choice, and for what it’s worth i believe that assertion.  But the fact is that it doesn’t matter what his personal philosophy is on the subject, and he has only protested his personal values; he hasn’t recanted a word of his claim to there being not-so-clear-cut secular arguments.  By even acknowledging the possibility that there was a valid argument of any sort, he has symbolically abandoned, dehumanized, and objectified women and trans men in the movement in order to make cheap political points with members of another movement that didn’t even want us there anyway…

Moreover, later on he also made statements to the effect that the Democratic party was “too liberal” for him.  Part of his reasoning for this was that he considers himself to be a “fiscal conservative” (there’s that weasel term again) who is a gun owner and supportive of the military.  But he seems to focus more on his personal “suspicions” about the Obama administration, citing both spying on the American people and drone strikes as his reasons.  It should be noted that this is a pretty awful straw man fallacy he’s constructed.  To begin with, i know of many liberal people who are just fine with well-regulated gun ownership and reasonable military spending.  As for spying and drone strikes, these are not “liberal values” any more than they are conservative.  Those of us on the left are against both of those practices now, and were against them back when they were being carried out by the previous Bush administration (and, i should note, the conservatives were acting as apologists for both as “doing what’s necessary to keep us safe”).  So Silverman’s arguments against liberalism don’t hold any more water than his supposed secular arguments against abortion.

All of this is not to say that American Atheists as an organization does nothing of value.  On the contrary, they have done and continue to do a great many good things for the promotion of atheistic ideas, science, and reason.  i have friends who are members of the organization, and i still look up to individuals in leadership roles with the organization.  It is unfortunate that Silverman, as the most visible representative of the organization, has made the choice to alienate people who were already on his side in order to try to bring more into the fold, and it is somewhat telling that he and others in the movement continue to wonder why the movement is still so prominently white and male.

And this is, when it comes down to it, the problem with using “Atheism” as a rallying philosophical position.  As i said above (and as many before me have stated much more eloquently) Atheism is merely a negative quality of belief when it comes to deities.  That’s all that’s really implied by the word, and that means that literally anything else could theoretically be included, whether rational or irrational.  Only charting the negatives opens the door for anything else positive to move in.  Attempts have been made to re-brand the word, such as with the term Brights or the Atheism+ crowd, but they have met with limited success.  i agree on some level that we shouldn’t shy away from the word atheist, because of how thoroughly the word has been dragged through the mud by the believing community, but using it as the primary term of identification feels… lacking.  It seems better–more philosophically tenable–to take a stance based on positive principles instead of negative belief.

For me, this means secular humanism.  i’ve identified for years a secular humanist, and in point of fact it is the best philosophical fit for me.  i’ll still use the word atheist to help fight the stigma, but first and foremost i have always thought of myself as a humanist.  Luckily, there’s an organization specifically geared toward secular humanism: the American Humanist Association.  And they are more explicitly committed to certain values and issues, such as LGBTQ, feminist, and reproductive rights, that American Atheists do not name on their webpage, while still being committed to the same secular and rational values that American Atheists also stands for.

So, for this reason as well as the things stated above, this year i will not be renewing my membership with American Atheists.  Instead, i will be joining American Humanist Association (which i’m kind of surprised i hadn’t already done anyway).

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Some Thoughts on Comic Book Movies and Inclusivity

So much for resolutions… i said i was going to try to write something on here every week… and that didn’t even last a month.  Nothing left to do but try to do better…  Anyway, tonight’s post is another one that has to do with comic book movies.  This started as a conversation i had with a friend on Facebook, but i decided i wanted to expand it into a proper blog entry.

It all started when Cracked published the following article: “Five Superheroes Who Should Have Gotten Movies Before Ant Man”.  A friend and i had been having a similar conversation a few days earlier, and he posted the article to my Facebook wall, commenting that the Cracked writers must have been listening in on our conversation.  i read through the article and decided to respond with my own personal analysis.  Let me preface this by saying that i consider myself to be a male feminist, but i know that i am human and imperfect, and i know that as a beneficiary of male privilege, i am not the most qualified to discuss these matters.  But i am a fan of comic books and comic book movies, and i would really like to see them do a better job at representation of non-white-male characters.

Alright, having read the article in its entirety, i have to say i agree with many of the points brought up.  i still think Ant Man is a much better, more interesting character than non-comic-readers give him credit for being (he’s kind of become the Aquaman of the Marvel Universe in that respect), but i definitely agree with the more substantive things the author has to say.

The X-Men franchise has fallen for the same Wolverine Publicity trap that the Marvel print comics have.  There’s more to the character than this intentionally humorous Cracked article makes mention of, and he is really an interesting character, but they should spend more time with other heroes (especially because part of what makes him so interesting is his interactions with the others), and Armor would be amazing to see on the big screen.  That being said, the X-Men franchise is currently under the creative control of Twentieth Century Fox, not Marvel Studios, because they sold the rights before they had their own production studio (back in 2000, for the first X-Men film).  As long as Fox keeps making X-Men films every few years, they will be able to keep the rights unless Marvel pays an arm and a leg to get them back (and, to be honest, The Wolverine was a pretty good film and brought the character back from the brink that Origins’ crappiness had taken him to… also, Days of Future Past looks like it might be good on an X-2 or First Class level).

It would have been about ten shades of amazing to see Pepper Potts as Rescue in Iron Man 3, and for a brief moment in the film, when Tony puts her in the Mk 42 armor during the attack on his house, i had hopes they might go that route.  As good as Iron Man 3 was, that was one of the disappointing facets of the film, at least for me as a fan of the larger mythology.  They may put her in her own armor eventually, but given the way things have gone thus far, i doubt it will happen.  Pepper’s going to be stuck in the love interest role until they stop making films, and as much as i enjoy the franchise, i cannot deny that they are problematic from a feminist (or even just non-Caucasian-male) perspective in that regard.

Oracle would be a really interesting, especially as part of a larger Birds of Prey movie.  You could even throw in a Batman cameo or two to help get it off the ground (see what i did there?).  The only problem there is that they tried a Birds of Prey television show, and it didn’t fly (bird metaphors are too easy).  Also, to really do Barbara Gordon properly, you’d almost have to bring her in as Batgirl first and do the whole story from “The Killing Joke” in order to explain how she got paralyzed, which A) would be worth an entire movie unto itself, and B) would require a recast of The Joker, which i’m not sure the DC people are quite ready to do, despite the fact that they’re rebooting Batman (again) for the Superman/Batman movie…  Speaking of which, Oracle is a DC hero, so bringing her up in a conversation about the Ant Man movie (a Marvel property) is only really kind of relevant as it relates to the comic book film genre in. general sense.  The article as a whole would have been stronger if they’d stuck with all Marvel heroes, and there are plenty of them to choose from, even if you’re approaching from a completely feminist perspective. More on that later…

Black Widow.  Yes!  This!  Black Widow needs a solo outing, especially now that we’ve seen her in full-on action mode in The Avengers.  Hell, you could even make it a Black Widow/Hawkeye joint film (which, personally, i think would be amazing).  Throw in a little cameo time from Nick Fury, or even Captain America, to get things rolling, and then let them go do their S.H.I.E.L.D. thing.  We’ve already got a television show for Phil Coulson doing a similar sort of thing, getting Black Widow up on the big screen, with or without Hawkeye, should not be that big of a jump.

Alright… Wonder Woman.  I’ll get to her in a moment, but first i want to talk briefly about that graphic that opens up her section of the article.  All i really have to say is… wow.  It’s not necessarily something you think too actively about when these movies come out a year or more apart, but damn that’s a lot of white men.  And the fact that they tried to make Ghost Rider into an interesting movie not once, but twice, is (i think) even more telling than the fact that they’re doing Ant Man.  The superhero franchise really has been dominated by white men ever since Superman in 1978 (to take it even further back than Batman Begins).  Sure you’d get women or non-white side characters, but never as headliners.  Some people might point to Jim Rhodes as War Machine (or Iron Patriot) in the last couple of Iron Man films, or even the fact that Anthony Mackie is going to be debuting as Falcon in the upcoming Captain America film.  This is true, and it is kind of a step in the right direction, but what is the actual title of the film?  Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  Not Falcon.  And there is no apparent plan for Falcon or War Machine to have their own solo outings either.  They are both listed on the IMDB page for The Avengers: Age of Ultron, but no films are listed for them to shine on their own.  It’s a problem that needs to be addressed in order to bring these 20th Century comic stories kicking and screaming into the 21st Century.

Now, back to Wonder Woman.  She absolutely needs her own movie.  A Wonder Woman film on the big screen is at least 15 (if not 25) years overdue, and i’m really not sure what’s holding them up.  If DC is serious about bringing together a Justice League film in the same vein as The Avengers, they need to get on the ball.  Batman could have waited.  Batman’s never not going to be strong in the public mind.  Wonder Woman needs to be a higher priority.  That being said, the last rumor i heard was that Megan Fox was in talks to play her.  This would be a colossal mistake.  If you’re going to do Wonder Woman, give her to an actress with talent and emotional depth.  Don’t just make her another sex object for teenage fans to ogle.  Wonder Woman needs to be strong, smart, and independent.  Now, once again, this is a DC character and out of the creative control of the people who are making Ant Man, but while we’re in the DC realm, i can stop to say this…

i am more of a Marvel guy than a DC.  i love both companies’ heroes and stories, but if pressed i will pick Marvel.  However, DC has the opportunity here to do what Marvel’s films have not.  Give Wonder Woman a solo film… write a strong female character who doesn’t need to be a costar in order to carry a story.  Second, as much as i absolutely love the character of Hal Jordan as Green Lantern, Ryan Reynolds screwed that up for the big screen for a while.  So, instead of rebooting Hal, bring in John Stewart for the Justice League movie.  He’s the GL that the fans who grew up watching the Cartoon Network JLA show will know best anyway, and giving him a solo film gives you a black superhero in a starring role.  DC has the opportunity to break up the all-white-male hegemony that recent comic book films have established.  Hopefully they’ll take it.

Now, what can Marvel do (aside from the stuff i already talked about above) to make their films more inclusive?  Well, for one thing, i think they’re ignoring one of their best female heroes altogether.  It would be really awesome to see the Carol Danvers Miss Marvel in her own movie.  She’s a strong leader among the comic book Avengers, even leading her own team of Avengers for a long time.  The Carol Danvers character took what began as a simple distaff counterpart to Captain Marvel and made it 100% her own identity, separate from him.  She would be absolutely great to see on screen.

She-Hulk is another good example.  Yes, once again, the character began her life as a simple distaff counterpart to the Hulk, but (like with Carol Danvers as Miss Marvel) she has become so much more than that.  To begin with, Jennifer Walters is an attorney, and the film could be as much of a courtroom drama as a superhero film.  Furthermore, She-Hulk has a lot more control over herself when she Hulks out.  She is able to talk in coherent, well-formed sentences and think logically.  She’s less of an unleashed force of destruction than the Hulk is, and that contrast would be really interesting to see on the big screen.

In the X-Men realm, Fox could make an unbelievably easy quick fix after Days of Future Past.  There is already an all-female team in the comic book canon, and they could put that on screen with minimal additional effort.  They’ve already got three of the six characters involved cast (Rogue, Storm, and Kitty Pryde).  Psylocke and Jubilee would be pretty easy characters to bring in with little to no additional effort.  The only difficult one would be Rachael Grey, given the direction (and stupid, stupid decisions in the third film) that Fox has taken with their films.  But that could be handled easily enough, too.  Just replace Rachael Grey with, say, Vertigo, Pixie, or even X-23 to get the obligatory Wolverine angle, and you’re golden.

Finally, let’s address Sony Pictures, who own the rights to the Spider-Man film franchise.  They’re probably leery of taking too many out and out risks because of how badly Spider-Man 3 tanked, but one thing that they could do, either after they finish this Sinister Six thing they’re setting up or even alongside it, is give Felicia Hardy/Black Cat her own stand alone film.  It would be a really good heist movie to introduce the character and the tension between her criminal lifestyle and her desire to earn the trust of those she cares about (don’t say it’s a rip-off of Catwoman, because Black Cat was created first).  After her solo film, she could be put into a future Spider-Man film as an anti-hero ally.

Those are my opinions on the whole matter.  i’m definitely interested to hear what others might think as well…

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Music In Review: On the Schizophrenic Musical Nature of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

i love film music.  i pretty much always have.  Ever since i first started humming the epic music of John Williams’ Star Wars and Indiana Jones scores to myself as a child of less than 5 years old, film music has been my thing.  It was a key early stage in the development of my own separate identity from my parents, who strongly pushed me toward classical and jazz music (genres which i also absolutely adore).  They’ve never really completely understood my fascination with film scores, but it was a relatively benign direction for me to go in, especially early on in my life, because it was still mostly orchestral in nature.  The first CDs i ever owned myself were a collection of themes from Star Trek movies and the soundtrack from Jurassic Park.  Soon, though, those early beginnings would become a massive collection, spanning nearly 100 years of film and television and well over 100 albums.

i am also a huge comic book nerd, and when it comes to the two main comic book publishers, i bat for both teams.  i enjoy both Marvel and DC Comics for different, and often complimentary, reasons.  That being said, i have been following the developing Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) very closely (and am really looking forward to the coming DC efforts to bring the Justice League to the big screen), especially when it comes to the music being composed for the films.  What i have encountered musically has been both pleasing and somewhat disconcerting–pleasing in that i genuinely enjoy all of the scores for the films that have been released thus far, but disconcerting because, for the most part, they lack a certain sense of unity.

Part of the reason that the music for film series like Star Wars and Indiana Jones is so strong is that there was a single composer involved for all of the movies (in this case John Williams for both examples).  This allows for a unity of musical style that can be drawn upon, as well as thematic material that can be re-used across the entire franchise.  By contrast, a series like the Harry Potter films starts with a lot of these unified features.  The first three films were handled by one composer (again, John Williams), and insofar as style and thematic material, the unity is present and definitely felt.  However, the fourth through eighth films were handled by three different composers, and the musical style changes from one to the next; moreover, the thematic material established by Williams in the first three films is sidelined, only making very occasional reappearances.  This causes the entire series to suffer somewhat from a sort of lack of musical identity in my opinion.  This unfortunately is also the case with the MCU, to one degree or another.  While it’s true that each of the individual heroes has their own identity and each solo film has a totally different mood to it, almost to the point of feeling like different genres, and having different composers handling their solo films is somewhat appropriate in this regard, the fact is that a single composer for the entire series would be able to establish thematic material for all the characters, and then do some really cool work with counterpoint and interweaving of themes when they come together in the ensemble films.  What we are left with instead is a somewhat schizoid collection of very different sounds with few cross-film touchstones to take advantage of.

That being said, they are all good scores, and i enjoy listening to them all.  i just sometimes wish for a bit more stylistic unity.  Let’s take a look at each of the scores that have been composed thus far, as well as the films that have yet to be released…

Phase 1

Phase 1 of the MCU includes the films from Iron Man to The Avengers.  Phase 1 served primarily to introduce audiences to each of the main headliners in The Avengers by showing us what they could do on their own.  It also introduced, in the stinger after the credits of Iron Man, the idea that this would all culminate in the Avengers assembling for the first time to face a massive threat (which they obviously did in The Avengers).

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Iron Man (2008): Music composed by Ramin Djawadi.  The film that started it all, Iron Man is considered by many to be among the greatest superhero movies of all time.  It is probably my favorite of the Phase 1 films aside from The Avengers itself.  The score, on the other hand, is probably my least favorite of the entire MCU so far.  This is merely a matter of stylistic preference on my part; the score itself is extremely appropriate for the Tony Stark/Iron Man character, especially early in his career, featuring driving rock-influenced guitars and electronic elements that sometimes overpower the orchestral elements of the score.  There isn’t a whole lot of thematic material to be found in this score–Iron Man’s “theme” is little more than a repeated five note motif that crops up whenever something heroic is happening.  As such, it doesn’t really stick with you for very long after you turn it off, but it does make for some pretty damned good driving music…

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The Incredible Hulk (2008): Music composed by Craig Armstrong.  On the other hand from Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk is probably the least popular of MCU Phase 1 (and if i were forced to pick a least favorite film so far, this one would probably be it… which is not to say that i don’t like it).  However, i feel like Armstrong’s score to this film is kind of the unsung hero of Phase 1.  The musical style is perfectly matched, both to the feel of the film and the character itself.  It’s a dark and broodingly atmospheric score.  It’s still a little light on thematic material for my particular taste, but the recurring octave motif in the bass instruments sets the mood so perfectly, and, truth be told, the Hulk doesn’t necessarily need his own theme.  After all, how do you encapsulate such a force of nature within a theme song?  This is a good soundtrack to write to, especially if i’m dealing with dark or supernatural subject matter.

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Iron Man 2 (2010): Music composed by John Debney.  The second sol0 movie for this character and the second composer to handle his music.  Personally, even though the first movie is better than the second, i think Debney’s score is an improvement over Djawadi’s work for the first one.  For one thing, he finally composes a theme for the character.  The rock-inspired and electronic elements are still present here, but they are more balanced with the orchestral and thematic material.  It’s still not quite the Iron Man soundtrack the world has been waiting for.  The character theme is a little too generic heroic to quite fit Stark’s offbeat attitude, and to be frank the rest of the score suffers from a similar sort of generic action feel, but there are some really standout compositions to be found within.  Whiplash’s villain theme is excellent, and the scoring for the Monaco action setpiece is a particular standout from the album.  Also, the Stark Expo theme is a total earworm that you will catch yourself humming all day once you’ve listened to it.

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Thor (2011): Music composed by Patrick Doyle.  Why doesn’t Patrick Doyle get more attention?  He certainly deserves more than he’s gotten.  The man has been composing film scores for about 25 years now, and he does really excellent work.  He is among my favorite lesser-known film composers.  As such, his score for Thor does not disappoint.  With heroic brass melodies played over contrapuntal string ostinatos, he creates a feeling that is akin to epic fantasy, especially for the Asgard sequences, but he also maintains the emotional center of the film with the music accompanying Thor’s banishment from Asgard, as well as the quieter scenes in the film in general.  With the exception of The Avengers, which i almost to consider to be in a class of its own, this is probably my favorite score from Phase 1.

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Captain America: The First Avenger (2011): Music composed by Alan Silvestri.  Finally!  A character who gets an actual, honest-to-goodness theme!  By far the most widely-known composer to have done anything for the MCU, Silvestri’s score for Captain America is yet another perfectly-matched musical accompaniment to the film’s “World War II war movie” tone.  i’ve been a fan of Silvestri’s work ever since i learned his name (in connection with the Back to the Future trilogy), but some of his more recent action work has felt a little too overblown and over the top for my taste (The Mummy Returns and Van Helsing stand out to me as the most egregious examples).  Luckily, this score is nearly perfect.  Captain America’s theme fits the character’s earnest heroism like a glove, and the darker brass tones that accompany HYDRA often utilize harmonies that sound much like the music that accompanied the old adventure serials of the ’30s and ’40s.  It’s a fun score to listen to, and it sets up groundwork for some of the next film’s score.  Also, “The Star-Spangled Man” is just as catchy and unkillable as the Stark Expo theme from Iron Man 2.

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The Avengers (2012): Music composed by Alan Silvestri.  Finally!  A little bit of stylistic consistency!  Alan Silvestri returns to compose what is without a doubt my favorite score of the entire MCU to date and one of my favorite scores from the entirety of 2012.  As perfectly as the last score fit Captain America, this score for The Avengers fits even better.  His theme for the Avengers themselves is absolute perfection, and he deploys it perfectly throughout the film.  After the first statement of the theme during the title drop at the very beginning of the film, it goes away for most of the movie.  Little hints of it crop up here and there, especially during the attack on the Helicarrier, as the heroes begin working together more and more, but there isn’t another full statement of the theme until an hour and a half later, when they finally come together as The Avengers just before the climactic battle… and then it’s interwoven throughout the action sequences that follow.  It’s a simple and obvious thing to do, but it’s still damned genius.  Also, Silvestri brings in an occasional statement of Captain America’s theme from the previous film to accompany Cap’s shining moments.  It’s probably Silvestri’s finest work to date.  So now that we’ve got a composer who has turned out two great scores for subsequent MCU films, are we finally going to establish a series composer and get some more consistency and interwoven thematic material?  Because that was the one thing i felt was missing from this film.  Cap had his solo theme featured, but none of the other heroes had their own thematic material aside from the team theme.  So Silvestri’s taking over, right?  He’s going to make this all a consistent whole?  …why are you laughing in that evil manner?

Phase 2

Phase 2 of the MCU consists of the films dealing with the aftermath of The Avengers, chronicling what happens with our individual heroes up to and including The Avengers: Age of Ultron.

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Iron Man 3 (2013): Music composed by Brian Tyler.  So… the third composer in three solo ventures for Iron Man.  And it’s not Alan Silvestri either, so so much for that consistency thing i was seeking.  Still, i’ve enjoyed Brian Tyler’s work up until now, so i went into this ready to be impressed… and i was.  Iron Man has a new theme, and this one feels like it fits!  Clanging percussion, a driving rhythmic feel, melody carried in the lower brass… this is the Iron Man theme we’ve all been waiting for for the past five years!  The rest of the score is great, too.  The action cues work, and the quiet moments carry the emotional content of Tony Stark’s battle with PTSD from the events of The Avengers as well.  And then there’s “Can You Dig It,” the music that plays over the end credits, which is the Iron Man theme remixed into a rock feel, complete with Hammond organ and wailing trumpets.  This is, without a doubt, my favorite score from the solo Iron Man films thus far.

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Thor: The Dark World (2013): Music composed by Brian Tyler.  Brian Tyler is back for Thor’s second solo outing.  While i miss Patrick Doyle here, i had to concede within the first few minutes of the film that Tyler’s score is also a very good fit for the character.  None of Doyle’s original thematic material is preserved, but it is replaced with a French horn-driven, chorus-supported, bombastic hero theme that once again feels just as at home in an epic fantasy film as a superhero movie.  As much as i want to stay faithful to my support of Patrick Doyle’s film scoring career, i actually like Brian Tyler’s theme for the character a bit better.  The rest of the score is equally well-constructed, and Tyler even brings in Silvestri’s Captain America theme for a brief moment when Loki assumes the form of Steve Rogers for a few seconds, which seems to bode well for at least a modicum of thematic consistency in the MCU from this point forward.  It’s a really good score, and Brian Tyler even composed a musical cue to accompany the Marvel Studios logo, which i’m wondering will continue to be used in future MCU films, despite the fact that it uses a little bit of his Thor theme from this film.  So Silvestri is gone, at least for the moment, but Brian Tyler has done the music for the first two films of Phase 2.  Does this mean that he will be taking over to set the musical tone for the rest of Phase 2, just as Silvestri did at the very end for Phase 1?

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014): Music composed by Henry Jackman.  Well, so much for that Brian Tyler idea i had last movie.  It’s starting to feel like Marvel Studios is just messing with my head and heart for the fun of it.  i can’t speak to the quality of the music for this one, because it hasn’t come out yet, but of the Phase 2 films that have yet to come out, this one is currently worrying me the most.  It’s not Brian Tyler, and it’s not Alan Silvestri.  So what’s going to happen?  Henry Jackman is one of the better new composers to hit the scene in the past few years.  i particularly enjoyed his work on X-Men: First Class.  But will he keep Alan Silvestri’s theme from the first Captain America film?  Now that it’s been used or referenced in no less than three MCU films, i think it would be a mistake to discard it in favor of something completely new.  i hope Jackman chooses to keep the theme and just do his own arrangement of it to make it his own.  At least give me that much consistency.  Please?

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Guardians of the Galaxy (2014): Music composed by Tyler Bates.  i don’t understand why so many people seem to be discounting this movie months before it’s even released.  Granted the Guardians of the Galaxy aren’t exactly A-List Marvel characters, but as someone who’s actually read the comics, they are a lot of fun in an almost Firefly/Serenity sort of way.  Plus, this film is going to be a major tie-in for the build-up to The Avengers 3, because it’s going to be about the Infinity Gems and Thanos trying to assemble the Infinity Gauntlet and all of that very important stuff happening at the opposite end of the galaxy while the Avengers are going to have their hands full with Ultron.  Tyler Bates should turn out a pretty good score for this film.  i think his style will suit the mood that this one is likely to have, as well as the comparatively strange setting(s) in which it will be taking place.

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The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015): Composer not yet announced.  And here’s the big question mark of the moment.  Will Alan Silvestri be back?  If not, will we still get that awesome theme from the first film arranged by someone else?  Once again, if one of those two things doesn’t happen, i think it will be a serious artistic mistake on the part of the studio.  i have so many questions about how this score will turn out, and the way this film series has toyed with my expectations and emotions so far, i’m almost afraid to hear the answers…

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i’m Back!

Hello, everyone.  Welcome to 2014.  Happy New Year, and all that.  i intend to be better about keeping this blog updated this year (and, to be fair, i did have NaNoWriMo shoved right up against the holidays, but still…).  One of my Futile New Year’s Gestures (why bother calling it a Resolution when you already know you’re going to fail?) is “promising” myself to get something written on this blog at least once a week.  We’ll see how that goes, but i do intend to make an effort.  But now is the time for two months’ worth of news.

The big story from November is that i succeeded in making the 50,000 word goal for National Novel Writing Month!  In fact, i exceeded the goal by 1,020 words before November, and i still technically haven’t finished wrapping up the story.  It doesn’t have too much steam left in it, but i think i may be able to get another four or five thousand words out of it.  The trick will be finding time to get back to it now that i’ve had to set it aside for the holidays.  Still, that brings me to another Futile New Year’s Gesture that i will be trying to make happen, and that is to write something that isn’t related to work or class every day, even if it’s just one or two sentences.  Because if i can keep myself in at least moderately good shape, this year’s NaNoWriMo will go that much more smoothly.

The holidays…. oh, the holidays…  Thanksgiving was actually kind of cool.  My parents and i flew to Florida to visit a number of relatives on my dad’s side of the family, some of whom i hadn’t seen in at least 20 years.  It was pretty cool getting to hang out as adults with cousins who i’ve only ever really known from a child’s perspective.  And we had some damned good food, too.  To begin with, the Thanksgiving meal itself was excellent.  For pretty much my entire life, my parents have always hosted Thanksgiving for a few family members who made the trip out, so this year was an opportunity to taste a few dishes that were different from the things i’ve grown up with.  The highlight, i think, was a Mediterranean 7-layer dip that included hummus, feta cheese, and kalamata olives as layers.  The next morning we had brunch at a place that did creative twists on Eggs Benedict.  i had a “Benedict Cubano,” which involved chorizo instead of Canadian bacon, and it was delicious.  The night before we left Florida, we ate at a British pub in St. Petersburg called The Moon Under Water, and i had one of the best, and certainly the spiciest, Lamb Vindaloos i have ever tasted.  It was a great food trip… and the family time was pretty cool, too.  Karaoke was involved.  They actually got me to sing.  My dad’s side of the family is a lot cooler and more laid-back than my mom’s side of the family, but i’m getting ahead of myself.

So, yeah, December, December, blah blah blah, nothing much to report.  School let out for Winter Break, and then… my sister arrived in from Boston.

i love my sister.  She can be a lot of fun, and we have isolated moments where it feels like we’re actually very close.  But she has embraced my parents’ (well, my mother’s) puritanical views on sexuality and other such issues.  She’s liberal about the actual issues… she thinks people should have the right to do what they want with consenting adults.  She just doesn’t want to hear about or see it (even kissing), and comes off very judgmental about it when it is less generalized and nebulous.  So i can’t be as close to her as i’d like.  i still have to hold her at arm’s length on many things, just like i do with my parents.  Which is really kind of sad, when you think about it.  Early adulthood is reportedly when you’re supposed to start getting along with your siblings again and really create a strong familial bond.  It’s just not happening between us, and i’m not really sure how it could without her making a huge 180 on a lot of things.

Then there’s the atmosphere in the larger family when she comes home…  i don’t know if i’ve mentioned it on here before, but my sister is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in virology at a major Ivy League university (hint: it start’s with an “H” and ends with an “arvard.”)  She’s not paying a cent out-of-pocket, and they are in fact paying her a stipend to cover living expenses and such.  Meanwhile, i’m working on a Master’s Degree at an okay state school that i need just to get my foot in the door of my career, and i’m struggling to pay for it all on my own making the small salary that i do.  She has arisen very handily to the lofty height of most-favored child, and it’s so completely obvious without anyone having to say anything that you would practically expect my parents (my mother, especially) to bow down and kiss the ground she walks upon as she passes.  She literally can do no wrong in my parents’ eyes.  She was being a smartass while we were playing a game this past week.  i turned around and gave it right back no more extremely than she did, and i got yelled at.  i constantly feel the weight of comparison, even when she’s not at home, but it intensifies when she is.  It’s almost like my parents see in her what i could have been–what i should have been–in their eyes, if only i could be more “grown up and responsible,” and if only i hadn’t gone into a “soft” field like the Humanities.  It’s not my sister’s fault that she is succeeding so resoundingly, and i try not to hold it against her.  i am, in fact, extremely proud of her achievements now, and the ones that are sure to follow, but it’s a bitter pill to swallow being the Faramir to her Boromir, and it’s almost like she doesn’t even notice the preferential treatment she is afforded, and sometimes i wonder if that blindness is willful.

In any event, we did the big trip to Michigan again this year, off to visit my mom’s side of the family (the aforementioned uptight and stress-producing bunch that i promised to get back to).  It’s about a 15-hour one way drive to get there, which i got to spend with my parents and my sister, but i slept most of the way, so that made it less stressful.  i did have the “pleasure” of enduring fat shaming from my mother (yet again) when we stopped for dinner on the way up and i didn’t order the “right” food item.  Wonderful.  The time spent with her family was mercifully short-lived, and i got to spend most of it hanging out with my cousin on that side, who has picked up some of the family psychosis, but is intelligent and self-aware enough to think for himself about things.  The entire trip took about 4 days, with an overnight stop included on the way back.  We also stopped at three microbreweries on the way back: Founders in Grand Rapids, MI;  Bell’s in Kalamazoo, MI;  and Square 1 in St. Louis.  So it was actually one of the better Michigan trips we’ve had in a while.

After we got home, my sister stuck around another few days, leaving on the 31st to go spend New Year’s Eve in Boston with her boyfriend.  i managed to finally get away from my family for New Years, going to Waxy O’Shea’s, and spending about half the night depressed and feeling alone in a huge crowd of people.  So that was lovely, wasn’t it?

But now it’s 2014, and as much as the cynical depressed voice in my head says it’s not going to be any better, i would like to at least try to make it so.  We’ll see…

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To Train Up A Child: a child abuse manual – Please support the campaign to get this banned

comingout3x:

[Child Abuse Trigger Warning]

Gotta love it when child abuse is marketed as good advice… and on Amazon, no less! i’d already signed a petition to get this fucked up, repugnant shit taken off the site, but the word needs to be spread, because this stuff is absolutely horrible.

Originally posted on Ruth Jacobs:

To Train a Child UP - The PearlsTrigger warning: child abuse, physical abuse

To Train Up A Child: a child abuse manual (via http://donnanavarro.com)

‘To Train Up A Child’ is a parenting book by Michael and Debi Pearl of No Greater Joys Ministries. It’s the most sickening book I’ve ever come across.

You may have seen this book already. I stumbled across it after reading a post on Facebook outlining the death of a child in America who died at the hands of her parents who had been following the ‘Christian parenting advice’ given in this book and I have struggled to get it out of my head since.

You’ll have guessed this book is no ordinary book. After all, no ordinary book causes children to die…

Read the full article here.

And please sign the UK petition here and the US petition here.

If you are on Twitter please join us…

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Quickies: Mid-November Check-In

So, yes, i have been very quiet in the world of WordPress lately.  This is mostly due to working on my novel for NaNoWriMo.  i’m right at about 35,000 words thus far, which is something like three days ahead of the nominal curve, after losing three whole days over the weekend.  So i’m in pretty good shape, but trying to get my momentum worked back up after taking three days off is a bear!

In other news, i spent the past weekend at Skepticon 6 in Springfield.  It was an amazing time, just like every other Skepticon i’ve been to, and (just like every other Skepticon) it just keeps getting better and better every year!  i had a great time meeting some new friends, reconnecting with some old friends from Springfield, Columbia, St. Louis, Kansas City, and other places.  i also got to talk to several of the speakers, re-introduce myself to a couple, introduce myself for the first time to others, and put the idea in their mind of having them come talk to the Branson Freethinkers if they wind up coming through the area for any reason.  My friend and organization president got to do some of that, too, and between the two of us, i think we made some pretty good contacts.  My only regret was that i completely missed my opportunity to talk to Greta Christina this year.  i had some things i wanted to share with her, and a couple of questions i wanted to ask after she gave her talk.  Maybe i’ll shoot her an e-mail or something instead… when i can find some time to sit down and write.

Leaving Skepticon always feels like leaving a really cool summer camp, where you’ve spent a bunch of time meeting cool people from all over the place and learning neat stuff in an open environment.  Coming back to real life sucks, and i’ve definitely got some Post-Skepticon Doldrums going right now.  Somebody at the con said that they wished it was Skepticon all year.  i can’t decide if that would be really fucking awesome or just make it less special somehow…

Aside from that, life is still a big ball of stress.  i have an EEG on Wednesday to check on some of the recent epilepsy issues i’ve had, and they want me to spend the entire 24 hours beforehand not drinking either alcohol or caffeine.  Work is going to suck in a huge way without my coffee and Diet Coke that i usually intersperse throughout the day.  Hopefully ibuprofen isn’t out of the question…  As to work, i’m still stressing like crazy there.  My regular school day job isn’t too bad, really.  The afterschool program is giving me fits, though.  i think it’s safe to say that i am full-on burned out on that ever since this new school year started and they changed up a bunch of the structure (for the worse).  i find myself hitting the hour or so before the school day ends and dreading having to walk over to the elementary and fend off the screaming hordes of pre-pubescent insanity for three more hours.  i’m also behind on my online class in a big way.  i have until May to finish it, but i want to finish by the end of the semester, and i may have… strongly indicated to my parents… that i would, so… fuck.

And i’ve been feeling pretty depressed lately.  Not over the weekend, of course, the weekend was unbelievably awesome.  But it’s creeping back already just 24ish hours later.  Joy.

i do have one other thing to report.  At Skepticon i came to a couple of decisions about how i present myself to the rest of the world.  For one thing, i went to a training for the Secular Student Alliance’s Secular Safezone program, and i am now a registered Safezone Ally… which basically means i’m listed as someone who can listen and talk impartially to students about their issues with religion or other general life things without being all Christian-judgy and “turn back to Jesus” about it.  Basically providing a safe area for them to talk about whatever they want without fearing rejection.  Part of that is putting up a “Secular Safezone” sign somewhere visible in the area where i work.  So i’ve decided to be (slightly) less closeted about who i am.  i put the Secular Safezone sign up over the table that marks “my area” in the main classroom i’m in.  We only get a limited number of students in that room, so it’s not really getting big coverage there, and no one’s asked me a single question about it yet, so i don’t know that anyone’s really noticed it.  i’m considering putting the other sign that i got up somewhere more noticeable, but i haven’t made up my mind about that yet.

i left a couple of the “offensive” buttons on my bag today when i went to work. (My Secular Safezone button, a “Science” Evolvefish, and one i got from the Skepchick booth that just says “Geek” on it.  All fairly innocuous.)    i also wore my new Surlyramic necklace (it’s pretty blue and purple and says “Humanist” on it) at work today, albeit under my clothes.  They’re small steps, but they’re something.  i intend to continue documenting my experiences with the Secular Safezone thing as i decide exactly what to do and find out how people will react as the word spreads about my having done this.  i’m kind of worried about my mom, because she’s been one of the main instigators of my fear of outing myself as an atheist at work, i think because she thinks it will reflect badly on her as well, because that’s more important than me being true to myself, right?

Anyway, this is getting close to my 1,000 word cut-off, and it’s in danger of becoming a legitimate journal entry instead of just a Quickie, so i should probably quit writing and go to bed.  i am pretty tired…

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