Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Here, have an earworm

He's got cells.
They're multiplyin'.
And he's startin' to grow.
'Cause the food that
you're supplyin',
it's electrifyin'!

Gotta eat up,
Gonna be a man.
Gonna grow up big and strong.
Gotta eat up;
His body must expand
All this growin' takes so long.

Nothin' left, nothin' left for him to do.

That's the food that I want.
(that's the food i want), o,o, oo, honey.
The food that I want.
(that's the food i want want), o,o,oo, honey.
The food that I want
(that's the food i want want), o,o, ooooo
The food I need.
Oh, yes indeed.

If you want
more breastfeeding
you're too shy to convey,
just grope for the bosom.
Feel your way.

I better eat up,
grow to be a man.
Grow to be a man
just keep eating day and night.
I better eat up
if I'm gonna grow
you better grow
Everything will be all right.

Are you sure?
Yes, I'm sure down deep inside.

It's the food that I want.
(it's the food i want want), o, o, oo, honey.
The food that I want.
(It's the food i want want), o,o,oo, honey.
The food that I want
(it's the food that i want),o, o, oo
The food I need.
Oh, yes indeed.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

If they did religion right

I was raised Episcoplian. I'm no longer a Christian - and you could make a decent argument, despite baptism and confirmation, that I never really was. But I was raised in it, and part of that teaching was a surprisingly firm idea of what Christianity should be, even if it often fails to live up to its own standards. The God I was raised to believe in - even though I don't - was a God of Mercy more than a God of Justice; a God who neither expected nor required us to get everything right, but rather implored us to (in the immortal words of Bill and Ted) "Be excellent to each other."

Over the years, I've been pleased to see that I'm not the only one who thinks this way. Anne Lamott, author of Bird By Bird, Plan B (which includes a wonderful piece on David Roche and the Church of 80% Sincerity), Traveling Mercies, and various other books, is one; Fred Clark, of Slacktivist is another; and there are others as well. The most recent of these is Cary Bleasdale, who penned this:

If they did religion right,
And I mean, did it right when they started the whole thing off.
And if there was a God.

We wouldn’t have words
To describe the sacred mystery
Of transubstantiation
Instead, we’d have a word to describe
The transformation of the blessed news
That we’re all, sorta, kinda, beautiful
Into the real cessation
Of all the stupid shit we do.
And that word, and that world
Would be unsubstantiated by the experience
And essence of suffering because the only true
Phrase in all the bible is ‘vale of tears,’
Which is the only part of the whole damn thing
That should’ve been written by William Shakespeare.
And if there was a God,
there would be a word for the feeling
Of waking up next to your lover and staring up
At your cheap, leaking, plaster ceiling and knowing
In that moment that everything’s gonna be alright
This morning.
And if there was a God,
He would tell us the word for being young and broke
With holes in your pants and bumming your smokes
For loving the sunshine and dirty jokes
And for finding your god in a rum and coke
Or maybe in a church, the sort of church they don’t make anymore
With no stained glass in the windows and a hole in the floor
Where they raise your spirits, where they raise their voices
Where they raise the roof,
And the love in your blood is ninety proof
And you can still taste the sins from the night before
But you had a good time, and that’s alright,
Because if there is a God, he’s the sort of God
Who helps drunks cross the street against the light.
And if there was a God, you could call Jesus at ten AM
On a Tuesday morning and he’d pick up the phone and tell you
All sorts of things, about stars and trees, and his brand new shoes
And you could talk to Jesus and tell him that really funny joke
About the three old nuns who walk in on the pope
And he’d tell you the one about the Irishman
And when you asked him if he’s a baseball fan
He’ll put Babe Ruth on the phone. Just for you.
And just before he’d hang up, he’d say
Hey, you’re beautiful. And I love you.
And it wouldn’t make it ok
But you’d be able to get out of bed
And that is worth a prayer.
And if there is a God, it’s inspiration
And if there is a saving grace, it’s perspiration,
And if there is something that makes me believe in god,
It’s fornication.
But good fornication, the kind of fornication you have on your kitchen floor
Because you both woke up thirsty at three am and wound up
In a perfect pool of moonlight that may
Or may not, have been sent by God.
And if there is a God.
I don’t think he watches.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Metrics for the War On Terror

I saw this over at Libertas and Latte and decided to repost it here. I don't usually post political items, but this struck me as something I wanted to pass along. Partly that's because of the holidays; something about national celebrations makes me want to sit back and take stock of where we are as a nation. Mostly, though, it caught my attention as a solid assessment of something that seems to be widely ignored: the question of what, exactly, we are doing, and what we think it's accomplishing. So, without further ado...

Approaching a Decade....the "war on terror" keeps rolling along.....
written by The Constitutional Insurgent

Has the "GWOT" been at all effective in defeating Al Qaeda? By what measurement?

We have allowed Al Qaeda to morph from an entity who was comfortably ensconced in a semi-autonomous failed state, more or less coalesced in a general area.....into an entity that has proliferated and bounded outside our scope of observation and span of influence. When Al Qaeda planned the 9/11 attacks, they knew that we would retaliate in some form or fashion by kinetic means. We knew that the cadre was located, by and large, in Afghanistan. And they knew that we knew.

So Al Qaeda, knowing that we could not resist the temptation to bring our military to bear in a tantrum of massive and overwhelming force, made their comfortable accommodations known to us. The serious minded of us know that terrorist cells need only a collection of safe-houses and primitive communications systems in which to plan and operate. Terrorists know that we can interdict satellite phone transmissions at will. So my premise has been, and remains, that Al Qaeda knowingly lured us into a massive military undertaking in Afghanistan. That's really the only way to grind down a superpower. No amount of tactical attacks against the soft underbelly of American culture will succeed, it will only further erode the concept of liberty for it's citizens...as we are seeing daily; which in turn is a peripheral victory in the campaign.

By the time of the Tora Bora campaign, a relative few Al Qaeda cadre remained behind to propagate the myth that they could be militarily surrounded and defeated. Those few have now vanished and established cells and support structures in countless nations in the region, leaving us to spend a generation in futile combat against the hapless and unwitting Taliban. We are left struggling to compose public relations friendly faux-victories in the form of killing the revolving and apparently least enviable job in AQ - the #3 man.

Meanwhile our over-reliance on long distance technology gives us daily updates by breathless newsbabes, reporting that XX 'suspected militants' were vaporized by another drone attack. More often than not, the suspected militants were real civilians...thus justifying Al Qaeda's propaganda messages.

So the measurements for any sort of success can be summed up in about three metrics:

1: Are we more or less safe now than before 9/11? The answer if you listen to government is apparently less safe. Unless we purchase the next greatest technology from a corporation that will turn our tax dollars into more profit, we cannot hope to be kept safe from the terrifying menace. Unless we give up just a bit more individual sovereignty...our library checkout lists.....every meter reader an informant....our e-mails and phone conversations subject to surveillance...we apparently cannot hope to be kept safe from the cave dwelling offspring of goat herders.

2: Our military, after the aforementioned tantrum of muscle flexing, now stands mired in two occupied nations, unable to maintain a rapid reflexive and responsive posture to combat any future threat or any actionable intelligence. We remain engaged in a generational conflict against a host of entities who not only had not attacked us, nor maintained the means to do so...are unable to proliferate a threat outside of the borders they inhabit. Ironically, the patriotism has been and remains in question of those who bring these fact to light.

3: Is Al Qaeda diminished since 9/11? While people like to state that we've had no additional attacks on the homeland or that Al Qaeda is not capable of large scale attacks after our 'relentless pursuit' of them. But we know from captured documents and laptops since around 2003, that Al Qaeda is not interested in successive large scale attacks. The cost-benefit analysis isn't in their favor. What works, as we have witnessed, are peripheral attacks against allies and targets outside the US span of direct influence. The information war is far more profitable to Al Qaeda's goals than the kinetic war.

What significant alterations can we make in our strategic plan to combat terrorism?

We must remove the benefits of and the moral arguments for supporting terrorist groups. It goes deeper than the religious aspect. Religion has been merely a vehicle for the cause. The root causes of terrorist success are far more connected to poverty, education and despotic regimes who enable both. Balancing meaningful alliances with nations in the middle east that can combat those root problems with a tempering of alliances and military aid to major protagonists [Israel] will be more profitable than military invasions of minor annoyances and proxies.

Law enforcement interdiction and intelligence sharing agreements with those nations, and a retooling of our special operations forces to meet the threat are another logical step.

What is the metric for success? Or are we consigned to a forever war...ala...."we've always been at war with Eastasia Al Qaeda"?

Al Qaeda is a trans-national terrorist organization, a product of the market state...so comparisons to previous models, or especially state based regimes such as the Khmer Rouge are inapt. We don't yet know what the metric for victory can look like. We know what defeat looks like, we're seeing the precursors to that this very day. One simple fact of the matter is that perpetual war is profitable. Not for you and I, but for consolidation of state power and the careers of administrative and military officials and advocacy organizations. The post government careers of those who make a living hyping the tangible threat of terrorism to obscene proportions is immeasurable. The John Bolton's, Frank Gaffney's and Liz Cheney's among us wouldn't be a blip on the national radar were it not for the hyped threat.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Reflections on Difficulties

Another week gone, and I can't say I'll miss it. This past week was... well, it was pretty awful. I had to go back and read my last entry; I barely remember writing it. I'm still not really recovered, and I have a huge pile of ancillary chores to catch up: laundry, dishes, and like that. I managed to keep up with all the critical things, but that's it. So the plan for the rest of the year is to avoid getting sick again.

Claire had it too, of course. In fact, I probably got it from her: she came down with it a day before I did, and apparently a lot of people in her classes have had it. She recovered noticeably faster than I did - she's almost back to normal, she says - but she had a lot more chance to sleep than I did. We've been doing our best not to snipe at each other, but it's hard when you don't feel well.

That's not the only difficulty I've had. Todd is dead, and Andrea is missing. I haven't mentioned them before, because we don't really hang out, but we grew up together: same west Texas compound, same teachers... even the same dormitory, when we were children. Losing them is like losing a big piece of my past, and being sick and grieving at the same time... well, like I said, I won't miss this past week at all.

It's the snake cult, again. I wish I knew what's really going on there: how this started, what they want, whether my fellow believers are faring well or poorly against them. There's no shortage of rumors and speculation, but I do my best to ignore all that and I won't pass it along. Mbata is the only person I know who might be privy to solid information, and I haven't seen him since just after this began. Which probably doesn't matter, since I doubt he'd tell me anything, anyway. I swear, half the reason we remain friends is by respecting each other's boundaries.

In my last entry, I mentioned that there was going to be a big ritual, and I was going to have a central part in it. I really, really shouldn't have mentioned that - the fever must have seriously affected my judgement - but since I did, I might as well fill in the rest. It can't get me any more killed than the rest of this journal could.

Claire's car broke down last Thursday morning. She got in it to go to work, and it wouldn't start. I found her crying in the driver's seat (remember, she's been sick, too - I think this was just the final straw). We tried to jump it from my car, but it didn't work. (We did eventually get it repaired, but it was expensive: it needed a new alternator and a new battery.) I had taken the day off, so I just handed her my keys and sent her on her way.

As a result, Billy and Crystal picked me up Thursday night. That was fine with Claire - she had class, and was planning to meet with some of her classmates afterwards. (I told her I was working on a project with Billy. She told me not to wear myself out. I promised to take it easy.) So Billy drove us out to... well, let's just say "an isolated location outside of town," shall we? Along the way, we speculated on what was going on with the snake cult, but none of us had any real information to share.

There were about a hundred people there, including a couple of Elders. This wasn't anything to do with the snake cult; it was a ritual of praise and worship. It's supposed to encourage the Ancients to watch over us and assist us, and it does get Their attention: we've had things manifest that we didn't actively summon during the ritual. Mainly, though, it's an activity that involves the whole community, brings us together, and reminds us of our kinship and shared loyalties.

For a moment, watching everybody gather and prepare, I really wished Claire had come with me. Then I came to my senses: in the real world, that would be a disaster. What did I think she was going to do? Cheerfully walk away from Catholicism and swear her blood and marrow to the Ancients? Maybe help with the sacrifices? What the Hell was I thinking?

Honestly, I think I was just tired. Well, tired and sick. Okay, tired and sick and worried.

My job was to orchestrate the sacrifices and mingle the blood. I wouldn't be lifting a knife myself, but I'd be calling the... no, I can't explain that. Not if I want to keep living. Let's say that I'd be responsible for making sure that the right things happened at the right times, and leave it at that. And despite being sick and a bit feverish - actually, the fever may have helped - I did it, and it worked. And the gathering went beautifully, and as far as I know everybody had a good time.

And then Billy and Crystal drove me home and I collapsed again. Claire came in a little while later and crawled in beside me. I woke up enough to know she was home, but not enough to actually move, let alone greet her.

I found out about Todd and Andrea the next morning, which pretty well did for the rest of the week. I've been working, and resting, and eating when my stomach will put up with it. And I am feeling better. Hopefully by next week I'll have shaken the last of this off.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Apocalypse Preparedness

This morning your neighbor hit some sort of animal with his car... but when he screeched to a stop in front of you, the body on the pavement was human. Emergency Services took hours to arrive; they're overwhelmed and understaffed. Too many of their people are out sick, or simply missing. Now your neighbor is missing, too.

In the city, people are vanishing by the hundreds - maybe by the thousands, nobody seems to be sure. The normal background hum of traffic is all but silent. Reports of strange happenings are all over the news: a funeral was interrupted when the deceased suddenly sat up and greeted her family; a window-washer was mauled by some sort of giant bird; a father went to wake his children and found himself already in there, helping them dress. Out in the country, the animals are acting strangely and people have glimpsed strange things in the fields and woodlots. The world hasn't ended yet, but there's no shortage of omens and portents.

What are you doing while all this is going on? Are you praying, panicking, packing? Do you gather supplies, or sit quietly at home and watch the news? Or are you at the missing neighbor's house, taking advantage of his home theater setup? Calling friends and family to see if they're okay? Gathering at your church (or synagogue, or mosque)? Do you go to work and wait nervously for things to go back to normal?

What do you do?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

I'm angry and I don't know why

Okay, so this past week has sucked. The Horrible Tummy Bug has worked its way through my entire family. I managed to avoid throwing up, but between the gastrointestinal pain and the diarrhea that was a distinctly Pyrrhic achievement. I made it to work more than I probably should have, and definitely more than I would have if my boss hadn't been home with his daughters, who also had a tummy bug.

By Thursday, though, I was at least surviving, and I managed to put in a full eight hours of sleep that night. I wasn't at the top of my game on Friday, but I made it all the way through the day, came home, and did my part in putting the kids to bed. I made a real effort to get to sleep reasonably early, with the goal of getting nine or ten hours in. I even took a Melatonin pill, to help me sleep.

It didn't happen.

I think I went to sleep about eleven o'clock. Sometime after that, Baby Roland started screeching. I staggered into his room, and my wife handed him off to me so she could visit the bathroom. I cradled him - screaming the whole time, mind you - and soon after gave him back. Then I staggered back into Firstborn's room, and tried to go back to sleep.

It didn't work.

At two-thirty in the morning, I got up and went into the kitchen. I made food, and tea, and checked my e-mail. I added a Benadryl to help settle my allergies and carry me off to sleep. I settled in the bed in the back bedroom at three-thirty, and tried to go to sleep.

One of the cats woke me up, meowing, at four-thirty. I put him in his cage, but it didn't matter. He kept meowing - and every time he did, a fresh burst of adrenaline flooded my system and carried me back to (angry) wakefulness. It is, quite frankly, a wonder that we still have all three cats. So I gave up on trying to sleep in there. Instead, I went into the living room, and played video games (in an effort to get rid of the adrenaline) until about six-thirty. Then I dug out some ear plugs, and went back to bed.

I woke back up at noon. I didn't know it was noon, I just knew that Firstborn had found me in the bed and was waking me up. I staggered, swore, and eventually found my way back to the living room. My wife had made a real effort to let me sleep in - in complete ignorance of the midnight screaming baby, which she doesn't remember at all - and was very nice about waking me up. And I was furious - aimlessly, directionlessly, irrationally furious. Half my plans for the day had been spoiled, and the other hald were in a state of disarray. All because of something that had happened hours ago, that she didn't even remember, and that I couldn't seem to get over.

Frustrated, my wife eventually sent me off to do my errands, regardless of the lost time. Her instructions, specifically, were to go do whatever it took to get me out of this horrible mood. So I went off, and got some of those things done. One of them, unfortunately, involved changing out the front tires on my car - and that pretty well killed everything on the list after that. And I did, more or less, recover my good humor.

Unfortunately, in the process, I left her taking care of both boys... for most of the day. So by the time she got to her evening out - which she'd been planning for a couple of days - she was feeling angry and sad and put-upon. And maybe some of that is the aftermath of this virus - which really is a nasty, nasty thing - but a lot of that is me putting her in a position that she didn't expect to have to deal with.

So she went out to meet her friends at 5:45, and didn't get back until about 11:00... and naturally, she wasn't ready to settle in until about 11:30. I had dinner with my brother and his wife, and both boys went with me - and then I managed to bathe Firstborn and put him to sleep, and then feed Secondborn and get him to sleep as well. Once my wife actually got into her bed, I turned Secondborn over to her - he's still breastfeeding, and while he might have slept in my lap all night, he was likely to wake up hungry.

And now it's one-thirty in the morning, and the house is quiet. I'm the only one awake. And I'm still angry.

There's no reason for it. There's no point to it. There's no benefit, and frankly I wish it would fuck off. But I can feel it, just below the skin, waiting for any little thing to react to.

A friend of mine recently posted that she wanted a sparring partner. I am entirely sympathetic. I want to beat things, to hurt and be hurt. It's pointless, but it's the only immediate way I can see to be rid of this so I can rest. And of course I'm still awake: there are things I should be doing tomorrow, and every minute I don't sleep is going to make them harder. My usual remedies are useless.

So here's hoping that writing this out does the trick.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Post-Fever Dreams

So I went to bed fairly early last night and got a solid nine hours of sleep. (This is following the Horrible Tummy Bug, better known as Karkainon The Belly Render. I'm still recovering, but at least I can eat.) So naturally, I dreamed. And unsurprisingly, my dreams were a little... bizarre.

I had commuted back to Lawton, Oklahoma, to work at the drug and alcohol rehab in its new location. That was disturbing enough in its own right, but it occurs to me as I write this that I hadn't really sorted out just how much of a conflation that really is. Lawton, as I've mentioned before, is the little known Tenth Circle of Hell - at least, it was for me. The drug and alcohol rehab, however, was actually located in Stephenville, TX. Stephenville wasn't so bad, but working on the adolescent boys' wing of the rehab was easily the most purgatorial job I've ever held.

There had been some changes since the last time I was there (and in the dream, I was vaguely aware that I'd worked there once before). They'd moved to a somewhat ramshackle house, rather than the sprawl of decrepit, lowest-bid buildings that I remember. The staff was friendly, glad to see me, happy to get started - the whole environment was much cheerier than I remember it ever being in real life. Apparently there'd been some changes in management.

So really, it was a fairly pleasant dream (even if commuting to Lawton seemed a bit much for a low-paying job). At least, it was fairly pleasant, until the residents started screaming - at which point I ran back to see what was happening, and found that the house had come to life. Apparently it was haunted - really, really haunted. Doorways-splintering-into-teeth haunted. Faces-forming-in-the-wood haunted. Eating-the-patients haunted.

On the plus side, the facility was much better run when the vengeful, flesh-devouring ghosts were in charge than it ever was in real life.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Stupid Arguments: The Marriage Edition

My wife and I have some of the stupidest arguments on the face of the planet.

We don't argue a lot. We're pretty much on the same page about most of the things that make for big, nasty arguments: sex, money, children. So when we argue, it's usually because we're not quite well - tired or sick or both. And those arguments tend to be about stupid little things.

Two nights ago, in the midst of the Horrible Tummy Bug From Outer Space... and let me tell you, "Tummy Bug" seems like such an inadequate name for this thing. It needs something more Lovecraftian, like "Stkrulik". Or maybe something from Beowulf: "Karkainon, the Belly Render".

Anyway, it's Tuesday night. Wife was sick last Thursday, and is still recovering. The baby was sick Sunday night and most of Monday. Firstborn was sick from about mid-morning Tuesday until he finally passed out on the couch Tuesday night. And I'm pretty sure I'm next: I've already passed out for a bit, and while the gastro-intestinal symptoms haven't hit (yet), I do not feel well. But I've taken the baby, so that the Beautiful Woman can transfer one last load of laundry and brush her teeth. It's a little after nine o'clock, so the baby is due to fall asleep any time now. I am walking in circles around the kitchen table, holding the baby while he thrashes around, and waiting for him to nod off.

At one point, it looks like he has fallen asleep, so I take him into the bedroom and try to pass him off to my wife. At this point, he starts wiggling around: a baby who has no intention of sleeping when there's all this good exploring to be done first. So I start to take the baby back, and the next thing I know my wife is all, "I'll take him, you go lay down and sleep." She's cranky because I've brought her a baby who isn't ready to sleep.

So of course I'm now determined to take that baby back and finish the job: "No, I'll take him, you just lay here while I walk in circles."

"No. Go. To. Bed. I'll walk the baby around."

"I've got him." (I did, by this point.) "Shoo. Go lie down. Get some rest."

The Beautiful Woman finally grumps back off to her room. I, meanwhile, continue my circuit of the kitchen table, bleary-eyed and uncomfortable, but determined. The baby bucks and twists, trying to grab... well, anything, pretty much.

(And, of course, fifteen minutes later the baby actually is asleep on my shoulder, and I take him back in the bedroom and put him down. Because as it happens, I am just. that. good.)

My all-time favorite argument, though, was the one where we were walking through Target. We'd had a disagreement over lyrics. On my side: "Lovin' would be easy if your colours were like my dreams, red gold and green." On her side: "Lovin' would be easy if your colours were like my dreams. They're golden dreams." So of course we're wandering around...
Me: "Red, gold, and green."
Her: "Golden dreams. It makes more sense."
Me: "And yet, it is wrong. It's 'red, gold, and green'."
Her: "But that's stupid."
Me: "But that is the way the song goes."
Innocent Bystander: {gapes at us in disbelief}

...So now, if that particular song comes on, I feel compelled to sing along: "They're golden dreams!" It really does make more sense that way.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Reflections on Adaptation

Sick. So very, very sick. Horri

Nice little row of scratches down my left forearm. Hector's fault. I was just sitting there. Anybody want a recently adopted and slightly psychotic cat?

...And I'm back again, for round three. We're still at war, lost a couple more. I think our side is ahead on points, though. I am really, really sick - something gastrointestinal - and strangely it doesn't seem to have anything to do with the snake cult, unseen realities, or anything more occult than a run-of-the-mill virus.

What else was I going to report on? Oh, yeah: the glows. Either they're getting softer, or I'm adapting. Amazing what you can get used to.

There's a big ritual tomorrow night, and I'm supposed to have a central part in it. So I'd better be over this by then. I'm about ready to claw my own guts out and replace them with something that works. No, I'm not entirely kidding about that. This su

...Okay, not going to write anymore. Sitting up is not good for my stomach. Tell you more next week if I survive. Bathtub. Bathtub now. With a big bucket beside it.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

New Parenting Journal Entry

We're a little short of pictures this month (due to the grisly and untimely demise of our camera), but you can visit this month's parenting journal entry to read about the latest events and developments in the lives of our children and see pictures of their Halloween costumes.

Apologetics Make For Bad Court Cases

I recently saw recommendations for Josh McDowell's Evidence That Demands A Verdict and Lee Strobel's The Case For Christ. Two different places, two completely different conversations; it's just that they happened to occur within a couple of weeks of each other.

I read Evidence That Demands A Verdict years ago, when it was a tiny little paperback. (The edition I linked to above appears to be substantially larger.) I have also glanced at The Case For Christianity. While I don't have any desire (let alone time, space, or attention) to refute these books here, I do want to glance at a conceit that appears in both them: the idea of examining the evidence for and against Christianity as if it were a court case.

This is a bit silly on the face of it. Oh, it's not completely worthless; it's an interesting mental exercise. But, come on: are we really going to argue about the objective truth of a religion whose doctrine insists on the profound importance of faith?[1]

Coming back to my point, though: given this set up (the evidence for Christianity as a court case), both books immediately introduce the Gospels, the written accounts of the Apostles, as eye-witness testimony. And that's a problem.

It's a problem in part because the Gospels were written well after the events they tell of. It's also a problem because there is some question about whether the Gospels were actually written by the people to whom they're attributed. It's also a problem because eye-witness testimony is notoriously unreliable. But mainly... Well, look at it like this:

Let’s say something extraordinary happened: a woman was hit by a speeding car, then got back up and walked away. There is no video evidence, but there are these four eye witnesses. They aren’t in perfect agreement, but their stories all share the same basic shape: speeding car, woman in the street, car plows into her and just flattens her, she gets up and walks away. It would, as McDowell asserts, be perfectly reasonable to believe that this actually happened. The jury adjourns, and the judge tells everybody to come back tomorrow.

Well, the next day the jurors get a little more background on our four eyewitnesses. In the... let’s say twenty years... since they saw this collision, they’ve gone in together and started their own church. This isn’t just a pet project for any of them, either. It’s their livelihood, their life. One of their core teachings is that this woman was the Second Coming, and after they witnessed the accident she gathered them together and taught them about a new, modern Covenant. Their authority as founders of their new church is based entirely on their claim that they were taught by this miraculous woman. The woman herself can’t be found; the witnesses say that this is because she ascended into the sky on a great shaft of sunlight ten years ago.

Do we still take the previous day’s testimony at face value?

Quite apart from the problems with eyewitness testimony in itself, there’s a huge problem in comparing the accounts of the Disciples to eyewitness testimony at all. The Disciples weren’t disinterested bystanders, reporting events that they just happened to see, in order to provide a record for posterity. They were intimately involved in the events they wrote about, and they had a huge personal stake in their story.

Now that, by itself, does not refute their accounts. But it does mean that you can’t just say, "See? This actually happened. We have multiple witnesses!"

Acting as if the Gospels are equivalent to eye-witness testimony is not a logical argument. It's a cute bit of rhetorical sleight-of-hand, but that's the best that can be said of it. The Bible itself is part of the religion, and using it to prove the validity of Christian beliefs only works if you already believe in the validity of the Bible.

[1] I'm being a bit glib here, because I actually I do think it's important to have faith. It's just that a lot of the time, I'm not sure that I'm using the word in quite the same way that some Christians do - and I'm occasionally unsure that any three random Christians actually use the word the same way. But that's a topic for another post.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Harvest Of Force

Master Ellud Sor paused as he stepped from the clothier. The streets of Coruscant swirled with movement, but that was not why he hesitated. The streets were always busy here, to a greater or lesser degree. Such things were to be expected on a world covered entirely in towering cities, and over the years he had grown used to it.

No, he paused because the street had suddenly seemed darker as he crossed the threshold. It was as if some great shadow had passed overhead, but of all the people here, only he seemed to notice. A stirring in the Force. He knew it, and despite his years of experience, his strength in the Force, and his skills with the lightsaber, he feared what it might portend.

So he waited, until a Bothan begged pardon to squeeze past him through the doorway. No further premonitions came to him, and nothing seemed out of place. He stepped out into the crowd. His transport was not far, held in a garage bay two buildings down. Once he was in the air, anyone pursuing him would have to reveal their presence - or lose track of him entirely. He could be back at the Jedi Temple in a matter of minutes.

He moved through the crowd, his pace dignified, alert but calm in the way of a Jedi. He trusted in the Force to guide his way.

The garage bay was a massive open space, with one whole wall open to the air in order to offer access for even the largest transports. The passages that opened onto the street were smaller, different sizes and shapes accommodating the wide variety of races that mingled here. As the political center of the Republic, Coruscant was metropolitan as nowhere else in the Galaxy was. He passed through a doorway that suited his proportions, and continued down the short hall to the bay.

It was only as Master Ellud stepped into the bay that he became aware of the danger. He rolled to his right, and the bright length of a lightsaber passed above him. His own saber came into his hand as he regained his feet, and he turned in time to intercept a thrust that would have speared through his eye. He started to push forward, and the enemy dropped his hilt, raising his blade and bringing them into a bind.

Master Ellud regarded the assassin across their locked blades. He did not recognize the race: humanoid, with silver-blue skin and green eyes. His opponent was hairless and sleek, and the fingers that held the lightsaber were webbed. His clothing was a black second skin, crossed with belt and bandolier.

"You're the one who's been hunting Jedi," Ellud said calmly.

The strange gray figure nodded, and the narrow mouth pursed - an expression that could mean anything.

Ellud felt certain that it conveyed amusement.

"You've made a mistake," he said, and shoved back with all of his strength. It was not the strength of his arms that hurled his opponent back, but rather a powerful movement of the Force. Halfway across the garage bay, the Sith Lord - for what else could this be? - arrested his movement and settled gently to the floor.

Ellud Sor was not impressed. Any Jedi should be able to do the same. "Today you cross blades with a master," he called. "What name shall I give the rest of the council when I tell them of your fall?"

His enemy exhaled a soft, hissing laugh. "No mistake," it said, in a gentle, breathy voice. "Hunting you. Take your strength."

The Sith Lord launched himself forward with the barest movement of his feet, and Ellud lifted his blade to guard. He stepped aside and cut, but the Sith Lord matched his movement and their blades clashed and slid away. It was only then that Ellud became aware of the second lightsaber, propelled through the air just behind the Sith. It flared to life as if of its own accord, and the extending blade buried itself in the Jedi Master's chest.

The Sith Lord stepped in as Ellud staggered back, pushing the Jedi's lightsaber away with the saber in his right hand and placing his left hand on the hilt of the second lightsaber. For a moment their eyes met, and then the Sith Lord spoke: "Darth Noctus will have your midichlorians."

Master Ellud Sor's eyes widened as understanding dawned in his mind. The Council knew that Jedi were dying, but they did not know how or why. They felt the deaths within the Force, but found no remains of those slain. If this Sith Lord were somehow harvesting their midichlorians for his own use... I must escape. I must warn them.

Then Darth Noctus wrenched his second saber free, cutting up through the Jedi Master's shoulder. Master Ellud fell back, and his lightsaber spun from his hand. Darkness was closing in around the edges of his vision, but he could see his enemy's blades deactivate. A moment later the Sith was holding Ellud's own light saber, and then hanging it on his belt with the others.

He reached out with the Force, trying to send a warning, but all he could shape was a wordless cry for help. The Sith Lord was speaking into some sort of communicator, and now a pair of droids floated over. Their arms extended to lift his damaged body.

"Take him to the extractor," said Darth Noctus, in his soft, breathy voice. The droids floated away, and Darth Noctus followed them to his waiting ship. By the time the Jedi arrived, he would be far away... and the machines in his ship would have rendered the Jedi Master's body down, extracted his midichlorians, and injected them into Darth Noctus' bloodstream. Already he had become stronger than his Master, but he was not yet ready to challenge the Sith. Let the Jedi fall first, and then he would feast on his own. Before long there would be neither Jedi nor Sith. There would only be Noctus.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Callahan's Friday Pun

It's good to be chaste...
...but sometimes it's better to be caught.

Following Up on Baptism

I've spoken to my wife about this push to get Theron baptized, or indoctrinated, or whatever the precise goal is. Her initial reaction was fairly neutral, along the lines of "Sure, whatever."

So when Nana[1] (my wife's mother, who's a minister for the Disciples of Christ) stopped by to drop some things off, I asked her what she thought about it. I was... pleasantly surprised by her response.

She said, basically, that she thinks he's too young. Baptism now will be much less meaningful than baptism him later, when and if he chooses it for himself. The dedication ceremony probably isn't what we want, either, since it generally requires the parents to promise that they'll raise the child to be a good Christian. She basically laughed off the idea that if he died unbaptized, he might go to Hell. I'm not sure that the Disciples explicitly reject that belief, but they certainly don't endorse it.[2] Quoting from memory: "We don't believe babies are born evil."

She also said that, as Theron's parents, this is our decision to make. I've put that in italics not because it's an important point to me (though it is), but because she was fairly emphatic about it.

More than anything else, I think I was surprised that Nana's views are so much in line with my own - what with her being a minister, and me being an unbeliever. We're obviously coming at the question from different directions, but we're arriving at the same place. Her other points (about dedication not really being appropriate for us, and about this being our decision) were well taken, too. And the sorts of things that I thought she might be concerned about... well, they don't really concern her. In particular, she doesn't think it will be a huge crisis if he does get baptized in the Episcopal church, she just thinks it won't mean much (if anything) to him right now.

So, um, mad props to my mother-in-law.

I went back and relayed that to my wife (who wasn't a part of the conversation only because she was bathing the boys when her mother arrived). She agrees whole-heartedly: we'll both be a lot more comfortable waiting, and letting Theron choose for himself. Which was pretty much the plan all along, thank-you-very-much.

That's still going to create some friction, I think, but it'll be the sort of thing that's best addressed by looking at how my parents handle having Theron at their church. Which is going to be an interesting conversation in its own right, but at least it's not going to require us to reconcile disparate views from various parts of the extended family.

So, to recap:
1. Talking to my mother-in-law was enlightening and helpful.
2. Firstborn is not getting baptized until he's ready.

[1] Not her real name, obviously.

[2] The Disciples of Christ have quite a number of issues where their official doctrine is, basically, "The scriptures don't give a specific directive, so you'll have to rely on your own conscience and judgement." In their words: "Where the Bible speaks, we speak. Where the Bible is silent, we are silent." Since a lot of the more questionable - and problematic - elements of Christianity seem to me to arise from people trying to fill in all the blanks for themselves, I rather like this approach.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

What My Son Thinks of Church

So, after that last conversation with my parents, I went home and asked Theron (Firstborn, age 4) what he does at church. He said, "The ladies wait for kids." He's referring to the underappreciated (and doubtless underpaid) women who run the nursery. Theron should probably be in Sunday School by now, but I prefer to have him in the nursery with them. My parents' church is... well, it's a distinctly older congregation. There aren't that many children, and there are hardly any babies. I don't know what they're going to do when Theron moves up.

After that, I asked him what his grandparents did at church. He said he didn't know. I asked him if he knew why they went. He said he didn't know. And then - I swear by everything I hold dear, I am not making this up - he sang, "We're here because, we're here because, we're here because we're here."

Well... Okay. So I asked him what he knew about Jesus. And I should have written this down earlier, because I've lost the critical details. But he answered, basically, that Jesus loves us, and Jesus protects us. Out of curiosity, I asked him where he'd learned that, and he said he didn't learn it. I suspect that means that he's culled it from various sources: I know that his Vacation Bible School hit a lot of Christian topics, and I wouldn't be surprised if the ladies in the nursery - or his Nana, my wife's mother - had talked to him a little.

So that's his understanding. As far as I can tell, church is just something he does, reflexively, on his way to spending the rest of the day with his grandparents. The connection between "Jesus loves you" and Going To Church is tenuous at best. And trying to get from "Jesus loves you" to "so people eat this bread because they think it's His body" is going to be... well... interesting.

Baptism For Unbelievers

Interesting conversation at the family lunch: my mom wants to get Theron (Firstborn, age 4) baptized. He attends church with them on Sundays, and he's showing interest in taking communion - or, more accurately, in eating the communion wafer just like everyone else gets to do. He doesn't really understand the point of the ritual or the story behind it, which is part of the issue.

From a family-dynamics perspective, this is a surprisingly delicate question. I'm... essentially irreligious. Despite a strong love of mythology in all its forms, I can't really believe in any of it. My wife is probably best described as a deist, or perhaps a monist. My parents are Episcopalian, and my wife's parents belong to the Disciples of Christ. (My wife's mother is actually a minister.)

The primary driver on this appears to be my mom. She's the one who brought it up, and she's the one who was talking about it as something that needs to be done. My dad doesn't seem to have any opinion on the matter, but appearances may be deceiving. Dad sometimes just sits back and lets my mom do all the talking on things like this. Then he wonders why nobody realizes that he thinks it's important, too. So it's hard to be sure.

Anyhow... the issue, as we finally hashed it out, is basically twofold. The primary issue is this: Mom doesn't feel that Theron should be receiving communion without at least a basic understanding of what he's taking part in. This ties into the Episcopalian approach to initiation, so pardon me while I digress for a moment.

In the modern Episcopalian church - at least, the one my parents attend - anyone who has been baptized may take communion. Baptism can be done at any time, and is usually done as soon as possible after birth. Later, when the child reaches some nebulous "age of reason", he or she is taught the essentials of the faith, and then undergoes Confirmation - a formal, personal embracing of the religion that he or she was baptized into as a baby. When I was growing up, this was the point at which one could begin to take communion. (It used to be something of a coming-of-age ritual, corresponding roughly to puberty, but the age at which it occurs has been creeping steadily lower for years.)

Right now, though, even the kids who are too young for confirmation can receive a communion wafer.

Among the Disciples of Christ, however, the... well, the sequence is the same, but the emphasis is inverted. That is, babies and children are Dedicated, and when they reach the age of reason they're taught the essentials of the faith and then baptized.

So... having Theron baptized in the Episcopal church would make it permissible for him to eat the wafer. It would not, by itself, give him any insight whatsoever into why people eat the bread every week. Any such explanation is going to have to be made independently... and to be honest, I don't think he's really going to understand no matter who explains it. He's four.

Having him dedicated in the Disciples church would have much the same result; I'm pretty sure the Episcopalians aren't going to quibble over whether he's "baptized enough" to eat the wafer. Both denominations are pretty easygoing about these things.

So that's the situation. One obvious solution is simply to tell him that he can't take communion until he's really old enough to understand it. I would be completely fine with that. There's an obvious problem, though: he's going to see kids his own age or only slightly older getting wafers. He will, understandably, consider it unfair that he doesn't get one.

The second possibility is to get him baptized, or dedicated - or both, depending on how strongly the various grandparents feel about having him connected to their particular denomination. I'm opposed to this, but not insurmountably so. If we go this route, then someone is still going to have to make the explanation that my mom thinks he needs, but I can do that. Also, handling it this way would probably make both sets of grandparents much happier...

Assuming that nobody came out feeling that their denomination or side of the family had been slighted. That's almost certain to be trickier than it sounds.

A third possibility is to take Theron out of church entirely. This would probably set off a blazing row, and I'm betting that nobody would like it. My parents wouldn't like it. Theron wouldn't like it (if for no other reason, because he enjoys getting his grandparents to himself for most of the day). I wouldn't like it, because I'd have to wrangle both boys on Sundays. My wife wouldn't like it, because having both boys in the house will make it much harder to grade, even if I'm trying to watch both of them. Even my wife's parents probably wouldn't like it, since it would mean Theron was getting less exposure to Christianity. So we're probably not going to try that.

There's another issue, though, and the more I think about it, the more I suspect it may be the actual motivator. As we were leaving the restaurant, Mom said that she was also worried because somewhere in her youth she'd picked up the idea that if you died before you were baptized, you went to Hell. Naturally, she didn't want to risk that for Theron. My initial reaction was, basically, "No, because God is not a monster." I also pointed out that there's no scriptural support for (or against, really) this view. She admitted that those were valid points, but said that this was something that had stuck with her. Loosely translated, I think that means that she knows this isn't a rational fear, but it's still her fear.

Like I said, I suspect this is the actual motivator, and Theron's interest in communion wafers is just a catalyst, or at least a handy opportunity. This is important, because it means that just explaining the concept of communion to Theron, and telling him he has to wait, is not, despite her assertions to the contrary, actually going to satisfy her.

Well. First order of business is to talk it over with my wife. I'll have done that by the time this actually posts. (I may come back and make some edits or updates, too.) Then we'll probably want to feel out her parents and see what they think. And finally, we're going to have to talk to Theron about the whole thing.

Why yes, that is the smell of Impending Doom. What makes you ask?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Reflections on changes

Several things to remark on this week. I'll start with the mundane ones, and go from there.

Two weeks ago, I mentioned that Claire had gotten a cat. I didn't remark on it last week. That's because we'd spent most of the previous week at my place. Hector - that's the cat - is... well, let me put it this way: I've conjured creatures less random, malicious, and incomprehensible than he is. He remains hostile no matter what I do. He snarls at me when I come to the apartment, and stalks me when I come inside. If he gets close enough, he claws or bites at me... and let me tell you, that's a hell of a surprise when you're sitting on the couch in the middle of a movie. Claire has to put him in a cage if I'm sleeping over.

I've tried to be friendly with the animal, I really have. I've filled his food dish. I've offered him treats. I've tried to pet him. Nothing works. I can't get through the outer layer of hostility long enough to convince him that I'm friendly.

Over in my own apartment, I've been trying to sort out the things I can put into storage. In the process, I've been throwing a lot of things out. I thought I had a fairly Spartan lifestyle, but possessions have a way of sneaking up on you. I hadn't realized just how much crap I'd accumulated until I started looking at my stuff in terms of just which things I'd actually pay to keep. This is, of course, part of the process of getting a single apartment with Claire. I just hope Hector survives the transition.

It's not a bad practice, though, in case things go badly. On Thursday - right after I finished my post about Anna's visit and said that we weren't at war with the snake cult - Kelly died in his sleep. Apparently there was an adder in his bed, and he rolled over on it. Nobody thinks this was a coincidence. So, yes: we're at war with the snake cult.

This sort of war is a tricky thing. Nobody knows for certain what the other side really knows, let alone what they're capable of. I'm fairly certain that the snake cult felt completely safe in sending the big guy to spy on me at work, and to follow us on Sixth street... and look what happened to him. We don't know what happened to him; the only way they could know anything is if the twins were rogue members of their own cult, which isn't bloody likely.

I'm in no condition for this. I'm in no condition for work, really, but I'm managing - barely. The world has acquired a halo.

No, that doesn't adequately describe the problem. Everything in the world has acquired a halo. Any discreet object has a shimmering, silver glow around it. It messes with the shadows, and plays merry hell with my depth perception. I can navigate, but it's as if everything has gone out of focus. I keep misjudging distances: I knock things over, drop things that I meant to grab, run into things that I thought I was walking past.

And all this because of two things: I finally completed the ritual that the Thing In The Well suggested, and I had the dream again.

I'm tempted to leave it there, but I suppose a little more explanation is in order. Back when I visited the Thing In The Well, it listened to my description of the dream and suggested a ritual. It didn't say what it would do, or why it thought that ritual might help. So I took my time in assembling the necessary elements - and some of them were astronomical, so delays were unavoidable - and only managed to finish the thing this week.

And on Sunday, I dreamed my way back into the hexagonal canyons. It was... I don't know, strangely familiar, and stronger than I remembered. I reached out to a small bit of nearby mist, and absorbed it immediately. Some timeless time after that, I saw the great black cloud descending upon us. I felt the same overwhelming fear of being devoured, but when it reached for me... It was as though our appetites were reversed. I pulled it in, absorbed it, and devoured it. I took only a tiny piece of that flowing darkness, but the rest of the cloud drew back from around me.

Then it was gone. I thought it had retreated back up the valley, but that was only a fleeting impression. A moment later I was gone from that world. I sank into more regular dreams, and only remembered that one because of the curious flicker of dark mist around my face when I looked in the mirror the next morning. But ever since then, everything has its own misty halo.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Caving List

I found this a couple of months ago. It's from back when I was in college, and a bunch of us drove up to Tennessee to go spelunking. It's... well, it's old enough to be printed on dot matrix. And if we're being completely honest, it was a very old-fashioned approach to caving even then: three people, two lights per (at least), and old clothes. The complete lack of helmets and any other safety equipment tends to freak out more modern spelunkers.

So this is what I told people to bring. My commentary is in italics.

Things YOU should have with you when you go caving:

1. A pair of heavy pants: jeans, army surplus, something solid and DURABLE and expendable

2. A T-shirt and shorts: These can be worn under your caving clothes, or you can change into them when you get out of the cave.

3. A sweater of sweatshirt: Preferable old and expendable, but it needs to be something Warm. Caves maintain a year-round temperature of fifty-four degrees, and when your feet get wet, you'll get cold very quickly.

4. Thick socks: They won't actually help keep you warm, but they'll help when you get pebbles in your shoes (more padding).

5. A pair of lace-up, ankle-length shoes: Hiking boots, high-tops, or possibly combat bots. Do NOT use low sided tennis shoes as they tend to come off; do NOT use cowboy boots either, once you get water in them you'll never get it out.

6. A tough jacket: Jeans jacket, army surplus; something you can afford to get dirty, something fairly tough and tear-resistant. Leather is Not recommended, as it is fairly heavy and tends to get heavier when it's wet. This should be something loose enough that you can wear it over a sweater or sweatshirt and still move in it when it gets wet.

7. (optional): While a pair of gloves is next to useless, you might find that a pair of old mittens will help keep your fingers warm when you're not climbing anything or crawling through water or wriggling through small holes.

8. A flashlight: This is VITAL.

9. Extra batteries for the flashlight: This is also VITAL.

10. Also in the VITAL category: one OTHER source of light: a cigarette lighter and candles in a ziplock bag, a second flashlight, a glow-stick... Something.

11. (optional) A hat, bandana, or other object for protecting your hair and keeping it out of your way. If you're worried about hitting your head, helmets should be available.

12. (optional but recommended, not vital) Knee and elbow pads.

So there you have it. That was quite a trip, actually, and I might have to tell some stories from it. For that matter, I have some fairly humorous caving stories too. Hm...

Monday, November 8, 2010

But Nobody Could Have Seen This Coming...

A friend of mine just posted this on facebook: Oklahoma voters may have accidentally outlawed the 10 Commandments.

Apparently the amendment intended to ban the application of Sharia law in Oklahoma is a little... imprecise... in its wording. It actually forbids judges to consider any laws that were conceived on foreign soil... which would include the Ten Commandments. (Contrary to some views, neither Moses nor God were/are American citizens.)

An overwhelming majority of Oklahomans apparently thought that this was a good idea.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Muslim =/= Terrorist

I've mentioned before that I don't think Islam is evil. In other words, while there are Muslims who do horrible things, I don't think that Islam is actually the cause of those horrible things.

When I mention this, people frequently respond that, well, you never see Muslims objecting to these things. And, to be fair, the only Muslims who make the national news are either terrorists, or people trying to do equally nefarious things like build a community center. So I can see how non-Muslims might get the impression that all Muslims are terrorists, at least if the mainstream media is their only source of information.

Also... can we drop the idea that Muslims build mosques on conquered lands? Muslims build mosques where there are Muslims. Period. Full stop. Muslims wanting to build a mosque is about as sinister as Christians wanting to build a church. Just about as unusual, too.

And so but anyway: "Muslim" is not a synonym for "terrorist". Which should be obvious, but apparently we need the reminder. So, for your edification and future reference, here is a list of terrorist plots foiled with the help of the American Muslim community.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Apocalypse River 002

This is a project I started back in April. Updates will probably be infrequent and irregular, as it's very much an "as the mood takes me" piece of writing. You can find the first bit here.

Tammon sprinted up the trail, spear in one hand and net in the other. He was small, light and lean, and while his stride was not long he could move quite quickly. He came to a sharp bend in the trail, and rounded it by kicking off a tree. He was still moving at full speed when he focused on the Forster in front of him.

The Forsters were huge, at least by the standards of the River People. There were larger things in the forest where they lived, but the River People never ventured that far in. They fished the river and raised small, unreliable gardens in patches of transplanted soil. When they hunted at all, it was at the very edges of the forest, and they entered cautiously and withdrew quickly.

This one was easily half again Tammon's height, even hunched over to place the knuckles of one long arm against the ground. Its other hand held a flat club, its edges lined with sharp shards of stone and teeth taken from forest predators. Dark eyes focused on Tammon from beneath a heavy brow, and the broad forehead showed a triple ridge that swept back along the length of the skull.

Tammon knew immediately that he could never change directions in time. He flung his spear instead, not even bothering to reverse his grip first, and continued to race forward. Luck was with him: the Forster had only barely focused on his presence, and didn't see the spear until it was far too late. That massive club swept up, and Tammon dropped onto his hip, sliding under it as his spear slammed into the Forster's eye. The Forest Man reared back, shaking its head in rage and pain... and dropped like a puppet with its vines cut.

For a moment, Tammon considered going back for his spear. His slide had taken him just past the Forster, and it would only be a brief delay; but the Forest Men were strong, and if it got its hands on him, even in death... He continued on.

The trees and underbrush stopped abruptly at a certain distance from the inlet, and Tammon slowed to a stop while he still had cover. He moved forward and parted branches, not wanting to be seen but not worrying too much about noise. He could hear the chaos in the village, and doubted anyone was listening for stragglers.

The warning bell still sounded. Tammon could not see who occupied that high, stone room - a column of delicately shaped stone that had once connected to a road in the hills by a narrow, arching bridge. The bridge was shattered, and the forest had consumed the road, but the tower remained standing in the sparser soil of the floodplain. The village had kept its watchers there for three generations, with an ancient, scavenged bell to give warning of intruders.

The intruders were now scaling the tower. Two had made it onto the remains of the ladder, and a third was clinging to the stone just below it. There was a flicker of movement, and Tammon squinted, trying to make it out. An arrow had sprouted from the shoulder of the topmost attacker, and now that he looked he could see where several other arrows had been broken off in the invaders' flesh. He didn't think the arrows would stop the Forsters; the bows of the River People were not strong enough for this.

Where can we go? The Forsters lived by their strength and endurance. The River People were weaker but more flexible; they lived strategically. In a confrontation, they would lose; but they would never allow a confrontation if there was any way to avoid it. Almost as soon as he posed the question, Tammon saw the answer: Shannan and one of the older women were herding the children towards one of the old boathouses. With all other avenues of escape blocked, they would seek shelter there - or try to escape into the river.

The rest of the village was engaging the Forsters with spears, bows, and slings. Now that Tammon knew what to look for, he could see the pattern: they were trying to keep the Forsters distracted, to draw them off if that were possible. Tammon could try to join them, but he was on the wrong side of the village for that; if he intervened, he might actually call the Forsters' attention to the women and children. Better to circle around, and help try to get the children out of the battle.

Still clutching his net, he stepped out of the brush and turned, following the brake down towards the edge of the river. The Forsters might have seen him earlier - it would explain why one of them had come looking for him - but he doubted they were watching him now. They were far too busy in the village. Two of the huts were on fire, now - probably from people stepping in the cooking fires - and the Forsters shied back from the flames. Tammon could not tell whether they were about to break, or if they might continue the battle, so he continued on his way. If they could get the children to safety, the village might survive. Might.

Reflections on Hanging Out

It occurs to me that I haven't said much about Claire's friends and family. That's not entirely an oversight on my part; her parents live in Minnesota, so I haven't met them. (Apparently they met in college, married, and - unlike my entire family - are still married to their first spouses. Imagine that.) Her three closest friends all live in Colorado, and I missed seeing them the last time they came to visit. (I was, if you'll recall, off consulting with The Thing In The Well.) So how did Claire wind up in Texas? Well, she moved down with an ex-boyfriend who'd gotten a job here. After they broke up, she hung around to finish some courses she'd been taking. Not too long after that, she met me, and when we became an item, well... that gave her another reason to stay here.

I mention all this because one of her friends - I'll call her Anna - came through town last weekend. Anna is petite, pretty, blonde... and at the risk of sounding old-fashioned, I'll call her "vivacious". Actually, "vital" might be a better word, but that sounds even more old-fashioned.

I don't usually mention these things in advance, but Anna actually did give us plenty of warning. Claire's schedule is a lot more flexible than mine, so she had already made plans for them. I happened to be off Saturday night, but not Friday - so they had a chance to catch up at dinner on Friday, and we all went out on Saturday.

We went down to Sixth Street, of course. Anna had a good time dancing, and Claire and I joined her on the dance floor. I felt clumsy and inarticulate, and judging by Anna's responses she didn't think much of my dancing... but Claire was happier with me trying to dance, even badly, than she would have been with me refusing to dance, even gracefully. And really, Anna's opinion was only important insofar as it influenced Claire. I don't dance that badly, though my training emphasizes some movements that aren't really part of the club scene, and neglects some others that are.

Beyond our outing, Anna was actually a very pleasant visitor - not least because her presence cheered Claire immeasurably. When she spoke to me alone, it was basically a request for mundane information: what did I do, how did we meet, what did I think of Claire? She probably had Claire's impressions already, but I was happy to add my own.

Anna and Claire have been friends since middle school. I was, to be honest, kind of hoping that she'd pass her impressions along to Claire's parents. I'll meet them sooner or later, but it never hurts to lay positive groundwork... especially when you're meeting people without the sort of background you were raised to expect.

We're not at war with the Snake Cult. Not yet, anyway. I don't know what's going on, but we haven't had any deaths or disappearances. Maybe it won't come to that. If it does, I hope I can protect Claire - I'd really hate to lose her to something I brought on her in the first place.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Ghost in the Machine

First, a bit of sad news for anyone who wasn't already aware of it: Dr. Ken Pulliam died of a massive heart attack last Saturday. Dr. Pulliam was, among a great many other things, the author of the blog Why I Deconverted From Evangelical Christianity. While I never met the man in person, his blog was part of my regular online reading; and the news of his death hit me much harder than I would have expected. I've already expressed my sadness and offered my condolences to his family over on the tribute page on Facebook, and that wasn't really what I wanted to talk about here.

Online relationships are important; online communities are - or at least can be - real communities. Most of you know that already. And like I said, that's not really what I wanted to talk about.

Dr. Pulliam wrote entries for his blog in advance, and set them to post at specific times. It's a common practice - I do it myself sometimes - because it allows you to build up a buffer. If you have things prepared in advance, then your blog doesn't sit idle just because you can't get to your keyboard for a couple of days.

But as a result, on the same morning that I learned of Dr. Pulliam's death, I found a new post on his blog - which is, I repeat, the only way that I knew the man. So my immediate reaction was this: Oh, good. He just posted. The reports of his death must be a hoax, or one of those fits of hysterical misunderstanding that sometimes sweep the Internet. Then I went back and found confirmation: yes, the report is true; yes, Dr. Pulliam is really dead. So now I realize what's really going on.

Rationally, I know that these entries are simply post-dated publications, no different from reading a book that was published after its author's death. Emotionally, though... Emotionally, I'm having trouble getting past the fact that I'm reading messages from a dead man. Seeing new entries continue to appear feels creepy and wrong. And people are still responding in the comments on those posts, as if Dr. Pulliam were still around to read those comments. That's understandable, I guess, but it still freaks me out - more than a little.

To be clear, I'm not saying that people shouldn't comment. I'm writing about this as something that is strictly my own issue. I know it's perfectly understandable, but it feels like I'm seeing a ghost.

Monday, November 1, 2010

On the Receiving End

We were up in Arkansas a month or so back, for the wedding of one of my wife's cousins. I used a vacation day so we could drive up on Friday, and we made it in... well, a little later than we'd planned, but in plenty of time for the rehearsal dinner.

Now, I had agreed to watch the boys so that my wife could attend the rehearsal dinner. So, while she went off to eat some very fine food, I loaded both boys back into the car and went to McDonalds. (That's not to say that there weren't better places to eat; Little Rock is not short on good restaurants. It's just that most of them don't have dedicated play areas for active four-year-olds who desperately need to run and jump and climb after a day of sitting still in the car.)

So we pull into the parking lot and find a space. I get the baby out and put him in the Baby Bjorn carrier. With the baby safely attached to my chest, I get Firstborn out of his car seat and we go inside.

At the counter, I try to order some food. The girl behind the counter is young[1]; and I'm trying to give her my order, which isn't terribly complicated[2]. Only I can't get her to pay attention long enough to make sure the order is correct. Hell, I can barely get her to look at me long enough to put the order in at all. She is completely distracted by the baby, and will not quit staring at my chest.

So now I have some idea of how it feels. If only I'd been a little more alert... I missed a really brilliant opportunity to say, "Hey. My eyes are up here."

[1] To my eyes, anyway; I'd guess she was around sixteen or eighteen, but honestly I can hardly tell anymore.

[2] Seriously, I think I wanted a Chicken McNugget Happy Meal and a Quarter Pounder for myself. Not too bloody hard, you'd think.