Monday, January 31, 2011

The Party of Scrooge

I saw this posted on a thread over at Slacktivist just recently. The question of which portion of our current political dialogue prompted me to reproduce it here is left as an exercise for the reader.
"Are there no prisons?" asked Scrooge.
"Plenty of prisons," said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.
"And the Union workhouses?" demanded Scrooge. "Are they still in operation?"
"They are. Still," returned the gentleman, "I wish I could say they were not."
"The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?" said Scrooge.
"Both very busy, sir."
"Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course," said Scrooge. "I'm very glad to hear it."
"Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude," returned the gentleman, "a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink. and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?"
"Nothing!" Scrooge replied.
"You wish to be anonymous?"
"I wish to be left alone," said Scrooge. "Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don't make merry myself at Christmas and I can't afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned -- they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there."
"Many can't go there; and many would rather die."
"If they would rather die," said Scrooge, "they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Besides -- excuse me -- I don't know that."
"But you might know it," observed the gentleman.
"It's not my business," Scrooge returned. "It's enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people's. Mine occupies me constantly."

Friday, January 28, 2011

I want to be a video game character

I might have mentioned once or twice (more than that, if you know me in person) just how much I'd love to have Vast Supernatural Powers. I've also written a bit about superheroes from time to time. Jedi Knights might have entered the discussion. And, yes, those things are all cool. But you know what I really want to be?

A video game character.

Oh, sure, you might be weak when you start out. You might have spend a few weeks killing rats until you level up enough to have a fighting chance against a mid-sized dog. You might spend months of time tromping around in the wilderness, looking for things to kill, before you can start doing anything useful. But let's face it: in most RPGs, by the end of the game you're going to be just about the most powerful being on the planet.

Or maybe you're a character from a first-person shooter. That's not so bad, either. I mean, yeah, you probably won't ever become world-beatingly powerful, but you'll almost certainly start off with a pretty high level of badassitude. And you'll be able to find newer, more powerful weapons - or upgrade them, or take them from the enemies you've killed.

But having a lot of power isn't the only reason to become a video game character. There are plenty of other reasons, which (if not universal) are pretty common across the board:

Athleticism - Sure, there are a few games where you're pretty well locked to the floor. But many, if not most, video games allow you jump heights and distances that would be singularly amazing in real life. And if you can climb, you never have to worry about losing your balance: as long as you don't actually step off that narrow wooden plank, there's absolutely no chance that you will fall. In a proper platformer game (any of the Prince of Persia titles, for example), you can perform truly amazing feats of prowess: running along walls, leaping from wall to wall, catching the ledge below you after dropping a full body-length down the wall.

Endurance - Video game characters don't get tired, as a rule. Oh, sure, in the GTA games you can only sprint for so long, and your character goes through a catching-his-breath routine when you stop... but once he's done, he's all ready to sprint again. If I tried that in real life, I would hurt myself. At the very least, I'd have to spend the next few days in bed to recover - and that's if I didn't do myself permanent harm. Which brings me to my next point...

No Permanent Harm - Shot? Fallen off a building? Spaceship crashed in the penal colony that occupies the western half of the former United States of America? Gnawed on by coyotes? Hey, you lose a few hit points, but that's about it. In one or two games (I'm thinking of Resident Evil, here), being injured slows you down... but even then, as soon as you're healed, you're back to your full strength and speed. Better than that, though, is the fact that you don't even need first aid. Two dozen police officers do their best to perforate you, but you don't keep bleeding. You just take the damage and move on. Or, well, you die.

But hey, why worry about that? You're a video game character, which means you have the coolest power of all:

Save Points - Video game characters can manipulate time. Specifically, they make a record of events at certain points in time, and then - if they're killed, or if things go poorly, or if they're just curious and want to try doing something over - they can return to that point in time and continue from there. As a result, they're effectively invincible (a point which is noted explicitly in the dialogue later in the Soul Reaver games).

So that's why it would be cool to be a video game character.

One word of warning, though: always remember to word your wishes carefully. If you say, "I wish I was a video game character," and the Wish Genie is feeling cranky, you might just find yourself trapped in a maze, chasing some perpetually-hungry yellow ball-with-a-mouth around... forever. Nobody wants that.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The first step is admitting you have a problem.

Hi there.

I am a man. As a man, I have opinions. If you're lucky, I will share them with you.

You see, my opinions are not just a random assortment of views and positions that I've accumulated over the years. Not at all. Each one is logically derived after careful consideration of irrefutable First Principles, arranged by the guiding light of pure rationality. They are glorious in their elegance, boundless in their complexity, and unrivaled in the field of pure philosophical truth. They are... perfect.

And I have opinions on everything. I have opinions on Abortion. Not just "an opinion"; oh, no. Opinions. I have opinions on parenting, driving, the nature of art, the economy, fashion, gay marriage, children who won't stay quiet in restaurants, the role of government in society, abstinence-only education, gun rights, free speech, artichoke hearts, and taking the Christ out of Christmas. And those are just the areas in which I've enlightened my fellow human beings in the last three days.

So the next time you start to talk about your views on anything, you should stop and ask me what I think, first. It'll save us all a lot of time.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Reflections on Investigation

I've been following up on the information in last week's letter - as time allows, anyway. It hasn't been easy, even with Claire back in class and no new assignments from the Elders. Here's what I have so far:

The three of them definitely know each other. None of them own a white van, but doesn't mean much; the police seem to think that the van was stolen, anyway. (They favor the idea that it was a bunch of teenagers out joyriding. For reasons which should be obvious, I'm not arguing.)

So my next step was to talk to Mbata. I didn't tell him about the letter, just that I thought these were the people who'd tried to kill me. He's gone off to check on whether they're known members of the snake cult, and to find out what the Elders want to do about it if they are. I hadn't really thought about it, but apparently we don't just kill anyone that we know belongs to the cult. Some of them, we just watch - to see where they go and who they meet.

So... we'll see what comes of that. I've put together a couple of escape routes, and cached some emergency supplies. I wish I could keep more... materials... in the apartment, but with Claire living there, it's too big a risk.

I've also been thinking about what happened when my car went off the road. I will tell you right now that (while it was certainly better than death by extreme mangling) appearing naked in my apartment was not part of any of the protections that I set up for myself.

It could have been done by someone else, of course. If so, it's probably the same person who left the letter under the door. I don't really like that explanation, though. For one thing, it raises more questions than it answers: Who could do that? Why would they bother in the first place? If they did bother, why not pause to introduce themselves so I could be properly grateful? But that's not the only reason I don't like that explanation.

I can't be sure of this - I may be building and reinforcing the memory retrospectively - but I think that as the car was going off the road, the thought in my head was this: This can't happen now. I have to get home. And then there was that weird break, and then I was in the apartment. Did I somehow move myself? If so, how? And could I do it again?

Even better, could I do it again and keep my clothes on?

Reflections of a Deranged Cultist is a work of fiction. No natural laws were violated in the creation of this post.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Notes from the Mad Science Lab: Spider-Mammoth

I note with interest that a group of Japanese researchers are trying to move in on my territory. They believe they can resurrect the wooly mammoth within the next five years. No doubt they think they're clever.

Well, I'll show them. Resurrecting extinct species is a good trick, but why stop there? In five years, I can not only bring back the wooly mammoth, I can make it better. And then I will show them what a real Mad Scientist can do - I will send my wooly spider-mammoths to their lab!

And to think... there are children in school today who think that science is boring. If only they understood the allure of forbidden knowledge, the pleasure of challenges overcome, and the raw, visceral satisfaction of irrefutably demonstrating to your rivals that they were wrong, and you were right all along!


Monday, January 24, 2011

Zombie Dreams, Part Whatever

So the first words out of my mouth on Saturday morning had to do with the dreams I'd been having before my wife and two small boys piled onto the bed with me: "Stay together, stay quiet. We're going to need a lot more toilet paper if we're going to escape this zombie-infested forest." I paused, then added, "...Stupid summer camp."

My wife, who was none too terribly awake herself, considered this. "You know what difference between American zombies and British zombies is?" she asked me.

I thought about that for a moment, but I couldn't come up with anything.

Having satisfied herself that I was stumped, the Beautiful Woman answered: "Better teeth."

Friday, January 21, 2011

Illness, Vampirism, and Time

I've been sick a lot this week. It started as a head cold, and either migrated or was was replaced by something intestinal. This has been accompanied by muscle aches (and some weird muscle cramps), lethargy, and a nearly terminal inability to concentrate.

All this led me to observe that what I'd really like to do is pull one of Anne Rice's vampire tricks: just go into the earth for, say, a year and a half, and then come back up when I'm healed and everything is working right.

...Which led immediately to the realization that if I did that, Firstborn would have jumped from four-and-a-half to six years old in my absence. LG would have gone from still learning to walk to speaking real English words. Also, my wife would kill me, but that's quite a lot less startling.

Having kids has made me acutely aware of the passage of time.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Notes from the Mad Science Lab: Hippofishimus

My son has asked for a new pet for his birthday.

I should probably explain that I don't mean "new" in the sense of "one that we don't already own." No, when my son wants a "new" pet, he really means new: he wants an animal that does not currently exist on this planet. He wants a hippofishimus.

Okay, so this isn't exactly taking-over-the-world material. Oh, it has potential. If I cross the hippos with sharks or piranha, I should be able to create a large, grumpy omnivore that can operate on land or in the water. It's just that, well, they probably won't be too hard to get away from.

I'm not disappointed, though. My son is only four, and already he wants to usurp God's rightful place as the Creator of Life? Already he wants abominations whose very existence is an affront to the natural order? I must be doing something right.

And we can always dangle people over the Hippofishimus Pit: overly curious law-enforcement personnel, for example. My former colleagues, who spurned my genius. That kid at school who keeps making fun of my son's haircut. The bank manager who refused to approve my car loan. Oh, and my ungrateful ex-wife.

So come, my minions. We must prepare the lab, and gather the raw materials. Today the zoo, tomorrow the aquarium, and the day after that... the hippofishimus!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Reflections on Information

On Thursday, I found another note under my door. I wasn't very pleased about this; the last note I found under the door came right after the first attempt on my life, and it had basically mocked me for not being ready for the attack. I didn't expect any better from this one, which was a plain white envelope with the words "white van" written across the front in an ornate script.

Inside was single sheet of paper. Three pictures - two men and one woman - occupied the left side of the page. To the right of each was a list of information: name, address, date of birth, height, weight, place of employment. Like that.

It was unsigned, and there was nothing to indicate its origins. It looked like somebody had put it together in a word processor, and printed it off on a color printer. It didn't come from the Elders; they would have left me a note on our network. It might have come from Mbata, if he were slipping me some information on the side, except that he would have said something in person. The only reason he wouldn't do that is if he were giving me information that the Elders didn't want to me have... and Mbata wouldn't do that.

Other possibilities.... It could be a trap set by the snake cult, of course. The way things have been progressing, that wouldn't surprise me at all. It could be somebody besides Mbata trying to help me out against the Elders' wishes, except that would be suicidally insane and I don't know anyone who would even consider doing that for me. Or it could be real information from a third party... and so far, the twins are the most likely candidates for that sort of role, and I can only guess at their goals and motivations. I'm not inclined to trust anything of theirs without knowing a whole lot more than I do now.

Whatever it is, I can't act on it immediately. Right now, I don't even know for sure that they were the ones in the van that drove me off the road. So I'm going to have to figure out how to check the information without exposing myself (in case it is a trap). And if they were the ones, well... we'll go from there, won't we?

Reflections of a Deranged Cultist is a work of fiction. No blasphemous tomes were consulted in the creation of this entry.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Video: It Gets Better

This seems to be making the rounds, but I'm going to push it along anyway - 'cause, hey, it brightened my day. That said, the language absolutely NOT safe for work, and you should probably listen to it privately before deciding if you want to share it with small children, elderly relatives, and other people of sensitive and delicate constitution.

Be sure to play it all the way through - there's a message tucked in with the credits.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Real Work Conversations: Red Shirts

This one's actually from yesterday morning.

Boss: {Stands up and notices that we're both wearing red shirts and black slacks.} "Well, crap."

Me: "Let me guess. You woke up this morning and thought that this was going to be the sort of the day where you beamed down to the planet as part of the security detail."

Boss: "Pretty much."

Me: "Yeah, me too."

Thursday, January 13, 2011

To Do List

Taken from the desk in the Mad Science Lab:
To Do:
1. Organize the workroom.
2. Get groceries.
3. Feed pets & clean their cages.
4. Update Netflix queue.
5. Release mutagenic retrovirus into the city's water supply.
6. Make dinner for family.
So there you go: a small window onto the everyday domestic life of your local researcher. And you called him mad...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Reflections on Narrow Escapes

Okay, so the war is definitely still on. As I was driving home from work yesterday, somebody drove me off the road - off Mopac, just to be specific for a change. The vehicle that hit me was an older-model van, but I only found that out this afternoon; all I saw was a wall of white filling the left side of my vision. I felt the car start to turn, out of my control.

There was a moment of silvery static, and then I was in our apartment. Lucky, lucky, lucky... For one thing, Claire wasn't home yet. Lucky. For another, I was able to get back over to the site of the accident, on foot, quickly enough for the police to assume that I had simply wandered away after the crash, instead of...

Well, whatever it was. Lucky. I'd arrived in the apartment stark naked, but I still wasn't going to complain. Being in the car when it smashed into the support column of that bridge would have been a whole lot more inconvenient. The paramedics were frankly amazed that I didn't seem to be injured, but apparently they've seen stranger things. So my cover is still intact, which is so far past lucky as to be actively miraculous.

Hector the Cat, by the way, didn't even hiss at me. He was looking at me when I picked myself up off the floor, and then he shot off towards the bedroom and vanished. We found him under the bed when Claire got home. Well, not immediately; when Claire learned that I'd been in a wreck, she immediately insisted on checking me over. She settled down eventually, but for a while there she was really scared.

Work is back to normal, but now I have to deal with the insurance company... and figure out how to kill the entire snake cult before they try anything like this again. Or before they decide to target Claire as a way to get to me.

This is not how I wanted to start the year.

Reflections of a Deranged Cultist is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, businesses, or semideific extradimensional entities is entirely coincidental.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


I love monster movies. Oh, I'll sometimes watch horror movies with human antagonists; some of them (Silence of the Lambs springs to mind) are really quite good. But as a rule, I prefer actual monsters. I like watching people deal with the strange and unknown - and in some ways, the stranger the better.

I've mentioned before that I love zombies, so the fact that zombie films are thick on the ground these days is a great pleasure to me. But I'm good with vampires, too - though (while I understand the temptation to make them heroic), I think in most cases they work better as monsters than heroes. I'd love to see some well-done werewolf films; most werewolf films, even if they aren't completely awful, don't do anywhere near as much with the werewolf-as-a-monster as I think they could.[1] I'd have said the same thing about ghosts, except that Japanese cinema has pretty well fixed that (c.f. The Ring, Pulse, Dark Water, etc.). I'm even seeing some witches (Drag Me To Hell, as a loose example), and though they're technically human, they at least have supernatural powers at their command.

But all of those are half-human, or once-human, monsters. What I haven't seen as much of, in the last decade or so, is monsters who are just... monsters. Oh, there are some - the giant beast of Cloverfield (and all its little minions), the mind-controlling slugs of Slither, the mutated fish from The Host. Most of what is out there... are either remakes or older films. The Blob, Godzilla, The Thing (either version), the giant ants from Them[2], the autonomous swords of Screamers[3], the mind-controlling parasites of The Puppet Masters, even the velociraptors of Jurassic Park (and the tyrannosaurus rex, for that matter). Also, it occurs to me that I'm neglecting two of the classic franchises: Predator and Alien, both of which feature strange and fearsome beasties.

I'd really, really like to see more films with these kinds of monsters. And, yes, that's a lot of different kinds of monsters. That's pretty much my point.

So, what's your favorite kind of monster? What makes it scary for you? Alternatively, what good (or even decent) monster movies am I missing out on? Or, y'know, feel free to head off on a tangent in the comments.

[1] I'd note that the Ginger Snaps series, especially the second film, is a good example of treating the werewolf itself in new and interesting ways.

[2] I saw this film when I was quite young, and it scared me silly - though not quite as much as The Swarm. Having watched Them again recently, I'm pleasantly surprised by how well it holds up. Yes, the special effects are extremely dated - but the movie relied more on dialogue, pacing, and presentation than special effects anyway. That particular trick where you heard the giant ants before you saw them remains creepily effective.

[3] Despite being nominally science fiction, this movie remains creepier than most actual horror films. The sequel, however, was... disappointing.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Callahan's Monday Pun

So, it finally snowed yesterday. And because I generally scoff at what passes for winter weather here in Texas, we went out to lunch in the middle of the snowstorm. When we got back, I put the car in the garage. Naturally, the snow melted off the hood and roof of the car. Later, we brought my wife's car back and put it in the garage as well. (It was over at the local auto shop gettings its air conditioning repaired. Don't ask...) So now we have meltwater from two cars in there.

The floor of our garage is not inclined in the direction you might expect. Instead of running out the door and down the driveway, the water accumulated in one corner of the garage. It formed a sizeable puddle.

That's right.

We're carpooling.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Sanity? I must fix this.

A friend of mine (who happens to be a bit of a Trekkie) occasionally sees fit to... share... certain pieces of popular culture with me. I can only assume that this is a thinly-disguised attempt to break my brain, since that's pretty much what it does. Since misery loves company, I thought I'd share these things with you, my readers.

So, first, she exposed me to the movie Free Enterprise. Particularly this bit:

And then she hit me up with this:

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that these video clips are not, in fact, banned by the Geneva Convention accords, or even local ordinances.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Reflections on the New Year

Another year gone, another year closer to the Great Darkness that marks the end of what we laughably call civilization. And let me tell you, with the way work is going, I'm halfway looking forward to it.

If you remember, I mentioned that the rush leading up to the holidays was pretty crazy - mainly because everybody wanted to make sure that they had enough of whatever they needed to make it through to January.

Well, the post-holiday rush is actually worse. That's when everyone who had just barely enough meds to carry them through... realizes that they're now completely out, and they must have their refills now. What do you mean that you don't have it waiting for me? Didn't you know I was going to be coming in? It should be right there in the computer. You'll have to order it? That is not acceptable.

Overwrought and indignant customers aside, though, I'm feeling kind of ambivalent about the end of the world. I mean, I understand the appeal of burning everything down... but if the Ancients have their way, there won't be any starting over afterwards. It'll all be darkness and ruin, until the cold saps away the last vestiges of life. And while I used to be cool with that, the idea of Claire scavenging for survival in the rubble... I don't like it.

I'm still okay with being devoured, or whatever, myself. But apparently I'm not at all okay with anything like that happening to her. Which could be a real problem, if the end of the world is actually nigh.

I, um, I don't think I'm allowed to hope that it isn't.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

New Year, New Feedback

It's official: the holidays have kicked my... butt.

So, while I'm back at work and too tired to write anything particularly intriguing or insightful (or even passably amusing), I figure I'll ask you, dear readers, for input on this blog. What do you enjoy? What would you like to see more of? What should I do less of? Is there anything I used to do that I should go back to?