Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Reflections on Amateur Conjurors

I'm beginning to have some idea what the Wiccans are up to. I mean, no - no I don't, not really. Most of them, I suspect, aren't up to anything. That was my report to Kate, who's supposed to be teaching me but mainly seems to let me make my own mistakes.

They're idiots.

Well, no. Not really. They're really not any more ignorant than, well, almost everyone - and at least one of them is smart enough that she seems to be putting things together. She is, rightly and understandably, scared... and there is not a thing I can do to reassure her, let alone help. It's just possible that if we leave things alone, she'll take care of the whole matter for us; but of course we can't do that.

It's frustrating, watching other people's drama.

The High Priestess of the Coven seems to be the problem. She's stumbled onto something real. I'm not sure how, exactly, but it's certainly possible - we moved all our texts to the Archives, but despite various efforts to eradicate them, the remains of books and scrolls still occasionally show up. So this woman has caught a glimpse of something legitimately outside of consensus reality, and she's using it to bring in new followers and pull her existing followers in tighter.

And she's summoning things. I haven't witnessed it yet, but I've overheard some of her people talking about it: genuine contact with something outside our world.

This won't end well. She'll either lose control and expose things that we don't want exposed, or she'll keep control and, potentially, become our rival. The Elders don't consider either of those outcomes acceptable, so the Watchers (myself included) won't let it reach that point. Ending the matter won't be hard; the real challenge is keeping our involvement - and the fact that there's any sort of "involvement" - unknown.

The only alternative is for us to recruit her, along with anyone she's given too much information. If I'm right about this, someone will approach her soon. I don't know too much about how these things work, but I'm surprised this hasn't happened already.

Personally, I think we'd be better off to recruit the other one - her follower, the one who's starting to figure out what she's doing and what it might mean, the one who's sensibly scared of the potential risks. The one who's trying to figure out how to stop her own High Priestess without setting off something apocalyptic or ending up in jail. But since that might say regrettable things about my sympathies, I didn't include it in my report to Kate.

Instead, I made a random account from a public Internet cafe in the orient, and suggested that she get in touch with Father Peter. Father Peter, if you remember, is a retired Catholic priest who attends the same church that my girlfriend and I (sometimes) do. He's the one who got his Diltiazem prescription from the pharmacy where I used to work, the one who used to bait me about serving the "lord of this world." He's the the one who I suspect knows a lot more - a lot more real things - than he's prepared to let on. There is, at least, some chance that he can help her.

I hope I don't regret that, later.

Reflections of a Deranged Cultist is a work of fiction. No neo-Pagans were spied on during the writing of this post.

Reflections on First Meetings

Well hello there, folks. This is Claire, again. I'm sneaking in to tell my side of the story. I guess it won't be as detailed as what my boyfriend writes, but there are a few things I want to explain. Of course, there are a few things I won't explain, like the bracelet I gave him. For one thing, I can't explain it to you, our unseen readers, without giving it away to him... and it's much more fun to watch him figure it out.

So let me start with how we met. There I was, working as a pharmacy tech, and one of my cow-orkers (I know I misspelled that, but this was the sort of guy who probably does go around orking cows in his spare time) was talking to me about how wonderful it is to have Jesus in your life. I'd tried to explain about being Catholic - you know, the church that traces its lineage all the way back to the Apostle Peter, "upon this rock will I build my church" Peter? - but it just didn't seem to compute. I might as well have been telling him I worshiped garden slugs.

Anyway, he'd been talking, and I'd been nodding along and thinking about my grocery list, and then all of sudden there was this very faint line of purple... something. Like a smear in the air kind of something. And it smears up to the cow-orker's mouth, and then all of sudden he doubles over and throws up everywhere. I could have avoided that, but I would have had to move a lot faster than I like to.

And then the pharmacist comes back into the room, and makes this crack about how God must not like people talking about him like that. Except I can still see the smear, and it kind of goes back to him. So he's done something to the cow-orker, something not very pleasant. And since I carry the blood of snakes in my veins, there's a good chance that this was a message directed at me...

...But nothing comes of it. He doesn't say anything to me, really. He doesn't do anything else. He doesn't act like I'm anything but a normal girl who works in his pharmacy.

So I did what anyone would do: I asked my friends and family about it. What was he doing? How should I respond? What should I do next? And they said, basically, that since he was pretending I was ordinary, I should keep pretending I was ordinary... but I should try to get closer to him and find out what was going on.

So I did. I asked him out for coffee. Just like someone who wasn't part snake. And he acted like nothing had happened, and like I was just someone who wasn't part snake. And I had a really good time. And after a few dates, I found myself thinking, You know, maybe he doesn't want to talk about what he is or what he knows about me, but he doesn't care that I'm different. When you've grown up knowing that there was part of yourself - a big part, an important part, a central, fundamental, primal part - that you have to keep hidden... well, you'd be amazed how important it was to find someone who knew but didn't care like that.

Reflections of a Deranged Cultist is Fiction, folks. Seriously, nothing to see here.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

We're all the same species.

Newsflash, people: we're all people. We're all the same species, here. Men and women? Same species. Rich and poor? Same species. Any two random samples of the astounding variety of human skin tones available? Same species. Nerds and Pretentious Social Climbers? Yep, same species.

Which is why this particular post is such a spectacular pile of fail.
This story sounds mean. It’s about a girl judging a boy because he’s a nerd (like so many of us!) that she met on OkCupid.
Now, let's be clear from the outset: this story sounds mean because it is mean. It's a classic case of a writer setting out to show someone's flaws, and highlighting their own instead.
He was thin and tall, dressed in a hedge fund uniform with pale skin and pierced ears. ... And then he casually mentioned that he played Magic: The Gathering when he was younger.

“Actually,” he paused. “I’m the world champion.”
Just like you’re obligated to mention you’re divorced or have a kid in your online profile, shouldn’t someone also be required to disclose any indisputably geeky world championship titles?
So, his crime... if I'm reading this right... was coming across as a fairly ordinary guy, even though he had this particularly geeky hobby that he happened to be amazingly good at? What, nerds can't be normal people? Normal people can't have nerdy interests?

Yep, pretty much:
I was lured on a date thinking I’d met a normal finance guy, only to realise he was a champion dweeb in hedge funder’s clothing.

I later found out that he infiltrated his way into OKCupid dates with at least two other people I sort of know, including one of my co-workers.
"Infiltrated". That's right, "infiltrated". Apparently this guy is some sort of Manchurian Ninja Stealth Nerd, I guess. It's all part of the Vast Geek Conspiracy to trick the Popular Blonde Hotties into going out with us.

Or, you know, maybe he's just a nice guy looking for a date. Maybe he didn't realize that having a hobby like M:TG was such a disfiguring social disease that he must warn people in advance about his condition.

That said, it's clear that Ms. Bereznak is absolutely the victim here. I mean, she actually had dinner and drinks with a guy who is obviously, utterly, and irredeemably below her caste - a man who didn't even have the decency to wear a pocket protector, or pull his waistband up too high, or show up in a bright orange blazer, or... well... anything that would signaled his inherent nerdy unworthiness to her. I can only imagine the horror and shame she experienced, and the unrelenting courage and honesty that drove her to write about her experience. She's only lucky it wasn't worse. Imagine if she had found herself talking to someone who plays Dungeons and Dragons... Or worse, a LARPer!

Her date sounds like a very pleasant guy. (Not to everyone's romantic taste, perhaps, but who is?) I can only hope that one day Ms. Bereznak will grow up enough to get over herself. Until then, there's a whole wide world of interesting people that she'll be missing out on.

Help fight the War on Christmas! Enlist Today!

I know this will seem unseasonal to many of you, but it's never too early to prepare. Shockingly soon, the Christmas Holiday will be upon us, and if don't rally our forces now, it may well be too late! Join me in what may well be the defining issue of our time: The War On Christmas.

My Childhood Transformers

Transformers have come a long way from the way they were built back in the day. I mean, Firstborn has a pretty good collection, and they're impressive: complex, articulated, convincing. As vehicles, they look like vehicles. As robots, they look like robots. The original Transformers, the ones from my childhood? Not so much. Crude, blocky, and very limited in their range of movements.

What brought this to mind? Funny you should ask. Somewhere around the time that I moved out for college - and possibly long before - my parents packed away a great, heaping pile of my childhood toys. Now, they've opened up those boxes and filled a drawer with my old toys, for Firstborn to play with.

The contrast is striking. Compare Red ALert, Blackout, or Jazz to... well... these guys. (Incidentally, if anyone can identify 'em, I'd appreciate it. All I know is that they're Autobots. These photos don't really show the scale, but the red car is about the size of a typical Hotwheels car, and the truck is about the same length from front to back.)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Notes from the Mad Science Lab: Home Defense Items

Home security is always a hot issue, and with the apparent inevitability of riots and revolutions in this modern age, there are quite a number of extremely rich people who are willing to pay a premium to protect their homes and possessions. With this in mind (side by side with the rising cost of supplies for the Mad Science Lab, I might add) I offer the following items for purchase:
  • Horned Hounds: By combining the Irish Wolfhound with a Horned Frog, I have created the Horned Hound. My Horned Hounds can run at up to thirty miles an hour, and are well protected by their spiky, scaly skins. Using their keen noses, they can track targets by smell over considerable distances. They can also shoot blood out of their eyes - a sure way to identify perpetrators for the police. Best of all, there's only a very slight chance that they'll metamorphose into berserk humanoid killing machines! (That may sound like an unacceptable risk, but I assure you that it is not. That transformation is usually triggered by injuries, so if it does happen, they'll most likely go after the intruders who injured them.)
  • Tentacle Bushes: It looks like an ordinary shrubbery, doesn't it? These plants* are entirely self-sufficient, requiring only soil, water, and sunlight in order to flourish. When approached, the Tentacle Bush reveals its true nature, and its inner limbs (carefully derived from Vampyroteuthis infernalis, the Vampire Squid) reach out to capture and devour the intruder. Caution: Do not allow house pets or loved ones near Tentacle Bushes.
  • Robot Rocs: Worried about intruders, but don't want an intrusive security presence? Our Robotic Rocs have a wingspan of thirty-five feet and can operate for up to eight years on a single plutonium slug while remaining far overhead and out of sight. They can be assigned to patrol extremely specific geographic areas, and their liquid-crystal brains are sophisticated enough to tell the difference between the regular poolboy and a housebreaking impostor every time. Robotic Rocs are also extremely gentle on your property, as they are not equipped with conventional weapons. Instead, they deal with intruders in the classic fashion: snatching them up in powerful mechanical claws, carrying them several hundred feet into the air, and dropping them somewhere outside your property. (This point can be assigned in advance, or the Roc can choose a landing zone at random.) Reminder: all household staff and visiting relatives must be scanned in advance before entering areas patrolled by Robotic Rocs.
  • Nuclear Safe: Store your valuables in complete security! Manufactured entirely from enhanced Uranium, this safe is guaranteed to constantly emit no less than 40Gy (4,000 rads) every ten minutes. Skilled locksmiths will quickly grow ill from exposure, while cruder methods of forcible entry will trigger a fission reaction; either way, the would-be thief will soon regret trying to steal from you! (Includes lead suit so you can safely insert your valuables.)
These items are only available through the Mad Science Consortium, and given the cost of materials and the quality of the products our prices are extremely reasonable. Order yours today!

* Well, okay, not exactly plants. Or at least, not entirely.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

More? More? MORE???

Yesterday we found out that the guy who smacked into the side of my wife's car (because he was too stupid to realized that he was in a left-turn only lane) has decided to lie about it. So he's claiming that Beautiful Wife moved into his lane while he was in her blind spot. So his insurance is refusing to pay for any of it.

To be charitable, maybe that's not the case; maybe his insurance company has decided to lie about it on his behalf. Either way, it's a reminder that sometimes people suck. We didn't actually need to be reminded about that, but there you go. If you somehow missed the memo, it's true: sometimes people suck.

Then, for lunch, we went to McDonald's with another mom from the Mom's Group. A good time was had in general, but when we went to leave we discovered that the purple Crocs in the Shoe Shelves were A) the wrong shade of purple, and B) a size too small. So someone wore Firstborn's shoes home, and left behind a similar pair that are too small to fit.

Our luck - to borrow a line from Martha Wells - is so bad that it's starting to be funny.

The only plus side here is that apparently sometimes people actually do return the mis-taken shoes to the restaurant, and the manager has our name and phone number in case that happens. So there's definitely an extremely slim chance that we might get them back.

In related news, we're due for a break in the heat and possibly even some precipitation to alleviate the drought. The weather service assures us that we'll definitely see something of the sort by mid-January.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Philosopher's Coprolite, part 002

The clouds and the shafts of the high towers against them were turning brown, like an old painting in oil, the color of a fading masterpiece. Long streaks of grime ran from under the pinnacles down the slender, soot-eaten walls. High on the side of a tower there was a crack in the shape of a motionless lightning, the length of ten stories. A jagged object cut the sky above the roofs; it was half a spire, still holding the glow of the sunset; the gold leaf had long since peeled off the other half. The glow was red and still, like the reflection of a fire: not an active fire, but a dying one which it is too late to stop.

No, thought Edwil, there was nothing disturbing in the sight of the city. It looked as it had always looked.

He walked on, reminding himself that he was late in returning to his chambers. He did not like the task which he had to perform on his return, but it had to be done. So he did not attempt to delay it, but made himself walk faster.

He turned a corner. In the narrow space between the dark silhouettes of two towers, as in the crack of a door, he saw the turning arms of the Great Astrolabe suspended in the sky. This was a device that the Duke of Nuork had erected last year on the top of a mighty tower, so that citizens might tell the day or the month as they told the hours or the day, by glancing up at a public tower. A complex set of turning, intertwined arms hung over the city, imparting the date to men and goblins alike in the streets below. In the rusty light of this evening's sunset, the configuration was clear: this was the second day of Last Seed.

Edwil looked away. He had never liked sight of that device. It disturbed him, in a manner he could not explain or define. The feeling seemed to blend with his sense of uneasiness; it had the same quality.

He thought suddenly that there was some phrase, a kind of quotation, that expressed what the astrolabe seemed to suggest. But he could not recall it. He walked, groping for a sentence that hung in his mind as an empty shape. He could neither fill it nor dismiss it. He glanced back. The Great Astrolabe spread its arms above the roofs, saying in immovable finality: Last Seed, day two.

Edwil shifted his glance down to the street, to a vegetable pushcart at the stoop of a merchant’s house. He saw a pile of bright gold carrots and the fresh green of onions. He saw a clean white curtain blowing at an open window. He saw a carriage turning a corner, expertly steered. He wondered why he felt reassured -- and then, why he felt the sudden, inexplicable wish that these things were not left in the open, unprotected against the empty space above.

Zombie Parents

Kindergarten Day 5: Firstborn successfully delivered to school. Daddy successfully delivered to work. General state of first-year parents shows microcosm of the inevitable zombie apocalypse.

No, really, it's just like that.

While we're at it, here's the world's cutest zombie film. I remember watching this a while back, but some of you might have missed it...

And now, back to work. All I need for that is braaaaaaaaaains... (And unfortunately, I haven't got any.)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Mixed Bag of Links

I'm brain-dead (mainly because I'm exhausted) so instead of being bright and clever myself, I'm just going to share some things that other people have contributed. 'Cause I'm wild and crazy (or was it "mild and lazy"?) that way.

So, first up: in the general vein of the What Is Normal posts - and, more specifically, in regards to Red Cardigan's apparent inability to understand how anyone could be an atheist - Gravel suggested this link: Another Person's Room. Apparently having an open mind is all about figuring out where other people keep their socks.

A bit later on, I asked for some music suggestions, and emilyperson suggested that I check out The New Pornographers, who (as it turns out) are not pornographic at all, unless maybe travel photos are your particular kink.

I was randomly amused by this graphic: I Hate Taxes.

And, on a related note, author Jane Yolen has apparently incurred some outrage for pointing out that Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) was a tad hypocritical in setting up a photo op where he was reading to some children in a public health clinic. Nothing wrong with reading to kids, of course, but Senator Johnson is calling for serious cuts in funding to public health clinics such as the one he was sitting in, along with libraries (which, y'know, help promote reading), and public education in general.

Finally, this is about six different kinds of awesome:

How about you? What are you doing to keep yourself entertained?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Reflections on Swearing Oaths

On Saturday I met with Claire's parents again, and her grandparents as well. The elders of her people aren't as... well, as eld as my own Elders, but they have a similar sort of status. At least, that's the way it looked to me; nobody stopped to explain it. What they did explain was that the grandparents had to be present to witness my oaths.

That's right, I took some oaths. Claire asked me to do it, and promised that it wouldn't be anything I couldn't accept. "It's different for us," she told me. "You have... I don't know, people you worship with. The people I worship with are my family." Since she had a better idea than I did of what was involved, and since I trusted her, I agreed.

So her family came, and they told me what oaths they wanted, and Claire was completely right: they weren't unreasonable. In fact, they weren't substantially different from the oaths that Claire swore to my people. The high points included non-aggression towards her people, keeping their secrets, and honoring (though not actively helping) the Father of Serpents. That last bit meant, basically, not defiling holy places or sacred items, and I was fine with that. There was one requirement that I hadn't expected, which consisted of attending a yearly ritual; I didn't see any problem with that, either.

It was a formal occasion; we dressed nicely, and the whole thing was done as a ritual. Not a particularly complex ritual, at least by my standards, but a ritual nonetheless. And at the end of it, Claire turned and slipped a silver bracelet over my wrist. I started to look at it - it was a pretty thing, delicately carved, depicting a snake that wrapped around three times before swallowing its own tail in a fanged mouth - and realized that everyone else was staring at it, too. I couldn't read her grandparents' expressions, but her mother looked thoughtful and her father was genuinely startled. I'd thought that the bracelet was a means of enforcing the oath, but no: the reactions were all wrong for that.

So when Claire leaned up and kissed me on the cheek and whispered, "It will protect you," into my ear, I didn't ask questions. I just grinned and clasped her hand like I had any idea at all what was going on. And that was pretty much it for the ritual. We went out and had dinner at Mi Tierra, and then we went back home.

I asked plenty of questions on the way home, but Claire just smiled and looked smug. Eventually I gave up. If it was important to her, that was good enough... and while I don't think of myself as the sort of guy who goes around wearing a silver snake bracelet, there's nothing uncomfortable or unpleasant about it.

And that was my weekend. With any luck, it'll help keep the peace with the snake cult, and the Elders shouldn't mind: even if we're still at war (and I'm not at all sure what our current status might be), having an open line of communication available is never a bad thing.

Meanwhile, my mentor - whatever I'm calling her... Oh, right. Kate. Meanwhile, Kate has me watching more and more outsiders. It's a distinct group; I keep coming back to the same people. But I'm not sure why I'm watching them. They're Wiccans, or something very similar, and in terms of the Deeper Workings Of The Universe, they're about as credible as the Catholics. If they know anything about us, I can't see any signs of it. I'm not the only one watching them, though: I've caught hints of at least two others. I'm not sure, of course, but I'm going to trust my impressions until I learn better.

Kate has very carefully not explained why I'm watching them. She says she wants my impressions unpolluted. Which will have to be fine, because I don't have a lot of choice about it. I guess we'll see...

For the moment, life is pretty good. We're both employed; we've come to terms with each other's... um... religious differences; and nobody is pushing us to do anything that we're uncomfortable with. I'm sure this won't last - it never does - so for now I'm going to enjoy it.

Reflections of a Deranged Cultist is a work of fiction. No snake cultists were involved in writing this post.

I can't handle Kindergarten

Yeah. Not the boy; he's doing okay. I'm the one who can't handle the new schedule.

You know, two or three weeks ago I thought to myself, Self, you should really put in for some vacation time and take off work for Firstborn's first week of school. I thought about it, but I didn't actually do it.

In retrospect, I should have. Kindergarten is kicking my ass. It's waking up that extra hour early. It's convincing Firstborn to go to bed early enough that I can wake him up that early. It's trying to get from the school to work in some reasonable approximation of "on time". It's remembering that he'll need to eat lunch, so I'd better make sure his lunchbox is in his backpack and his backpack makes it out the door with us - which is, I suppose, another way of saying that it's not having any systems in place for this. It's trying to get anything done around the house when my evening is suddenly ending a lot earlier than I'm used to.

I am tired. And it's not just exhaustion, it's that extra-special kind of exhaustion that laughs in the face of the full night's sleep I just got. It's that "I sure picked the wrong week to quit smoking crack" sort of exhaustion.

I want a vacation. Preferably with little umbrella drinks, but at this point I'll manage without. (Did I mention that we're kinda broke?) I should have put in for it.

Other random observations:
Apparently they aren't using mats for nap-time. Instead, they had us send in a towel for Firstborn to sleep on. Beautiful Wife (who clearly loves her boys) cut out strips of iron-on patches, and put Firstborn's name on his towel. Then she added a scorpion. Then a spider. I really need to get a picture of it, but unfortunately it went off to school before I thought to do that.

Firstborn is learning about conservation. Well, sort of. Yesterday, he finished eating breakfast in the cafeteria, and I went to throw away the leftovers on his tray. He stopped me to explain that I couldn't throw out the other half of the cereal. So I wound up eating the rest of his cereal on the way to work. And then he did the same thing today, except with the little bowl of cheesy scrambled eggs. So, y'know, I'm getting fed, and the extra food isn't going to waste. It may be going to waist - my waist - but that's another matter altogether.

Firstborn is pleasingly self-sufficient. When I dropped him in his classroom yesterday, he found the sheet of coloring paper at his spot at the table. The sheet had a picture of Buddy Bear, who I guess is some sort of educational mascot. Firstborn took one look at that and announced, "I do not want to color Buddy Bear." Then he turned his sheet over, grabbed a pencil, and said: "I will draw Ithaqua instead." And he did. And so far, nobody has called to ask us what an Ithaqua is.

So that's our school experience so far.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Notes from the Mad Science Lab: Scruffy Meets His Destiny

One of the neighbors dropped by yesterday afternoon. Apparently their dog Scruffy is missing. Mr. Neighbor wanted to know if I'd seen the dog or knew anything about it.

Now, this was not just an innocent inquiry. Scruffy has a long history of defecating in my yard - despite having a perfectly good yard of his own, I might add. On several occasions he's gotten out, and when he does he comes straight to my house and either starts digging around outside the windows, or barking loudly just outside the house. I have long suspected that Scruffy smells something from the Mad Science Lab, since he mainly does his damage near the hidden vents for the crypto-zoo.

I assured my neighbor that I had not seen scruffy, and - more to the point - that I had not done anything to harm his dog. After a couple of reiterations, he went away. I don't think he was completely satisfied, but he left.

Yesterday evening, I went back outside and looked around the yard. There was, of course, no sign of Scruffy himself, but I could see where he'd been digging. Sure enough, it was over by the vents of the crypto-zoo. And after a bit more looking, I found that Scruffy had unearthed one of the vent covers... which meant that there was a non-zero chance that the idiotic mutt had slid down into the crypto-zoo.

I placed a sentry-bot just inside the vent. (After all, if Scruffy had fallen in, he may have cleared a path where something else could come out. The sentry bot is equipped with sensors and a limited range of weapons. As a last resort, it will blow itself up and seal the vent that way.) Then I put the grate back in place, and replaced screen that conceals it.

Scruffy was indeed in the crypto-zoo. He'd fallen into the cavern with Cuddles and his friends. I'm not sure which of them got to Scruffy first, but they obviously thought I'd started offering them Labrador Snacks. Fortunately, there was enough left for my purposes - in this case, cloning.

Scruffy 2.0 is still in the vats, but he's coming along nicely. (I can't send him over as a puppy; I'm discreetly replacing a full-grown dog, after all. So he has to go through a bit of artificial aging, and that requires both growth accelerators and a nutrient bath rich enough that the process doesn't starve the poor beast.)

Since I'd be a fool to pass up an opportunity like this, I've taken some steps to make sure that Scruffy 2.0 has no desire to visit my home. To start with, I tinkered with his genes before I grew the clone; given a few months to assimilate his new life, the dog will have human-level intelligence. (He'll probably be smarter than my neighbors, not that that would be any great feat.) Once he's able to communicate, I can explain how he came by his remarkable intelligence; I'm sure he'll be sufficiently grateful that he'll leave my lawn alone. Failing that, I can at least explain why it's a bad idea to dig in the vicinity of my home; revealing the fate of his first incarnation should do the trick nicely.

Monday, August 22, 2011

First Day of Kindergarten

Despite the current chaos, I managed to get Firstborn to school. On time. Unruffled, even. Here's how it went:

First, I went into Firstborn's bedroom to wake him up:
Yes, that's Cthulhu on the bed beside him.

I shook him, and said something profoundly important, like, "Hey! Time to get up! C'mon, it's time to get up!" But, as you can see, I was not sufficient to the task:

So I tried again, and this time (when I removed the comforter) he did get up. Yay, me! Yay for Firstborn!

Then he brushed his teeth:

Then we loaded everything up and got in the car. Then, halfway down the block, we turned around and went back for his backpack (which also has his lunchbox). Then we tried again, and this time we made it to the school! Hooray!

So we parked and walked in:

Except, I made him stop so I could take the obligatory In Front Of The New School On The First Day shot, like so:

There was supposed to be a chance to grab breakfast in the cafeteria, but first they sent us into the gymnasium, where they were assembling stray students. Stray parents, too.

After a couple of minutes, someone came into the gym and found us again, and explained that actually the cafeteria was open, and they'd just been confused about that. So they pointed us at the cafeteria, and we went and collected food.

It turns out that the cafeteria uses a sort of debit system for the students. So I could buy breakfast for Firstborn, or I could just hand them some money to put in his account. Since breakfast was a whopping $1.10, and I was paying with a $10 bill, I had them just put the rest in Firstborn's account. So now he's covered for another eight meals or so.

And what a meal! He had a corndog... well, sort of. It was actually a sausage on a corndog stick, and it had been cooked in pancake batter instead of corn bread. But Firstborn loved it, and om-nom-nommed his way right through it. There was a little plate of scrambled eggs with cheese, and he ate some of that, too. Then he drank most of his chocolate milk. He could have had a side of sliced pears, too, but he decided that this was enough food.

Once he was full, I walked him down to his classroom. He found his locker and put his backpack inside, and then we went into his classroom and he found his seat. There were crayons and paper already out, so he started drawing something (I'm guessing a scorpion or a monster). I took one last picture...

Then he got busy drawing, and I slipped out of the classroom like a sneaky, sneaky ninja-daddy.

And there you have it. That's how Firstborn started his First Day Of Kindergarten.

The End.

The Universe wants to grind us down

Right, so... remember back on Wednesday, when I was griping about our recent run of troubles? And I borrowed the "pecked to death by ducks" metaphor to describe it? Well, Sunday morning my wife was passing through an intersection, and the guy on her left didn't realize that he was in the second of two left turn (ONLY!) lanes. So he starts bumping into the side of my wife's car, trying to get her to move over. Damage was superficial, but - Hell below! - we did not need any more expense or aggravation right now.

Then this morning, my wife overslept and was trying to get out the door on time. Owing to what I'm going to call "cumulative stress", she tried to zoom out of the garage before the door was all the way up. Before it was most of the way up, actually. Once again, damage was minor and mostly superficial, but I've got a garage door repair person (technician? repairman? repairdude? Something like that, anyway) on the way. This is because I had to remove a piece in order to fix the immediate damage, and it's a piece that's connected to the spring: I can't move it into place in order to bolt it back on. Results: more expense; more aggravation.

So I've moved on from the "pecked to death by ducks" metaphor. This is more like Death By Accumulated Paper Cuts. (Why don't we ever see that on the crime shows, I wonder?) It's no wonder that people start wondering about Dark Forces in the midst of a run of misfortune; it's hard not to feel like someone is out to get you.

But I'm not going to dwell on this. Oh, no. Instead, I'm going to talk about taking Firstborn to his first day of Kindergarten. Because I may be bloodied... well, my bank account may be bloodied... but I myself am goddam unbowed.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


Firstborn starts Kindergarten in the morning. I'm taking him to school on my way... well, before I go... to work. Apparently if we get there about 7:15, we can get breakfast in the cafeteria and get him into his classroom. That's about the time I'm normally driving towards my job, so I'm not entirely sure how this is going to work.

On top of that, apparently Firstborn is scheduled for the latest of the three available lunchtimes, so it'll be a while before he eats again. Beautiful Wife therefore wants to make sure he doesn't get hungry. Beautiful Wife wants me to make sure that I feed him a waffle and some sausage before we leave. In order to do that, I would have to get up at... I don't know, but tomorrow morning keeps getting earlier and earlier. Maybe I should set my alarm for 5:00 a.m. and hope for the best?

I'm tired just thinking about it.

Meanwhile I've spent the day sort of half relaxing and half cleaning. (Beautiful Wife and Handsome Boys are down with my parents; by this point in the afternoon, they should all be in the pool.) I've made a huge amount of progress on the housework (he said, modestly) but I've also worn myself out. I'd like to do some writing - story writing, not this look-at-my-life blog writing - but since it looks like I'm going to need to go to bed at about eight o'clock in order to get a full night's sleep, I don't think that's going to happen.

And I'd really appreciate it if my sinuses would ease up on me a bit. Yeesh.

First World Problems: not unlike being pecked to death by ducks.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Philosopher's Coprolite, part 001

See if you can spot this one...

"Who is Jongalt?"

The light was ebbing, and Edwil could not distinguish the beggar's face. The beggar had said it simply, without expression. But from the sunset far at the end of the street, yellow glints caught his eyes, and the eyes looked straight at Edwil, mocking and still -- as if the question had been addressed to the causeless uneasiness within him.

"Why did you say that?" asked Edwil, his voice tense.

The beggar leaned against the side of the doorway; a wedge of broken glass behind him reflected the metal yellow of the sky.

"Why does it bother you?" he asked.

"It doesn't," snapped Edwil.

He reached hastily into his purse. The beggar had stopped him and asked for a copper, then had gone on talking, as if to kill that moment and postpone the problem of the next. Pleas for coppers were so frequent in the streets these days that it was not necessary to listen to explanations, and he had no desire to hear the details of this beggar's particular despair.

"Go get your cup of grog," he said, handing the copper to the shadow that had no face.

"Thank you, sir," said the voice, without interest, and the face leaned forward for a moment: a goblin. The greenish skin was wind-browned, cut by lines of weariness and cynical resignation; the eyes were intelligent.

Edwil walked on, wondering why he always felt it at this time of day, this sense of dread without reason. No, he thought, not dread, there's nothing to fear: just an immense, diffused apprehension, with no source or object. He bad become accustomed to the feeling, but he could find no explanation for it; yet the goblin had spoken as if he knew that Edwil felt it, as if he thought that one should feel it, and more: as if he knew the reason.

Edwil pulled his shoulders straight, in conscientious self-discipline. He had to stop this, he thought; he was beginning to imagine things. And yet… Had he always felt it? He was thirty-two years old. He tried to think back. No. He hadn't; but he could not remember when it had started. The feeling came to him suddenly, at random intervals, and now it was coming more often than ever. It's not a foretelling, he thought; it’s the twilight. I hate the twilight.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Real Work Conversations: Excel and Lack of Sleep

"Okay, so, it looks like a total of 528. That's if I'm using the 'sum' function correctly. I assume I'm supposed to be using 'sum', since I don't see an 'add this shit up' function. Did I mention that my kid woke me up at 2:30 this morning, so my filter might be malfunctioning?"

I went into the woods today...

This is gorgeous... I mean, I like the music, but I really like the animation, too.

How about you? Any new musical discoveries? Songs or bands to recommend?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

And now we are broke

Over the Fourth of July weekend, the speedometer on my car quit working. Just... quit. I went to lunch, it was fine. I started the car to go home, and it said the car wasn't moving. Which, you know, wouldn't have been that big a deal, except the Check Engine light came on during the drive home. So I got up early the next morning and drove the thing down to the dealership. They looked the car over, and produced a list of things that rather desperately needed to be done. There was the speedometer, of course. And the timing belt should have been changed about 30,000 miles ago. (It's a "no tolerance" engine, so if the timing belt goes, my engine magically converts itself to a large and expensive brick - sort of like Cinderella in reverse.) And of the two fans that keep the engine cool (in our 100+ degree summer), one wasn't working at all and the other was making funny noises.

Fortunately - very fortunately - we have resources. My parents were one of those resources: we borrowed about half the cost from them. We could have covered it ourselves, barely, but the effect on our cash flow would have been catastrophic instead of just difficult. So, instead, I've been paying it back in increments since then.

Then, yesterday, my beautiful wife's car quit working. Upon inspecting it, the technician determined that the problem was the keyless entry system. Apparently keyless entry has its own little computer, which is piggy-backed onto the main electrical system - and the computer had melted.

I hate living in Texas.

Repairing - well, replacing - the cursed thing would cost as much as all three of the repairs on my car cost together. Fortunately - if that's the word - there's a second option. The keyless entry system can simply be removed, leaving the car with a standard set of electric locks. This will only cost... excuse me, let me try that again. This will "only" cost eight hundred and sixty-five dollars or so.

And, of course, this comes right at the end of the summer, when (owing to the Beautiful Wife's teaching schedule) we aren't exactly swimming in extra cash.

We're lucky. We can do this. We can do this without having to choose between paying bills and buying food. We can do this without having to omit Christmas present for the boys (most of which are, happily, already purchased). We don't even have to give up one of the cars.

But one or two more big events like this, and we could be in real financial trouble - despite the fact that we're both employed, and that I have a stable, well-paying, middle class job.

Reflections on having only one arm

I don’t expect to be broken. It just doesn’t happen to me that often. Generally speaking, my body and I have a deal: I don’t ask too much of it, and in return it does what I ask.

Going without an arm for a week has been an unpleasant revelation. I wouldn’t have thought it would make that much difference. I mean, how many things do you really need both hands for? It’s not like I make my living swinging an axe or anything...

Yeah. Try it sometime. Turns out you use your other hand for an unbelievable amount of sorting and steadying and keeping things in place, even when you’re not doing something explicitly two-handed, like typing. (At least, I do. I don’t know, maybe there are people who don’t?) Getting my keys out and finding the one for my car door was a nightmare; it was actually easier to drop the key ring and then pick it back up by the correct key. Opening a can of Coke was a near-disaster. Washing dishes was almost impossible. And I could keep adding things to that list for another hour, maybe longer.

I'm lucky. I got my arm back. But Claire's right about one thing: I have to be more careful. The stuff we're using is dangerous. And yes, we have some tricks that normal people don't - but there's no guarantee that everything can be put back the way it was.

Which brings me back - cautiously, I suppose - to becoming a Watcher. I'm still at it. I haven't screwed anything else up. And I haven't yet been called upon to do anything more unpleasant than spy on my fellow believers and a few random outsiders... but I'm sure that's coming. I'm not sure how I'll handle it when it does. With the snake cult, it was... I don't know, not self-defense exactly, but it seemed kind of justified since they were killing us as well. I don't think it's going to be the same if I'm asked to take out one of our own people, oathbreaker or not.

So that's one of my big concerns. The other - that the Watchers and the Elders will want to know about how we travel through the place of mists - hasn't come up so far. I think there's a sort of informal truce in place on the topic: right now Claire and I are both tight with them, and so they're safe. I suspect they're worried - rightly - that if they pushed us about it, we might do something rash... like run away again, or even share our trick with Claire's people. There's a sort of balance of power that's preserved by the current arrangement.

Reflections of a Deranged Cultist is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to real-world cults or medical conditions is entirely coincidental.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Love is Actions

Love is actions.

Well, maybe not completely. I mean, feelings come into it, too. David Roche (of the Church of 80% Sincerity) suggests that love is 20% feelings, and 80% actions. Or thereabouts.

But still... no matter how you claim to feel about someone, or even how you really truly feel about them deep down in the depths of your soul, if you aren't treating them well, you aren't loving them.

Love is actions.
"Don’t speak to me about your religion; first show it to me in how you treat other people. Don't tell me how much you love your God; show me in how much you love all her children. Don't preach to me your passion for your faith; teach me through your compassion for your neighbors. In the end, I'm not as interested in what you have to tell or sell as in how you choose to live and give."
~Cory Booker
This is being passed around on Facebook by a lot of people I know. I have no idea who Cory Booker is, but I applaud the sentiment.

Love is actions.

That's why "love the sinner, hate the sin" doesn't work. Every time I hear that phrase, someone is using it to defend their unloving behavior towards another person or group of people. Over on FC's blog, commenter JarredH observed (in response to just such an approach):

"Does not God ask us to love everyone? We can love the person but not the sin which homosexuality is."
Jarred Responded:
Yes, but let’s look at what God says about love. Starting with what might be the most well-known verse…

"John 3:16:For God so loved the world that He…"

Did you catch that? God’s love was so intense and awesome that it moved Him to act. And you’ll find that throughout the Bible.

Love is not an abstract concept. It’s not a state of mind. It’s a call to action. Without the subsequent action, love simply is not real. And that’s the problem with all these “sin hating sinner-lovers.” They never act towards the “sinners” they allegedly “love.” Heck, most of the time, they don’t even bother to get to know those “sinners.”

You can’t love someone under those circumstances. The Bible doesn’t permit for it. Love calls for and requires action.

And if you finish that verse, you discover it usually requires sacrificial action. Not self-righteous “tough love.”
Love is actions. (Much the same can be said of faith, by the way.)

In discussing the series Big Love, Ana Mardoll introduced me to Gary Chapman and his idea that there are five Love Languages, which Ana characterizes as Praise, Time, Gifts, Service, and Physical Affection. These are, according to Chapman, things that different people need in different degrees. Realizing and communicating what you need - and by the same token, learning and supplying what your partner needs - helps build a relationship in which both partners feel loved.

That's right. In order to have the feeling of being loved, you must have the actions of being loved.

Love is actions.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Second Draft - progress, or another false hope?

I had one of those funny little moments where, owing to the juxtaposition of two unrelated influences[1], I suddenly got a new handle on the fantasy novel I've been writing for... I dunno, way too long now. I say "writing," but actually I finished the first draft, and that's where I stalled. As a result, I have the first draft... and then I have about twelve versions of the second draft, ranging in length from three paragraphs to three chapters.

So suddenly having my head back in the right place to work on that project is kind of a big deal for me. Only...

That was two weeks ago. I now have three paragraphs and a section break. This is not what you might call steady progress. On the plus side, I've managed to keep the boys fed and bathed, the laundry bin is substantially less full than it has been, and the stove and countertop in the kitchen are no longer a potential biohazard. So it's not like I haven't been getting things done. It's just that, from a writing perspective, I've been getting all the wrong things done.

Strangely, I'm still enthused about coming at this project again. It's going to be tricky, because we're dealing with a mess of problems right now. They're First World problems, to be sure, but they're still extremely distracting. Parenting consumes a lot of time and energy all by itself, plus we're coming up on the beginning of school next week, plus I'm trying to cover for the Beautiful Wife, who appears to have pinched a nerve and really shouldn't be lifting anything with her right arm. There just isn't much room for writing time (or anything else) in my schedule.

I have hopes that things will shake out, though. Firstborn is going to sleep on his own again - albeit, admittedly, with much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Secondborn is feeling clingy and wants to be held, but I think that's partly because he just got another round of immunization shots, which left him feeling slightly ill.[2] And I have no idea what the beginning of Kindergarten will do to our routine, but if I can get Firstborn back in a regular bedtime routine which leaves me some time in the evening, there's a decent chance that I can actually squeeze some writing in there.

This is more or less how the writing process works for me: I get enthused, I start working on something, and then either real life interrupts or I get stuck for other reasons. But right now I'm on the cheerful side of the cycle, so I'm just going to go with it.

[1] Martha Wells' The Cloud Roads and an old SquareEnix video game called Drakengard. If you're not already acquainted with Martha Wells, and you enjoy reading well-written fantasy (or, for that matter, if you can even tolerate reading the occasional fantasy novel) go out and buy everything she's ever written. Do it now. You won't be disappointed.

[2] Note to any random passers-by who might feel tempted to comment on how Immunizations Are Evil: my mother had polio as a little girl. She has been unable to move her legs since she was about eight. Our kids are getting their immunizations. Do not try to argue the point with me - I will take it personally.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Rick Perry

Speaking as a Texan, I'd just like to point out the disturbing similarities...

(Suggested by a friend of mine...)

Boot to the head

A little martial arts humor to brighten my Friday - and yours as well, I hope.
"Come, students. Close the circle at the feet of the Master."

Reflection on Partial Paralysis

I really, really should have been more careful with the magic mirror.

Well, okay, maybe “magic” isn’t the best word for it. And it isn’t really a mirror. It doesn’t even exist when one of us isn’t looking through it. Except, when it does exist, it can only exist in one place at a time.

No, I don’t understand it either. But now that I’ve seen it, I know how to look at it.

It’s another tool that the Watchers use. Well, some of them, anyway. According to Kate, the Watcher who’s supposed to be teaching me about this stuff, it’s mostly used to help train new Watchers. Experienced watchers have other tools (heck, I have other tools), but this one helps build a certain sort of concentration.

And I fumbled it. I was trying to use it to watch... well, someone else... and it kept drifting to the side. I tried to bring it back to the front, except I had to keep my attention on where it was now or else it would cease to exist, so the spot I was focused on was drifting too.

Kate smacked me in the back of the head just as it lurched into my left arm. That, naturally, broke my concentration. At that point the mirror ceased to exist, right before it would have caused me to, um, discorporeate... messily. As it was, my entire arm went numb: I couldn’t feel it, I couldn’t move it. It wasn’t like it had gone to sleep; it was like it just wasn’t there. Which may not be absolutely the scariest thing that’s ever happened to me, but it’s somewhere awfully close.

It’s taken a bit over a week to recover. On the plus side, Claire did eventually decide not to kill me - but she said she might reconsider if I ever do anything like this again. On the minus side, that’s over a week with only one working arm - and no time off work. I don’t need my arms to watch, at least not according to Kate. Also on the minus side, when I first started being able to feel it (a few days later), it tingled for about two days straight. Then it started twitching, and I was able to move it - or at least make it jerk around. Now I’m finally back to the point where I can type with both hands. That’s good, ‘cause that’s the only way I know to type. (Claire says I’ve obviously been hanging around the wrong sort of websites.)

So that’s what happened, and that’s why I hadn’t posted until just now.

Reflections of a Deranged Cultist is a work of fiction. No sorcerous divinations were practiced in the writing of this post.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

eBook suggestion: Inhuman

So, apparently Joé McKen has actually managed to finish writing a book. Needless to say, this leaves me disgustingly jealous... but not so jealous that I won't throw a bit of publicity his way (for whatever minor value of "publicity" is represented by posting about it here on the Blog o' Doom). We aspiring writer-types need all the help we can get.

You can read more about Inhuman over at Forever In Hell, or you can skip ahead and just download the eBook. Give it a look, okay?

Maybe we can even con Joé into talking a bit about his writing process...

Monday, August 8, 2011

A bedtime story

Once upon a time, there was a boy named Hunter.

One day, Hunter was walking in the woods. While he was walking, he came upon a great big bear.

"I will eat you up," said the bear.

"I will bonk you if you try," said Hunter.

The bear tried to eat Hunter, but Hunter bonked the bear until it fell down.

A while later, Hunter came upon a huuuuuge snake.

"I will eat you up," hissed the snake.

"I will bonk you if you try," said Hunter.

The snake tried to eat Hunter, but Hunter bonked the snake until it fell down.

A while later, Hunter came upon a giant scorpion.

"If you try to eat me, I will bonk you," said Hunter.

"If you try to bonk me, I will sting you," said the giant scorpion.

"You don't want to eat me?" asked Hunter.

"You don't want to bonk me?" asked the scorpion.

"No," said Hunter.

"Then we should be friends," said the scorpion, and he gave Hunter a ride all the way back home, and Hunter arrived in time for dinner. Everyone was very glad to meet such a friendly scorpion, so they gave the scorpion dinner, too.

And they all lived happily ever after.

Atheism as a Worldview redux

My basic reaction to Red Cardigan's latest atheism post (which can be loosely summarized as, “Atheism isn’t a good philosophy because it doesn’t tell us what the meaning of life is”) is that the fact that she doesn’t find the answer satisfying doesn’t mean that it isn’t a good answer. If you ask, “What is the meaning of life?” and someone answers, “As far as we can tell, there isn’t one,” well, guess what? That’s a valid answer.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Atheism as a Worldview

I (and several others) recently got involved in a discussion of the philosophical underpinnings of atheism and "New Atheism" over on Confessions of a Former Conservative. This was sparked by a series of posts over at Red Cardigan's blog. (The specific posts are here, here, and here.)

Now, to be fair:
1. Red Cardigan is trying to specifically address the "New Atheists", which is tricky since the folks who get lumped together under that banner aren't a particularly unified group. They might best be described as outspoken, vocal advocates of atheism (also skepticism, the scientific method, and a few other things) - describing them as "leaders" in any sense is misleading - who generally hold a very low, if not actively hostile, opinion of religion.
2. A great deal of the criticism of Red Cardigan's posts revolves around her misrepresenting the position of the atheists she is criticizing. While she does seem to be attacking a straw man, I think this is less of a rhetorical strategy and more of a legitimate misunderstanding. And, very much to her credit, she spent quite a bit of time and text in the comments on Former Conservative's site engaging criticisms and asking questions and generally trying to figure out what she might be missing.
3. In the process, Red Cardigan asked some interesting questions, which I think are worth repeating (along with their answers) and maybe even exploring further. Looking at my lack of belief from the perspective of classical philosophy is, quite simply, not something at ever occurred to me.

Red Cardigan appeared (to me) to be arguing that atheism, and in particular New Atheism, made for an inconsistent worldview. My immediate response (reposted here) was to stop and define what atheism actually means. Atheism is not, in itself, a way of looking at the world; it's just a lack of a belief in one, two, many, or any gods. It can be part of a consistent worldview, but it isn't the basis for one... or for much of anything else, really. It's a conclusion, not a starting point.

Red Cardigan then responded by asking (more or less - I'm trying to abbreviate the actual conversation, here) whether that didn't make me more of a subjectivist than an atheist.

To answer that, I had to go look up subjectivism (it turns out to be, basically, the belief that we can only really know the things we've experienced ourselves), at which point I posted this:
Okay, having read the Wikipedia description of relativism… Well, honestly, I think that’s beside the point. If you want to dig around in my philosophical viewpoint, you’ll find that I am to some extent a relativist; specifically, I tend to think that human beings are, by nature, very much mired in our own subjective points of view, and largely incapable of discerning Absolute Truths on our own. However, I also think that we can use intersubjective means to reach conclusions that are close enough to objective truth to be, at the very least, useful.

That really has very little to do with my main point, which was that atheism consists entirely of the disbelief in a god (or gods). It’s not a comprehensive worldview, in the way that Christianity or Taoism (etc.) can be. That is to say, while you can find meaning and purpose and even draw your morality from Christian (etc.) beliefs, you really can’t do that from a lack of belief. Conversely, because an atheist must find their sense of meaning and their morality elsewhere, the fact that atheists generally do have a sense of meaning and a moral code cannot be a refutation of atheism per se – there’s no connection between the lack of belief in gods, and the conclusion that good behavior is, well, good.
Red Cardigan also included a set of questions:
Atheists tend to say that if they don’t see any reason to believe in something, they don’t believe it. So:

a) If you believe that life has meaning and purpose, what is your reason for believing this?
b) What does your reason tell you the meaning and purpose of life is?
c) How does your reason resolve the apparent conflict between a notion of a meaning and purpose in life with life’s extremely short duration, likelihood of pain/suffering, and end in oblivion? Or does your reason tell you there is no conflict?

I responded:
A. In the grand scheme of things, I’m not sure life does have any particular meaning and purpose – aside from perpetuating itself, at least. On the other hand, human beings tend to find their own meanings and purposes – and if they can’t find them, they tend to create them. But saying that I find meaning in my life is not the same thing as saying the Life has Meaning.
B. I can’t answer this; it was pretty well obviated by my response to Question A.
C. Because I don’t see a grand Purpose or Meaning, I don’t see a conflict here. In fact, the (relatively) short duration of life, the likelihood of pain and suffering, and the inequalities in living conditions seem to me to be far more consistent with life that arose by impersonal natural systems than it does with an existence purpose-built by an all-powerful, perfectly benevolent Creator.
Red Cardigan responded (much more politely than it sounds when I condense it like this) with a few more questions. Rather than quote the whole thing, I'm just going to put down my answers along with the sections I was responding to:
Would you say that it is fair to say that your own personal ethical system is not based rigidly on empiricism, and that in fact to the extent that some of the new atheists reject what is not based on rigid empiricism you would have to disagree with their attempt to, for want of a better phrase, *make* a philosophy based on the idea that empirically provable material reality is all there is?

I’m not sure exactly what you mean by morality based on rigid empiricism, in part because I’m not sure what you perceive as the alternative(s). I think it’s fairly easy to observe that people function better in structured groups; if you have to do everything for yourself, life gets very difficult very quickly. I think it’s equally evident that part of having that sort of structured group – a society, basically – is having systems in place for getting things done. And I think that social systems like that work best, work most efficiently, when everyone is – for lack of a formal term – playing by the same rules, and when those rules have provisions that allow them to adapt to new or changing circumstances/information. Is that “based on rigid empiricism?”

To expand on that: I think that social systems work best when everyone is playing by the same basic rules (in other words, morality, of which politeness is a subset). And I think that in order to get everyone to play by the same rules, those rules need to treat everyone involved fairly – at which point, we’ve pretty much arrived at the Golden Rule.

And, perhaps, that the antitheism you describe as being part of [the New Atheist] worldview is the reason for their rather fundamentalist views regarding the evil of religion and the need to eradicate it?

I’m not sure that’s a fair characterization of the New Atheist position. I think they’re making an evidence-based argument that, on the whole, religion does more harm than good in the world. Now, the evidence may or may not support that conclusion, but I think you can reasonably make the argument. However, in order to make that argument you have to assume that religiosity can be separated from human nature, and I’m extremely dubious about that assumption.

However, the sort of antitheist atheist promoting the Doctrine of the Exclusive Reality of the Empirically Verifiable and its corollary, the evil of religion and the need to exterminate it would probably not pass such a pleasant evening in my company, nor I in his/hers.

Again, I’d argue that the argument that Religion Is Harmful is not a corollary – not a necessary outgrowth – of the idea that the things we can observe and measure/verify are the only things we can meaningfully know. I think it’s a separate argument, and needs to be addressed that way; trying to connect the two takes you down some very odd and misleading rabbit holes.

Now, all of that was before her most recent post on the topic. At this point, she seems to be arguing that New Atheism, or "PEV Atheism" (by which she means atheism which has its philosophical roots in materialism - as she puts it, Nothing which cannot be empirically verified can be said to have actual existence.) is philosophically unsound (or at least unsatisfying) because it doesn't address the Great Existential Questions such as "What is life?" and "Why are we here?" and "Why is there pain and suffering?"

And, once again, I think Red Cardigan is missing the point. (I'm not sure whether she's deliberately misrepresenting atheism, either for humorous or rhetorical effect; or whether she simply doesn't understand how nonbelievers think.)

Again - again - atheism, new or old, does not address those questions because it isn't the sort of thing that should address those questions. It's not a worldview; it's just a lack of belief in gods - one god, two gods, many gods. So what she's really complaining about is what I'd call materialism - the idea that the world that we can see and measure and verify is the only thing that we can meaningfully talk about. Trying to talk about this as a characteristic of some kinds of atheism is misleading and distracting.

And that sort of materialism does answer the questions she poses. Red Cardigan may not like those answers, she may not find them satisfying, but that doesn't mean they aren't answers. (And, yes, rejecting the validity of a question is, in fact, a perfectly legitimate way of answering. Have you stopped beating your wife yet?) More to the point, the fact that some answers are unpleasant does not mean that they can't be true.

So, let's take a look:
  • What is life? Well, to borrow the dictionary definition, it's "the state or quality that distinguishes living beings or organisms from dead ones and from inorganic matter, characterized chiefly by metabolism, growth, and the ability to reproduce and respond to stimuli."
  • Why are we here? As best we can tell, it appears to be a result of impersonal natural processes.
  • Why is there pain and suffering? This also appears to be a result of life arising as a result of impersonal natural processes.
  • What is the proper response to the existential horror of total non-existence which we believe is our only lasting destiny? Um, what? Look, maybe you enjoy worrying about things that you can't change; I don't. So, for starters: if it's inevitable, why get worked up about it? Make the best of the time you have. Also, Existential Horror is in the eye of the beholder.
If the study of Philosophy has taught me one thing, it's that with a little work you can manage to completely overthink anything.

Friday, August 5, 2011

If you were The One, then you'd know...

This is actually something I was saying in a conversation elsewhere, but I think it bears repeating. So...

One of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to relationships is people who have certain expectations - sometimes an entire script - that they expect their partner/potential partner to conform to... except they won't communicate those expectations, because part of the script is that their (potential) partner should "just know." Since I'm one of those rare people (generally known as "human beings") who suffer from a tragic lack of telepathic abilities, I find this sort of thing infuriating.

This is one of the (many) reasons that I love being married to the Beautiful Woman. If she wants something, wants me to do something, wants me to not do something, or is mad about something I've done, I will know about it. Not having to guess saves us both an awful lot of frustration and wasted time.

I cannot trust my little boy

For Secondborn, age 16 months:
I cannot trust my little boy.
I cannot trust him with a toy.
I cannot trust him up or down
In the car, around the town.

I cannot trust him on a stair.
I cannot trust him in the air.
I cannot trust him on a bed.
He might fall off onto his head.

I cannot trust him near the sink.
Who knows what he might try to drink?
I cannot trust him on the floor.
I cannot trust him near the door.

I have to chase him here and there.
I follow that boy everywhere.
He has no hint of self-restraint.
The things he does make me feel faint.

For Firstborn, who has suddenly (like, three days ago) acquired a morbid fear of darkness, being alone, and his parents ever actually getting anything done:
(NSFW - use headphones)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Saw this on Facebook

Shameless reposted from someone else's note on Facebook...
My life as a conservative
I consider myself a conservative because, well, while I don't really care what people do with their bodies or religious lives, I tend to plan for our country and my own family in the long term rather than the short term.

Current studies have indicated that if pollution and warming trends continue we may have NO sea life in 30 years. Do we really want to live in a world that broken, even if it's possible? So, what should we do? Tax the hell out of polluting companies and try our best to avert disaster. That's what someone who conserves resources (both money and environmental) would do.

Other studies indicate that for every dollar you spend on educating a child through public education, you basically eliminate the need to spend three more dollars on incarceration. So, I'll spend money making people better as students rather than creating more criminals.

I keep thinking about where we seem to be as a country and it is surreal to me that we have allowed this massive and ridiculous gap to develop between "rich" and middle class. I would conserve our middle class, which is slowly falling into lower class status. We should fight for the elements of America that make life worth living. We should conserve them before we lose them.

For a related set of comments, check out Kung Fu Monkey's I Miss Republicans and his follow-up, I Still Miss Republicans.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Notes from the Mad Science Lab: Survey Question

I'm working on a project, and I believe I'm close to a major breakthrough that could inestimably benefit humanity and - not incidentally - make me filthy rich. But before I start building prototypes and conducting experiments, I thought I'd do a quick bit of market research. So I turn to you: my fans, followers, minions, apprentices, and fellow Mad Scientists.

Would you be willing to undertake a process that could easily double (perhaps triple) your personal intelligence, and quite possibly give you psychic powers, if it meant that your skull would become half again as wide as it is currently, and that your newly-enhanced brain would be forever visible beneath a clear dome covering the top of your head?

Your input is appreciated.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

They don't always sparkle...

It's that magical time of the year: we're coming up on Halloween. Well, maybe not yet. It's still August. Still... never too early to get a head start, right? Especially if something dark and hungry might be chasing you.

So, to put you in the mood for ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties, and things that go bump in the night, I offer you a selection of odd, offbeat, and obscure books that you really ought to know about.

The Vampire Tapestry
Suzy McKee Charnas
This remains one of my favorite vampire books: the story of anthropologist Edward Weyland, who manages to be both monstrous and truly vampiric without being in any way supernatural. An absolutely fascinating - and as far as I know, completely unique - take on vampire lore.

Of Tangible Ghosts
L. E. Modesitt, Jr.
An alternate-history world in which the spirits of the dead have a real, tangible presence, Of Tangible Ghosts offers a fascinating look at how such routine hauntings might affect all aspects of life.

Steven Brust
Another in the "Wow, that was not what I was expecting" category - and almost anything I could say about it would be a spoiler. Do yourself a favor: don't check the reviews. Don't read the back the cover. Just get the book, open it up, and start reading.

The Golden
Lucius Shepard
A murder mystery among vampires - this sort of genre blend has become very popular these days, but this is one of the first (and, to my mind, one of the best) examples of it.

Some of Your Blood
Theodore Sturgeon
I don't even know how to classify this one. A mystery? A novel of psychology? A startlingly macabre little horror story? (It's fairly short, more a novella than a novel in length, but that doesn't detract from its impact.) This is another book that's better read than described.

How about you? What's the scariest thing you ever read? What's the most interesting approach to a classic monster that you've encountered? Do you have any obscure recommendations (books, film, whatever) to help us get ready for All Hallow's Eve?

Monday, August 1, 2011

Atheism 101: How Atheists Actually Think

(This was originally posted in the comments over on a thread at Former Conservative in response to someone who keeps trying to see how things like morality, meaning, etc. can be derived from atheism, or whether such concepts are philosophically incompatible with atheism.)

Atheism 101: How Atheists Actually Think
Step One: I genuinely don't see any reason to believe this.
Step Two: Therefore I don't believe it.

Everything else - meaning of life, approach to charity, specific points of contention with Christians/Christianity/Islam/Wicca/Whatever, personal morality, fashion sense, etc. - is secondary to this. Ask any three atheists about any or all of these topics, and you're likely to get very different answers. But ask an atheist why he or she doesn't believe, and you're extremely likely to hear some variation of, "Where's the evidence?" (Some variations are less polite than others, naturally.)

Granted, that's a bit of an oversimplification, and I'm prepared to apologize to any of my fellow unbelievers who feel that I'm misrepresenting them. But if you're going to talk about what/how atheists think, I'd say that's a good place to start.

Reflections on People Who Don't Take Good Enough Care Of Themselves

It's Claire, again. My boyfriend won't be posting for at least a few more days, because he did something stupid and now he can't move his left arm. I have no idea what - he'll have to explain it.

He wanted me to let you know, so apparently he did see my last entry. So, you know, we can probably talk about that, once I've decided whether I'm going to forgive him for doing this to himself.

Meanwhile I'm learning about eyewear and trying to stay out of trouble, but you don't want to know about that. Boring! Anyway, I'll let you know if anything else happens. Or he'll come write something when his arm is working again.

Arbitrary and completely unnecessary disclaimer, 'cause this is all fiction anyway: Reflections of a Deranged cultist is just a story, so all you law enforcement types can move right along now. Thanks.