Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Notes from the Mad Science Lab: Morning PSAs

Good morning, minions. Let me start be reminding you that the morning announcements were put in place to help you, so pay attention.

It has come to my attention that some of you have been keeping lunches in the laboratory refrigerators. As a result, some of you may have been exposed to one or more mutagenic retroviruses. If you find yourself growing pincers, tentacles, or extra limbs or organs, please report to the Employee Quarantine Area for treatment. However, if you find yourself growing scales, fins, or gills, please report to the Dissection Center for a full medical examination. Note that it is vitally important that you report to the location assigned for your symptoms. Do not, under any circumstances, approach the medical staff directly. I have already had to restore two of our physicians from their cloned backups this week. This is inconvenient and expensive for me, but it also causes problems for you: our medical staff cannot treat you if they're busy turning into invertebrates.

On a related note, please join me in welcoming Dr. Sullivan2 and Dr. Bednar4 back to the ranks of full biological humanity.

Next: remember that the Crypto-Zoo is an important part of our research here. It is not here for your entertainment. I realize that Yetis are peaceable and even friendly under most circumstances, but they are kept in the Crypto-Zoo for a reason. Taking them to the staff cafeteria for "a field trip" violates our regulations and is grounds for dismissal without pay. Taking them to "kind of a wild party in the staff lounge" falls under paragraph 54B, subsection 42 of your employment contract: the "egregious violations" clause. Minions guilty of egregious violations will be reassigned to the role of test subjects.

Also, please remember that inter-species romances are strictly forbidden unless previously approved as part of our experimental process. Approval forms for minions are available from our Human Resources officer. Forms for non-human participants are available from the Inhuman Resources department.

Lastly... someone went for a swim in the biomorphic nanojelly pool last night. This has completely upset the balance of that experiment, as the jellies are now growing ears, fingers, and livers. The guilty party has until noon to turn himself or herself in at the front desk. After that, security teams will be coming around with black lights, and anyone caught fluorescing will be subject to disciplinary action.

That's all for this morning's announcements. You may now proceed to your assigned duties. Work hard, and be careful.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Unwell

Wow.

I am in an unbelievably foul mood today. Like, I keep finding myself actively looking for things to snap at - that kind of bad mood. Fortunately, it's been a fairly quiet day... so far.

Honestly, if I had any sense, I'd just go home and sit by myself until I could think straight again. Except that my boss is out today, so that's not really feasible. Instead, I'm going to sit here at my desk and try to make sure everything gets done.

This is fairly unusual for me, so I'm inclined to think that it's symptomatic of something: either allergies, or I'm coming down with something, or both. Either way, I think I'm going to try a dose of Theraflu and head to bed early again tonight. This will almost certainly mean more filler tomorrow - if I do get any time to write, it'll go towards the current short story project. If I end up writing something for the blog, well... take it as a bad sign, because it means that I'm somehow stuck on the short story.

And, since it's playing in my head, I'm going to share a link to a semi-appropriate song. This is ABSOLUTELY NOT safe for work, and it's really more of a the-show-is-over song than an I'm-having-bad-day sort of song, but it's still awfully satisfying to sing along to. So, with that warning in place: Bugger off!

Filler: Ghost House

For this morning... I got nothing. So, have a Lego horror movie:

Monday, July 29, 2013

More Progress

Managed a couple more pages over the weekend - more, actually, but I went back and rewrote one section. This is the first major split in the writing, in that I kept the old version intact and did the revision in a new file. So if I look at it later and decide that the first version was better, I can always go back to it.

And that's it for the moment.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Great Moments in Parenting Part 45,367,218

Yesterday, Secondborn got into a bit more trouble than usual. He's three years old, so a certain a mount of getting into trouble is to be expected. Secondborn, however, has a positive talent for it.

This particular incident, and the mess and fuss it created, led Firstborn (age 7) to wonder if maybe we couldn't just get rid of his younger brother. Their mother, the Beautiful Woman, took some time to explain to Firstborn that no, we weren't going to get rid of Secondborn. In fact, she added, someday Firstborn would be very glad that he had a brother.

It was at this precise moment that Secondborn threw a rock and hit Firstborn in the head.

Somehow, I don't think Firstborn is entirely convinced by his mother's argument.

More progress...

I got a few more pages done on my current short story project. Some of this is extraneous and will end up being cut back out, but at the moment I'm up to five pages.

On the one hand, I can't believe it's taking me this long to finish something so comparatively brief. There was time when short story of six or eight pages would have taken me two nights - three at most.

On the other hand, I can't believe I'm still making progress on it. The last time I tried to put together a short story for an anthology, I was immediately inundated with other things that needed doing, plus a sinus infection for good measure. So I'm still kind of waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I've also had some ideas for other, related stories - so if I don't manage to get this one into an anthology, I may do an anthology of my own. (Which, y'know, I've been meaning to do anyway... but, again, the last time I tried the world fell on my head.)

So... no big achievement, yet, but no real failure, either. And however it happens, I can't wait to introduce you all to Andy... and the peculiar turn her life has suddenly taken.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Once more unto the install

Once more unto the install, dear friends, once more;
Or close the firewall up with our English dead.
In peace there's nothing so becomes a webmaster
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of upgrade blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the typing-fingers, summon up tech support,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour'd rage;
Then lend the screen a terrible aspect;
Let pry through the portage of the monitor
Like the brass cannon; let the install file o'erwhelm it
As fearfully as doth a galled rock
O'erhang and jutty his confounded base,
Swill'd with the wild and wasteful ocean.

...Yeah. We're back at it. What ought to be a complex (but perfectly manageable) software upgrade has now required us to build a fresh pair of new servers, and is quickly devolving into a Gordian Knot of interlocking requirements. It's less like a software install, and more like trying to defeat the Dark Lord in certain sorts of fantasy games. In order to defeat the Dark Lord, you need the mighty sword of Asphyxia; in order to get the sword from the Asphyxians, you have to defeat the dreadful Shadow Trolls - but in order to defeat the dreadful Shadow Trolls, you need the Gleaming Shield Of Wunderbar, and that can only be obtained from the Ice Dwarves who live deep in the mines of the the Grenadine Mountains, but they can't repair the shield without... what was I trying to do again? How did I end up digging for Mandrake Roots in the Vasty Haunted Forest?

Yeah. It's like that.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

In which Firstborn puts me in my place...

My wife and I get into frivolous arguments.

I don't mean "frivolous" in the sense of, say, "frivolous lawsuits" - where the lawsuit may have no legal or ethical standing, but could still do some real harm. No, I mean "frivolous" in its original sense: silly, unimportant, and frequently nonsensical.

Up until this past weekend, our most memorable such argument took place while we were shopping in Target. To give you some idea of just how absurd this particular argument was, picture us strolling through the aisles whilst arguing - loudly, and at length - over which phrase was correct. So you had, on my wife's side, the proposition that it was "They're golden dreams," because that made vastly more sense, and fit the general tone of the piece, and was the way she'd always heard it said; whereas, on my side, the argument was in favor of "Red, Gold, and Green," because that was right - a point, I might add, upon which I expounded at considerable length. Loudly. In the middle of Target.

(Yes, the topic of the argument was exactly what you probably think it was. At least, if you're of roughly the same generation that we are.)

This past weekend, though...

Well, let me set the scene just a bit. We're in the car, all four of us: the Beautiful Woman and myself up front, and the boys in the back. We're running various and sundry errands. In the midst of our peregrinations, we stopped at a traffic light (as one does, when they are as thoroughly red as this one was). And I noticed, off to our left, a store that billed itself as The Dog Bakery.

I was, of course, immediately and thoroughly appalled that such an establishment could even exist, let alone be operating in Plano. What sort of horrible people would want to bake dogs? What sort of moral turpitude would lead someone to establish such a shop? And what sort of depraved and degenerate people would ever consider shopping there?

My wife, of course, immediately leapt to their defense. They were not, she insisted, in the business of baking dogs; clearly, they baked treats for dogs.

I was distraught to see her taking that view - a view that was, as I'm sure you've already noticed, objectively pro-dog-baking - and I told her so. She responded that it was completely ludicrous for me to assume that the shop had any intention of baking dogs, when clearly a "dog bakery" could only be a bakery for dogs.

Utter nonsense, of course, as any business of that sort would only need to describe itself as a "bakery". By using "dog" as a qualifier, they clearly communicated the sort of baking that took place there, i.e. the baking of dogs. However, just as I finished explaining this, I got a closer look at the sign, and realized that what I was seeing was not, in fact, a dog bakery. Rather, it was a Dog Barkery, which was an altogether different sort of proposition. After all, nobody could argue with the innately humanitarian nature of an establishment which evidently taught silent dogs how to bark.

I expounded upon the marvelous service they provided, especially in light of the serious nature of the problem. Can you imagine the horror and shame of owning a dog that didn't bark? It would just jump around, jaws opening and closing, tail wagging furiously, without so much as single meager yap escaping. The Barkery, however, was here to help.

My wife, however, was unable to process this new information, and continued to insist that the store produced baked goods for dogs - doubly ridiculous now, since not only was the syntax all wrong, but the word "bakery" was no longer even present in the name. So, as we were pulling through the intersection, I explained this to her... and added that, in fact, this was cause for joy. After all, it meant that nobody here made their living by baking dogs. Who wouldn't be happy to know that? I certainly was.

...It was about this point that Firstborn, from his vantage in the back seat, presented me with the following question:

"Daddy? Were you maybe in an accident... where you hit your head... really hard?"

Lords and ladies, gentles and commons, it appears that I have been shown my place.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Nothing could have prepared them...

A sunny Saturday morning.
A quiet suburban house.
Two boys playing in the living room.

Nothing could have prepared them for the horror.
Nobody could have anticipated the terror.
No one ever imagined that they would see the rise...

...of The Walking Dad.
Coming soon to a theater near you.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Story Progress

On Saturday, the Beautiful Wife took the boys to a birthday party, and told me to "go somewhere and get some writing done". This, because she knows that I'm desperately trying to work on a short story, and that writing time is hard to come by. So the chance to go set up somewhere away from the boys, and just take an evening...

...Well, actually, I can't seem to get that to work. When I write, I want a comfortable, enclosed environment. If I can decorate it with things to help put me in the right mindset for a particular story, so much the better. The Beautiful Woman is right in thinking that this sort of space simply doesn't exist in our house; the problem is, I can't think of anywhere to go outside the house that wouldn't be hideously distracting, particularly on a Saturday night.

So, in a volcanic outpouring of frustration, I cleared off the computer desk (which, because we're moving, had acquired a layer of things that had been taken down from elsewhere). The computer desk lives in the master bedroom, which used to double as the library, so it's not exactly a comfortably enclosed space... but at least I could close the door, and I wouldn't have to worry about what to do with the laptop if I decided to get up and use the bathroom.

That worked, more or less. I got about two pages done. I also stayed up later than I should have, and these days that throws my system off a lot more than it used to. Still, two pages isn't a bad start - especially if I can manage to focus enough to keep going from there, and double-super-extra-especially if I can do that without getting myself into a cycle where I push myself, end up tired, push myself harder, end up more tired, and push myself even harder... until finally, I'm reduced to bleary incoherence, and the story only gets finished because a winged, skeletal chipmunk named Squeaky has appeared to me, and I've transcribed the rest of the story from the words of his ancient, secret language...

Yeah. Really don't want to end up doing that.

Anyway, some progress has been made; I need to rest and then do more; work, of course, is trying to kill me; and mystic visions of demonic small fuzzy animals are no way to write a story.

And by the way, Squeaky wants me to tell you all, "Hi."

Parent or Superhero 3

This morning, Mock Ramblings returns with more statements that might come from a world with superheroes... or just parents and children.
  • "Wait a minute, I thought we were invulnerable!"
  • "Here are pieces of the car. Can you fix it?"
  • "Get out of my secret lair!"

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Just another morning as a parent...

I'm trying to help out on the Cleaning Of The House - you know, running laundry, cleaning dishes, picking things up. The boys, naturally, are doing their part by taking all the couches off the cushion (or maybe that's "taking all the cushions off the couch") and stealing some blankets from the clean laundry to build a fort. They're helpful like that.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Filler: Recommended Reading

I am not feeling well. If I were a betting man, I'd put my money on "Incipient Sinus Infection", but it could be the weather, a cold (coming on or recovering from, take your pick), or just generally being over-scheduled and run down. I don't know. I've been making an effort to get enough sleep (my body seems to want about seven hours a night), but it seems like no matter what I do I'm tired, logy, slightly irritable. I'm also feeling useless, restless, and bored - in no small part because I can't seem to muster up the energy or concentration to take care of any of the things I need or even want to do. Last night added a minor cough and a bit of nausea as well, but again that could very easily just be allergies.

Throw in the fact that my boss is out of town, so I feel like I need to be really sick before I can take a sick day. Then add a dash of self-pity for flavor, stir, and simmer gently over low heat for, oh, three or four days now.

So, since I have nothing useful of my own to contribute, I'm going to steer you towards some things that other people have written.

First up: Jennifer Crusie looks at a Syfy Channel movie and says, "Carpe Sharknado!"
Never ever start thinking about the objections to your story before you’ve written your story. Never ever second guess an idea that makes you breathe faster, that makes a million story moments race through your head, that makes you think, “It would be so much fun to write this story, I want to write this story.” If a Sharknado appears in your frontal lobe, you must write Sharknado.
Next up, in keeping with the general theme of taking stories on their own terms, the first installment of Popehat Goes To The Opera carries us off to explore Wagner's Tannhauser.
The core of Tannhauser is a very conventional and familiar idea that you can easily see as the plot of a mainstream movie: troubled artist looks to faith and a new love to recover from his self-destructive habits. Imagine, say, Gordon Joseph Levitt as the guitarist who relapses but eventually overcomes drug addiction with the love of, say, Emma Stone and his devotion to, I don't know, indie acoustic bullshit or something.

But this is Wagner, and Wagner is all about majestic (if somewhat imperious) music overlaying overwrought silliness. So the monkey on Tannhauser's back is a pagan god, his dilemma is his tendency to lose dark age rap battles through uncouth lyrics, and he is redeemed only in death through the more-than-a-little-off-putting love of a woman who delivers him from evil through sheer force of grimly determined purity.
Finally, Terrible Minds explores 25 Things To Know About Your Story's Stakes.
It’s all well and good to have some manner of super-mega-uh-oh world-ending stakes on the line — “THE ALPACAPOCALYPSE IS UPON US, AND IF WE DON’T ACT LIKE HEROES WE’LL ALL BE DEAD AND BURIED UNDER THE ALPACA’S BLEATING REIGN” — but stakes mean more to us as the audience when the stakes mean more to the character. It’s not just about offering a mix of personal and impersonal stakes — it’s about braiding the personal stakes into the impersonal ones.

Read them. Read them all. I'm going to try to squeeze in a bit of writing before I actually have to work, and I don't manage that, well... I don't know. I'll probably mope, or something.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Song Title Stories

So, I got involved in this game on Facebook yesterday...

I was walking down your street when I saw her. She was a lady in red, and she was simply irresistible. She said, "Let's go to bed!" Problem was, I had a girlfriend, and I didn't want to end up in a bizarre love triangle. So I said, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to turn you on."

She said, "Don't be such a goody two shoes. Anyway, what's love got to do with it? Just take me home tonight."

She was hot hot hot, but I was in too much of a hurry to break my stride. So I said, "I'm movin' on."

She said, "Where will you go?"

So I told her: "Africa. But I come from a land down under."

She shrugged. "It's a cruel, cruel summer. Maybe you'll have a change of heart."

My response? "Don't rush me."

Okay, your turn...

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Real Work Conversations: Plans

Me: "Okay, I'll be at my desk."

Trainee: "As soon as Co-worker gets here, I'll have her cover the phone."

Me: "Great. We have a plan. Yay, plans. This is one is just like a real plan, except for the parts that involve actual planning. Yay, plans."

I... might be slightly overtired this morning. My Tact Shield doesn't seem to be working right.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Secondborn and the Alarm Clock

So... apparently the Beautiful Woman had an alarm clock which was set for noon, and which still had the alarm set (even though she's been up with the boys for hours). When it went off, the sound of the alarm sent Secondborn racing through the house, yelling: "Oh, no! We forgot to wake up Daddy!"

Apparently Secoundborn would prefer for me to be home today almost as much as I, myself, would prefer to be home today.

Becoming an Atheist - A Response

I can never tell if Ray Comfort is serious, or if he's engaged in a long-running practical joke that has become so successful that people think it's a genuine ministry. Honestly, for me here in America, it doesn't really matter. By and large, what he has to say doesn't pick my pocket; nor is it in any danger of breaking my leg. However, on the off chance that anyone takes items like this as a serious or credible assessment of atheism, well... that could cause some confusion on both sides. So:
Becoming an Atheist – Ray Comfort

There are two main hard and fast rules for anyone who would like to become an atheist. If you are tempted, beware. It's easy to take the first step, but it is very difficult to walk the walk.
First of all, is anyone ever actually tempted to become an atheist? I mean, what would anyone find tempting about losing their faith? Where's the payoff? What sort of angle does he think we're working, here?

Second, well... I'd agree that it's hard to "walk the walk" - just, not in the way that Comfort means. Since he's talking about atheists who used to be Christians (and, for that matter, since he assumes a priori that all atheists secretly know the truth of Christianity), I'm going to point out that everyone that I know who went from Christianity to atheism doesn't consider it a "choice" at all... and found the transition disconcerting, at best.
The first rule is to ignore design in nature. You will see it everywhere; from the planets, to the atoms, to the birds and the bees, to the seasons, to the design of the human body, the design of fish, flowers, fruits, feet, and even fungus. And of course, the amazing-looking human eye--everywhere you look and everywhere you can't look, you will see design.
No. This is a classic bit of Ray Comfort sleight-of-hand: nature has patterns, therefore it must have been designed. But here's the thing: pattern is not evidence of design. Pattern is evidence of, well, pattern. That's it. The same goes for complexity.

(Sure, if I find a watch in the desert, I'm going to assume that it's man-made... but that's because I know what a watch is, I know they don't occur naturally, and by the way I have a great bloody expanse of desert all around me to provide some non-designed contrast. If the world is designed, then metaphorically speaking we're all standing in the middle of the watch, and we have no desert available to compare it with.)
Now here's the hard part. Ignore your God-given common sense.
You know, every time I point out some part of the Bible that conflicts with my conscience, I'm told that my common sense isn't trustworthy; but let's ignore that. And, in fact, common sense frequently isn't very trustworthy, since human beings tend towards things like confirmation bias and pareidolia; but let's ignore that, too.

The real problem here is that Ray Comfort is setting this up with an underlying assertion that atheism is a choice - that some people, for incomprehensible reasons of their own, decide that they're going to become atheists, and then start looking around for ways to justify their decision. In my experience, that's essentially never how it works - it's almost always the other way around. In general, the process starts when someone finds a reason to doubt what they've been taught, and begins questioning and searching; they're almost never looking for a reason not to believe. And atheism isn't the only possible end of that process, either - plenty of people go through a phase of deep questioning and reassessment, and return to their religion with their faith strengthened.
Admit that everything man made is man-made, but be uncompromisingly adamant that everything in nature came from nothing, with no Designer.
This again? Yes, it appears to us that the world as it currently exists is the result of impersonal natural processes; but that isn't some bizarre view that we stubbornly insist upon despite all evidence to the contrary (because, again, pattern is not design). That actually is how the world appears to us; that view, and the interlocking theories that cover more specific patterns and phenomena, seem to better explain the world we live in than the idea that some all-powerful Creator willed it into being.

Note, however, the way that Comfort sets up his argument so there are only two possible sides: belief in his version of the Christian God, or uncompromising insistence that "everything in nature came from nothing". There's no room for nuance here, no allowance for honest disagreement; it's either Acknowledging The Truth or Stubbornly Refusing. That's a slick little bit of rhetorical setup, that is.
Once you have set aside your acumen to do this, crown yourself as being intelligent. Very. Then find other atheists and they will confirm to you that you are indeed, intelligent.
This is actually funny, because atheists (especially the ones who frequently end up discussing religion) do tend to assume that we're the smartest people in the room. And, as a general thing, we like hang around with people who agree with our views and values. Of course, so does everyone else - Ray Comfort included, as witnessed by this exact essay.
The second rule is to "believe." This is very important, because if you let doubt in, it will let in fear, and that can be a scary thing when the issue at stake is a place called "Hell."
Whoa-hoah! Slow down there, Tex. Show your work. It's a big enough leap from "nature has patterns" to "therefore God". Now you're jumping all the way from "nature has patterns" to "therefore Tha Fires O' Hell Await Ye!" and you're just expectin' the rest of us to follow 'long as if that were a given.

And no, I have no idea why I just slipped into a bad Old West Gunfighter accent, there.

My point stands, regardless. You can argue that nature shows clear evidence of design, just by existing. You can argue that anybody who really looks can see that. I'm not going to agree, of course, because I really have looked and I really don't see it, so by your logic I can't possibly exist. (So, um, "Hi!") But even if I'm wrong, and nature really does show clear and undeniable evidence of design (and I'm just, I don't know, theologically color-blind or something, that I can't see it), it's a long stretch of road between "the Universe must have been created," and "Hell exists, exactly as my particular brand of Christianity describes it."

You can only skip directly from the idea of an all-powerful Creator to the specifically Christian concept of Hell if your starting point isn't actually some sort of perceived design in nature, but rather the Christian Bible. Even then... The idea of Hell as an actual place where the souls of the unredeemed are punished for eternity is only loosely Biblical. It has a lot more to do with Christian popular culture than it does with the three (that's right, only three) passages in the Bible that mention the matter at all.

As far as letting doubt in... Look, quite a few of us live our lives pretty comfortably with quite a bit of doubt, ambiguity, lack of complete knowledge, and varying degrees of uncertainty about a variety of topics. (The poet John Keats referred to the ability to operate this way as "Negative Capability" and considered it both a virtue, and something of a prerequisite for honesty.) So once again, either Comfort is wrong, or I don't really exist - because letting doubt in, as a matter of fact, doesn't let in fear.
Believe that you are right in your beliefs.
Okay, quick show of hands: is there anyone out (Christian, atheist, or something else altogether) there who doesn't believe that their beliefs are correct? No?

...I didn't think so. Which brings me back to an earlier point: people don't become atheists because (for reasons that Ray Comfort presumably understands, but I do not) they choose to. They come to be atheists because based on the evidence they have available, and their best analysis of that evidence, they think atheism is the likeliest conclusion.
Believe that evolution is indeed true. Believe that it's scientific. Believe that there are no missing links, and believe that Richard Dawkins knows what he is talking about.
Wait, what? How did atheism and evolutionary theory suddenly become one and the same? First of all, there are plenty of Christians who find the Theory of Evolution perfectly compatible with belief in a divine Creator. Second of all, it's perfectly possible not to believe in God, and not to believe in terrestrial evolution at the same time. (See, for example, some of the Fortean theories of Ancient Aliens.)

As for missing links... did you know that it is absolutely impossible for an arrow shot at a target to reach that target? Because, you know, it passes the halfway point. And then it passes the halfway point for the remaining distance. And then it halves the remaining distance. And it covers half of the remaining distance... And since it must cover an infinite number of these halfway points, it can never actually reach the target. We have transitional fossils. Yes, occasionally we find new transitional fossils that contradict our previous conclusions. You know what happens then? Our model gets updated to incorporate the new information. What Ray Comfort is doing with his "no missing links" schtick is setting up the Zeno's Paradox of transitional fossils.

And how on Earth did Richard Dawkins get in there? Was Comfort just conflating unrelated topics, and decided to throw him into the mix, too?

Okay, I realize that Richard Dawkins is kind of a Big Bad for a certain strain of evangelical(?) Christianity, but out here among the atheists, a lot of us know him only by reputation. I've never read his stuff, I've never seen him in a debate - in fact, I'm not entirely certain that he participates in debates. Either way, an awful lot of atheists - again, going mainly by the people I know - came to their disbelief mainly on their own. They weren't following any "leaders", particularly among the New Atheists. They were just asking questions and looking for answers.
Believe that you are an ape, that you are not morally responsible because apes have no moral absolutes. Believe that your conscience was given to you by your parents and society, and not by God (always use a small "g" for God, if possible).
Granting a bit of hyperbole on Comfort's part - current evolutionary theory suggests that we share a common ancestor with apes, not that we are apes ourselves - we're still back into "Slow down, Tex, and show your work" territory, here. This idea - that if God doesn't exist, then there are no moral absolutes - simply isn't true. "We have a responsibility to take care of each other and do each other as little harm as possible," is a moral absolute... and it requires no belief in the supernatural whatsoever. All you need is a degree of empathy and a willingness to acknowledge that humans are social beings.

But set that aside, because the real issue here is that Comfort has taken us completely off-track. Atheism isn't a starting point; it's a conclusion. All its says is, "As far as I can tell, there is no God and there are no gods." That doesn't absolve you of any sort of moral responsibility to your fellow human beings; it just means that your moral responsibilities only extend to beings you can perceive and interact with.
To grow as an atheist, you will need to learn believers' language--phrases like "There is no creation," "Evolution is a proven fact," and the powerful "Flying Spaghetti Monster." Learn the fine art of cutting and pasting, and responding with "Straw man!" That means you won't have to respond to anything challenging.
I find it somewhat telling that the phrase "Straw Man!" so typifies atheist reactions to Ray Comfort that he's included it here as a Standard Atheist Boilerplate Response. Except, well, I think that says more about Ray Comfort and his assertions about atheism than it says about atheists themselves. (If you keep asking people out on dates, and they keep turning you down, maybe the problem isn't with them...)

I don't know any atheists who make a habit of saying, "There is no creation." Maybe they're out there - maybe - but I haven't run into any. The folks who are interested/literate in science tend to make careful, qualified statements like, "The best evidence that we have at present indicates that life diversified gradually over millions of years through a process of evolution." I do know some who will point out that the alternative to the Theory of Evolution - the theory that God Did It - isn't much of an explanation... especially if you insist on the belief that the Earth itself is 22,000 years younger than certain aboriginal rock art. (To be fair, I'm not at all sure whether Ray Comfort is a young-Earth Creationist or not. I get him confused with Ken Ham, to the extent that I'm not entirely sure where their beliefs differ.)
All this will give perceived intelligence. Never question evolution, and don't think for yourself.
Again, this is a nice bit of rhetorical sleight-of-hand. Apparently, having been "tempted" by atheism (what's so tempting about it?) and having "decided" to become an atheist (because, um, why?), you're now supposed to never think for yourself. At least, that's the way Ray Comfort sees it, even though according to him it was thinking for yourself that led you here in the first place.

Notice, again, the absolute connection (at least in Comfort's mind) between evolution and atheism. Is it possible to accept the Theory of Evolution and remain a true Christian? Comfort doesn't come out and say it here, but judging by what we've read so far, his answer is a resounding "No!" So, you know, an awful lot of mainstream American Christians aren't, in Ray Comfort's mind, really Christians at all. Never mind the whole "followers of Jesus" bit.
Do these things, and you will be able to call yourself an atheist, or even a "new" atheist. How cool is that!
Well, um, judging by the studies that show that atheists are among the least trusted groups in America, I'd go with "Not Very Cool At All."

Again, almost nobody decides to become an atheist so that they can be part of in "in-crowd". If there are benefits to being an atheist - social benefits, financial benefits, career benefits, or maybe psychological benefits - I'm sure not seeing them. I'm just lucky to live and work in an environment where being a reasonably open atheist isn't actively career-limiting.

Which brings me back, once again, to an earlier question: why, exactly, does Ray Comfort think anyone would find the idea of becoming an atheist tempting?
Well, I should say, as much of one as you can be called one. No one can be a true atheist because you need "absolute knowledge" to say that there is no God.
This is another cute bit of rhetorical sleight-of-hand: set the bar so high that nobody can possibly meet it. Yes, I would need absolute knowledge to say that I absolutely know that there is no God. But I don't need anything even close to that to explain that Christianity - and Ray Comfort's version of Christianity, in particular - fails to explain my perception of the world or reflect my experiences in the world. I don't have to conclusively prove that every possible version of God absolutely doesn't exist before concluding that my current views (of the world as the result of impersonal natural processes) provide a more accurate, if less satisfying, explanation for why the world is the way it is.
So until you are omniscient (like God), you will just have to do with pretending to be one.
So, finally, Comfort closes his essay with another common misconception (and another reason why he might might be ever-so-intimately-familiar with people using the phrase, "Straw Man!"). The implication - stated here as a given, that all right-thinking people naturally accept - is that atheists think of themselves as gods, or want to be God, or are pretending to be God.

That... isn't possible. An atheist who thought he (or she) was a god would necessarily believe in gods, and would therefore (by definition) no longer be an atheist. I don't know what you'd call such a person - autotheist, perhaps? Or in more practical terms, maybe just a Narcissist?

Regardless, we're back to the part where atheists don't believe in God, or gods. We really just don't think such things exist. Some people have trouble processing that ("You have to worship something!"), and so, I think, conclude that if we won't point to something external, we must be worshiping ourselves - or maybe each other; see the reference to Dawkins, above. That... simply isn't so. However strange it may sound, there are some of us who seem to have been born without a compelling need to worship anything. (The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster is, say it with me, a lovely little bit of satire.)

This also sort of conflicts with Comfort's earlier assertions. After all, if God's existence is so perfectly obvious from The Evidence Of Design In The World(tm), then there are no real atheists. That is, there isn't really anybody who genuinely thinks that God just doesn't exist. Anyone who claims to be an atheist is... well, from this essay, I don't know. But based on some previous conversations with certain sorts of believers, I'm going to go with "suppressing the truth in unrighteousness," and I'll leave you to figure out what that means, exactly.

It seems to mean that I don't really exist, though. So again, um, "Hi."

Friday, July 12, 2013

Real Work Conversations: Staying Home

Me: "I really don't want to be here today. Not sure why. Just... bleh."

HR Person: "Not feeling well?"

Me: "Not exactly. Problem is, we get sick days. We don't get ennui days."

HR Person: "I don't think we do, either."

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Has the world ended yet?

I'm just wondering. Big project at work, trying to get enough sleep at home, hoping to find time to write in here somewhere.

So, any prophecies been fulfilled lately? Giant wolves swallowing the sun and moon? The dead rising up to devour the living? Giant locust-monsters spreading across the land? Rain of frogs? Anything?

No?

...It's probably just me, then.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Notes from the Mad Science Lab: Welcome To Glowing Island

I've been tinkering with the concept of bioluminescence recently. More specifically, I've been tinkering with the chemistry of bioluminescence. Because, you see, the proper insertion of a few select genes can save you thousands of dollars in electricity that you would otherwise have spent on lighting.

With that in mind, let me welcome you all to my vision of the future: Glowing Island. Behold: a world without darkness. The grass glows. The trees glow.


If you'll look to your left, you'll observe the glowing carp, making their way along the stream. Ah, and there's a turtle that somehow made its way onto this island... but notice how the glowing lichens have colonized the outside of his shell. He won't need to be modified. Now, follow me and we'll continue on to...

...Bright Village. The grasses are more carefully trimmed, here, but as you see they still provide an ample amount of light - especially with the addition of the hedges and - no, don't touch that, child! The glowing berries are pretty, but they're sometimes explosive as well. Yes, yes - we're still ironing out a few bugs here and there. Ah, here comes Jonas! He's part of the first generation of luminous people. How are you doing, Jonas?

Make it stop? But Jonas, your glowing skin is the very thing that these people have come to... Can't sleep? Have you considered wearing a sleep mask?

No, I suppose that wouldn't help with the glow from your eyelids. Still, it can't be all bad: you're one of the first and finest examples of my new, improved humanity. Ahem. My apologies, ladies and gentlemen. Some of our volunteers take longer than other to adjust to their new gifts. But as you can see, everyone here in Bright Village glows, with no need for electricity at all. Even the babies!


So there's really no cause for concern. Jonas will adapt, and his children will grow up thinking of these scientific miracles as perfectly normal. They can live their lives and conduct their business at any hour of the day or night, secure in... Jonas? What are you doing, my friend? Put the gun down, Jonas... Jonas, try to stay calm. If it means that much to you, I'll be happy to reverse the process... Yes, now - or just as soon as the tour is over, anyway. Go report to the lab, and have them issue you a sedative. No, no, there's no cause for alarm, ladies and gentlemen. Please, let's continue on, and I'll see to it that Jonas receives the help he clearly needs...

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Ominous Omens and Portentous Portents...

Something has happened at work.

That's... basically all I know about it. Something has happened. I don't know what, or to whom, or who all might have been - or become - involved. I can't even say with any certainty just how serious the event itself actually was. Serious enough, I presume, but in the absence of information it's more than a little hard to say.

Whatever it was, it has thrown us into a tizzy of tightening security, upholding propriety, and generally making sure that only what is Right and Decent prevails. Our computers are now set, by policy, to throw up a screensaver after ten minutes of inactivity... and then require a password to reactivate. (Some of us - ahem - were already set that way, thank-you-very-much.) As IT folks, we've been told to lock our computers Any Time we move away from them, even if we're only moving to chat with someone in the doorway of our own office. We've been told that People Will Be Checking On This. We've been instructed to keep various cabinets (the one with installation discs and various hardware) firmly, and perpetually, locked. We've been told not to let anyone else use our computers, ever, no matter how dire the circumstances.

We have, as a matter of policy (and there are slightly complicated but very solid reasons behind it) never monitored people's Internet browsing activity. Apparently, as of this morning, we've started. I find this intriguingly suggestive, but there's always the possibility that this is some sort of bizarrely overblown "Edward Snowden Therefore We Must Be Seen To Be Doing Something" sort of thing. I have no way to be sure - at least, no way that wouldn't, in itself, be a distinctly career-limiting move.

Now, I'm not opposed to tightening our security. Stopping to review both official policies and actual day-to-day practice is a good thing. I mention all this because it means, among other things, that I will not be able to throw things up here on the Blog o' Doom between projects at work - or in the half an hour or so between the time when I arrive at work, and the time when the work day officially starts, for that matter. If we're going to be monitoring as closely and as thoroughly as I've been led to believe, then even that would be noticed... and possibly seen to reflect badly on the department, or maybe just on me. In any case, it's a risk I don't care to take.

That means that my time for throwing together amusing little tidbits to toss out on Ye Olde Blogge has now been confined to my evenings. That is also the sole and solitary time that I have for my other writing projects. And since I am currently knee-deep in such a project, that means that the time I have available to compose things for the blog is effectively, well, unavailable.

I will not be closing the blog. I may not even shift to a lighter posting schedule. However, it's extremely likely that you'll be seeing more filler here - things that I found humorous or entertaining, but that don't require much time or attention to compose and post.

Remember, folks: if you trust your co-workers, the terrorists win. Or something like that.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Darkward Progress

I'm making progress on my current short-story project. It's not as much, or as fast, as I'd like - but it's progress. Characters introduced, conflict set up, atmosphere suitably dark and wild. Onward!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Monstrous Free Association

Graveyard, darkness, moonlight. Scales, fur, claws. Contact. Fear/fascination. Books, dreams, nightmares. Forest. Wilderness. Crypts and caves. Flesh and bone, blood and breath. Hungers. Eyes... connection, conversion. Transformation. Vulnerability and power.

"Power makes monsters of us all." -The Gospel of St. John the Blasphemer

Freedom and desire. Breaking free of chains, taking off masks. The dark heart of the self. Shadows. Storms. Transcendence; transfiguration. Secrets, histories, and secret histories. Books.

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Tribes of the Moon embrace you...

Monsters.

I've always been fascinated by monsters. Some of it, I think, is the idea of being powerful; monsters are, in many ways, the dark reflections of heroes and superheroes. But there's also an element of... estrangement, I guess. So many of the really interesting monsters are just trying to make their way in a world that has no place for them. Some, like Frankenstein's creation, may be tragic figures: misunderstood, abandoned, neglected, rejected, or intruded upon. For others, the demands of their nature, often some sort of hunger, make it impossible (or nearly impossible) for them to live with the people around them.

I was a weird kid. I sympathized with that. And I sympathized with it even more when I went off to college. For... various reasons, I went early - so I was younger than everyone else. And I was, um, "poorly socialized". This, in a place where the student body ranged from upper-middle class into layers of upper class; where traditions, formal and informal, were highly valued; where appearances were not considered superficial, but instead were very important. It was a setting where, without exaggeration, I was a fucking alien. A monster.

It was right at the tail end of my time there that I stumbled onto the Nightbreed. I found it, perhaps oddly, through the comic books, but they took me to both the book and the movie. The Nightbreed, the Tribes of the Moon, fascinated me: this was one of the very few worlds I'd encountered where the monsters were both the heroes of the story... and still monstrous.

Right about that time, I had an epiphany: I didn't have to stay where I was. I could move to another university. And not only that, but universities weren't all alike, and things could actually be different there! Dizzy with revelation, I transferred.

I was still out of place. I was now in a Christian university (though a very liberal sort of Christianity), I still had no interest in joining a fraternity or sorority, and once again many of the other students came from more... monied... backgrounds than myself. And yet, my experience was completely different. There were people here who were just as weird as I was, and in a lot of the same ways. It wasn't just me. At least one of them had also discovered Nightbreed, and fallen in love with it just as I had. So I mentioned, just mentioned, that it might be fun to run a roleplaying game picking up where the book and the movie left off.

I had two people bring me character sketches the next morning. They were... fascinating. And the would-be players were enthusiastic. Which meant, I decided, that I'd better figure out a game system to use, and start fleshing out some storylines.

The whole thing came together much faster and much better than it had any right to. The monsters fled the ruins of Midian, heading down into the United States in a stolen truck, and immediately got into trouble. And then into more trouble. There was running. There was hiding. There was fighting. There were narrow escapes and ancient secrets; there were rivalries and romances and tragedies within the group.

We played for over a year. We had spectators at the games. The stories, that milieu, gave us a way to look at ourselves - helped cement that vital awareness that it wasn't just me and you aren't alone. It was, in many ways, as close to having a religion as I've ever come.

So you can, I hope, imagine my reaction to learning that someone had found the original footage from the filming of Nightbreed, and was putting together a new version of the film that was more in line with original concept. Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut is important to me in way I find difficult to describe.

Then, on Friday, I learned that they're accepting submissions for Midian Unmade, a collection of short stories set after the destruction of Midian. I managed to finish work and drive home, and even get the kids to bed... but I'm not sure I said more than three words in the process, and I may have walked into a wall or two. My head's off in the dark, picking out the trail by moonlight and scent, racing to reach the not-quite-deserted graveyard and the city of monsters hidden underneath.

I'm putting together a story for this. Any writing time I have is going there. It's going to be quiet around here until I get back.