Friday, July 30, 2010

Callahan's Friday Pun

There was a young man on the run from the law, who wound up in rural Appalachia. He managed to build himself a shelter in the woods, but he didn't know anything about hunting or farming. He didn't dare go into town, for fear that someone would recognize him. So, every morning, he'd hike up to his nearest neighbor, who was an elderly woman who never left her house.

He wasn't a bad guy, actually, and he didn't want to steal from her. So he'd knock on the door, and ask to borrow a little something to eat.

Now, the old lady had a small garden, where she grew spices. She had a little extra of one particular spice, and she liked the company, so every morning she'd give the young man something from her garden. They'd sit and talk, and then he'd take the spice back home and eat it.

The young man was sad, because he knew this couldn't go on. Sooner or later the police would find him, and he'd never quite managed to explain to the old lady that what he really needed was food. He knew...

...that he was living on borrowed thyme.

Real Work Conversations: The Mailing List

This one happened a couple of months ago, on a Monday morning...

Public Information Officer: "Did the city-wide e-mail go out on Friday? I know I sent it, but I never saw it in my inbox."

Me: "Well..." (checks mail) "I don't see it in mine, either."

Web Manager: (checks mailing list) "It looks like it sent about two hundred, then quit." (checks the e-mail itself) "...Probably because you tried to include a 2 MB image with the text."

Me: "Well, that would explain why our mail server crashed on Friday afternoon, when we were in the middle of setting up for the music festival."

I wish I was making this up. We had to send someone from the festival site back to the server room to do a physical reboot on the server. It was so thoroughly locked that remote control couldn't touch it.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Another Confession

I recently confessed that I don't actually watch TV, a revelation which has caused people (both here and in everyday life) to question my sanity, my morality, my health, and my worth as a human being. Since I am precisely the sort of person who tries to put out fires by pouring gasoline on them*, I am now going to offer another confession:

I don't listen to the radio, either.

Oh, I used to. I love music, and I play quite a lot of it. I used to have the radio on all the time. That changed about three years ago - maybe four. Or maybe five. (Having children has done horrible things to my sense of the passage of time.)

Well, whenever it happened, it wasn't a sudden change so much as the culmination of a growing disgust with the radio stations in my area. Why? Well, I can narrow it down to three basic reasons.

1. Popular music was going through a dry spell. This happens every couple of years: there's a period of a couple of months where the radio stations just aren't playing anything that I actually care to listen to. Come to think of it, that was true of most of the 90s, too.

2. Dee-Jays were becoming measurably stupider. This has actually been a trend throughout my life. To be fair, I don't whether they were actually getting stupider, or whether they were always this stupid and they've just been getting more air time in which to display their stupidity. (Honestly. The fact that Kidd Kraddick is still on the air... well, that's another whole rant, but call it Exhibit A.)

3. There is no escape from Morning Shows. Look, I'm not exactly a People Person, and nobody will ever mistake me for a Morning Person. So when I'm in my car on the way to work, the last thing I want to listen to is someone blathering on about their ill-informed opinions and idiotic attempts at humor or relevancy. (See point 2, above.) Play music. That is all I want out of a radio station in the morning. Frankly, it's all I want out of a radio station, period. You have to run commercials to stay in business - okay, I get that. You want to name the song, and maybe the artist? Fine... but after that, shut up. You want to play practical jokes on people on the air? When I become Emperor, you will be first in line for the Gulag. Keep it in mind.

Fortunately, technology came to my rescue. I burned a couple of mixed CDs as a stopgap measure, thinking I could play them when there was nothing on the radio. I titled them Dallas Radio Sucks volumes I and II, respectively, and dropped them in the console of my car.

A week later I added Volumes III - Volume IX. They were now on steady rotation; when I reached the end of one disk, I'd put the next one in. Two weeks after that, I worked my up to Volume XIV. Dallas Radio sucks is now up to Volume XXIII, and I haven't turned the radio back on in years.

And honestly, I haven't missed it.

* Well, it could work. I mean, the sudden rush of flames could use up all the oxygen in the area, which would cause the fire to go out. Admittedly, it's a poor strategy for campfires and other outdoor applications... Also, come to think of it, if it worked in an enclosed space, I'd promptly asphyxiate. Maybe I should reconsider.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Reflections on Knowledge

I'm learning. It's slow, but I'm learning. If this keeps up, I'll know more about the things that lie beyond our world than I ever really wanted to. Unfortunately, this could easily result in a shift in my career. Here's the thing:

People like Mbata are specialists. They're the ones who really make use of the rituals, the ones who apply the secret knowledge that we've gathered through the centuries. Sometimes they teach others, but mostly they put their skills to use: they protect us, and advance the Elders' interests. It's no surprise that Mbata was the one who found - and destroyed - the bumbler. That's precisely the sort of thing that he does.

So: I'm learning. Specifically, I'm learning about the sort of things that Mbata does all the time. In the process, I'm demonstrating, if not actual talent, at least competence. So, the next time the Elders need someone to do something like that, they're suddenly a lot more likely to tap me for the job. And that's a problem.

It's a problem because being a pharmacist is a full-time job and then some. My schedule is full; if the Elders start pulling me away for other things, I'll have to learn to survive without sleep - possibly food, also. More likely, it'll directly affect my job performance, which could cause all kinds of problems.

This isn't just random worry, either. I told work that I needed to fly to Montana next week, and they... well, they about went into conniptions. Oh, they eventually agreed, but for a while there I thought I was going to have to stage a death in the family. Or, just possibly, a death in Management - which was far more tempting, especially since I know perfectly well that they'll remember this, while forgetting all the times I've filled in for other people and how reliable I generally am.

Telling Claire was a lot easier. I said it was a family reunion, and it'd been planned months ago, before we started dating. I was a little worried that she would want to come with me, but she has some friends coming into town and really wants to see them. We both agreed that the timing was unfortunate, but there wasn't much to be done about it.

In my last entry, I mentioned that I was violently ill after consulting Oracle. Well, shortly after I recovered, Claire lost her voice. I'm not sure how she managed it - I hope it wasn't something I passed along to her - but I supplied her with chicken soup and milk shakes, and after a couple of days she was talking again. I'm glad, because I'd hate to go out of town while she's still feeling sick.

But she's better, and all the arrangements are made, and early next week I'll visit the Thing In The Well. Maybe then I'll have some idea of what's been going on with these dreams. And maybe, after that things will go back to normal... Hey, I can hope, right?

Reflections of a Deranged Cultist is a work of fiction. No farm animals, virgins, or household pets were harmed in the making of this post.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

God Loves Diversity

I was reading this post at Forever In Hell, and it reminded me of something.

You should really go read the post yourself, but the short version is this: there's a fundamentalist/evangelical Christian girl who has gone on a mission trip to Japan. While she was there, she visited "Asakusa Temple" (more precisely, Sensō-ji). She sent an e-mail back about the experience. Her description of the temple focuses on the people bowing to false gods, practicing pagan rites, and dropping money into... I can't tell from her description, but I'd bet it serves the same basic purpose as a collection plate in a Christian service. Not only is she blind to the beauty of the place, not only is she appalled by the perverse abominations of non-Christian religious practices, but she absolutely refuses to see the place on its own terms. She's entirely locked in to her way of looking at the world, so the guardian statues are described as "demons", statues and other icons are "false gods", and like that.

I wonder what she would have thought of Rosslyn Chapel? Admittedly, to see this, her mission trip would have had to visit Darkest Scotland to convert the heathens... which strikes me as funny all by itself. But never mind that; suppose she went there.

Rosslyn chapel is not especially large. It was dedicated in 1450 (construction started back in 1446), as a collegiate chapel which would care for its founder's spiritual welfare and provide a local center of learning. In 1571, the chapel's endownments were seized, its staff was forced to resign, and its altars were destroyed - you can blame the Reformation for this. The chapel fell into disuse until 1862, when it was rededicated following a period of repair and restoration. It remains in use to this day.

So we're talking about a place that has been exclusively Christian since it was first built, where people still worship. Dan Brown's literary conspiracy theories aside, the chapel is probably best known for its statuary. I had the good fortune to visit the chapel in my youth, and the stonework occupied most of my attention while I was there. There are carvings everywhere - statues of saints outside the building, depictions of the Seven Deadly Sins and other things inside. Including this:

Yes, that's a Green Man. The Rosslyn Chapel website describes it as "historically a pagan figure" as if it were later incorporated into Christian iconography. To the best of my knowledge, that is not the case: it started pagan, and stayed pagan. There are over a hundred representations of the Green Man inside the chapel, and they're a little disturbing to look at: it's a round, chubby face (which reminded me very much of a statue of the Buddha), and its expression is ambiguous. It might be about to offer you a smile; it might be about to bite you. The picture doesn't really do it justice.

I can't help but wonder how the girl from the mission trip would react to that. I mean, it's an unequivocally Christian holy site, so I expect she'd find it harder to dismiss the figures as demonic - though I'm cynical enough to suspect that she'd take it as more evidence that the Church of England is a false and misguided Christianity. Given her starting points, I'm not sure she could reach another conclusion.

There's something about the place, though. I wandered around outside, looking at the statues of the saints: somber, pious, serious. And I thought about all those Green Men, spilling their vines across the walls inside, and grinning away like anything. And I found myself wondering: what sort of god would make so many different kinds of people - with their different skin tones, different body types, different personalities, living in vastly different environments with different requirements for survival, creating different languages and different cultures - and then offer only one single, narrow path to Salvation? An idiot, that's what. And God, by most accounts, is not an idiot. ...No, if God exists, it's perfectly clear that He adores variety. It was my own little private epiphany, and Rosslyn Chapel was directly responsible for it.

I don't know anything about the girl on the mission trip. I don't know who she is, where she's from, what her private thoughts and doubts might be. Maybe her trip to Sensō-ji affected her in much the same way that Rosslyn affected me, and the e-mail she sent to her family was just telling them what she thought they wanted to hear. It's not really my business, but I hope so. Travel should be enlightening.

Friday, July 23, 2010

My Unacceptable Behavior

I have a confession to make. There is something about me that is... well, it's deeply un-American. Subversive. Perverted and sick. It's a secret that places me well outside the realm of polite society. It's enough to make my lack of religious belief seem positively normal, maybe even wholesome.

It's my sin, and my shame.

I don't watch television.

It's true.

I get my news off the Internet. I watch movies on DVD. We have cable, but only for our Internet connection. Our television doesn't even have an antenna. It can pick up three channels, and two of them are in Spanish.

I don't know what a Kardashian is. (Judging by the magazines in the checkout line, it's a species of dark-haired, bosomy woman whose only purpose is to provide a vicarious social life for bored housewives. Do they actually do anything, or are they another example of the Paris Hilton school of being famous because they're famous?) The Gosselins? If it wasn't for checkout line magazines, I wouldn't even know they existed. American Idol? I know, vaguely, about one guy - because he played at the local music festival. He got booted off the show right after he made his appearance. Adam Somebody-or-other, I think.

Our television set exists in a perpetual melancholy, darkly jealous of those other devices that get such a wide range of programs to display. It yearns to be connected to cable or satellite, to receive current programming, to teach us what we need through commercials. These dreams are never fulfilled. It makes do with input from the DVD Player, the Playstation, the Xbox. Sometimes, in the depths of the night, it sobs quietly to itself. I hear it, but I harden my heart against its cries. It's for the device's own good, really.

So now you know my secret. Pick a show, any show. Whatever it is, I don't know what happened on last night's episode. The latest game between Our Team and That Other Team? No, I didn't see it. Did I hear that thing on the news? No.

Nobody cares whether or not I go to church, but failing to watch television? That's weird. Incomprehensible. Barbaric. Tell people you don't watch TV, and they look at you like there must be something deeply wrong. The sales rep for our cable provider flatly refused to believe it. His brain just wouldn't process the idea.

I've taken to explaining that we're religious fanatics. It's more socially acceptable.

Which is kind of sad, when you think about it.

Real Work Conversations

This one happened by e-mail:

Theater: "We have everything working now. This would be a good time to sync the live site with the test site."

Information Services: "We're completely reworking the network right now. The sites wouldn't sync - they'd sink, and then we'd be sunk."

Theater: "Oh. Okay, new plan..."

Honestly. Two e-mails, a phone call, and a huge notice on their homepage - and still, it's like they never even heard about the project...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Reflections on Power

I've never really wanted power for its own sake. That's probably why I became a pharmacist, rather than studying the more... esoteric... possibilities available in my youth. I just wanted a place where I could support the cause, without spending all my time on the front lines.

Except, that makes it sound like what we do is part of a war, which isn't really correct. It’s just that the things we know about are dangerous, and the people who interact with them risk life, limb, and sanity. And that’s all I really wanted, I guess: to be one of the few people who know what’s really going on. I never wanted to be out there taking the big risks. Our life is risky enough as it is.

Except... every once in a while, knowing isn’t enough. If you need - or want badly enough that it becomes a need - to change something, you have to act. You have to take a risk.

We all dabble in the hidden knowledge. It’s what sets us apart from ordinary people. And we have our references, if we need to do something new. But instructions are no substitute for experience, which is why I had Mbata with me.

There is a warehouse on the outskirts of Austin. I can’t tell you anything more about it, but it’s there. Most of its business is legitimate, too. Every once in a while, though, one of the side rooms gets put to a more unusual use. Last night was one of those times.

The design on the floor was not complex, but the angles had to be precise. I had drawn it in... well, that doesn’t really matter. Mainly, it was a slow process: draw, measure, wipe, and draw again. It had to be done from the outside in, enclosing first Mbata and then myself. Mbata watched, and suggested two corrections - which I made, because it would be stupid to ask for his expertise and then ignore his advice.

Despite his apparent satisfaction with the overall design, he also added a handful of his own glyphs at his feet.

There were... well, the details of the ritual don’t really matter, even if I could tell you about them without drawing the Whisperers down on our heads. I’d made my preparations carefully, and even included a couple of Investitures that might come in handy if something went wrong. So, working carefully under Mbata’s supervision, I summoned Oracle. It was easily the most complex and dangerous ritual I’d ever performed.

The walls seemed to fall away, and the ceiling was gone as if it had never existed. I have no idea if we were transported - or translated - to some other reality, or whether some portion of Oracle’s home came to share a bit of space in our world, or whether the entire contact was entirely mental, and the impression of being elsewhere was something imposed directly on my senses. Mbata might know, but unless it becomes important I am not going to ask.

...You know, I can’t help wondering what it’s like for them. I mean, you’re an alien entity, you’re sitting in your living-room-equivalent, and all of a sudden some strange being comes out of nowhere, grabs your lapels, and starts asking you questions. How many of the answers we receive are gibberish, not because we’re speaking to things that don’t perceive time and space as we do, but because they’re too pissed off to form a coherent reply?

But I digress. Did I mention that by the time I managed to conduct this ritual, I hadn’t slept in something like thirty-eight hours? Work schedules and astronomy make for some ugly combinations. And so but anyway...

Oracle hung before me, floating on nothing, and somehow giving the impression that it was constantly drifting despite the fact that it never seemed to move. I gave it an image of my dream, and it responded. I don’t know how to describe that response, except to say that there was both something physical, and a hint of information. It doesn't speak, as humans do.

Then it withdrew, and I can’t help imagining that it returned to whatever book it was reading, movie it was watching, or meal it was eating. I can’t tell you exactly what it did to me - not because of the need for secrecy, but because I really don’t understand. Even the information it gave me is strangely inchoate - it’s like looking for a word I’ve forgotten: I know the concept is there, but I just can’t find it.

Mbata and I cleaned up the room, and we both went home. I slept for ten hours, and was violently ill the next day; Claire called in for me, and brought me chicken soup when she got off work.

She’s a good girl. I think I’ll keep her.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Something Has Gone Horribly Wrong

Okay, so... the Beautiful Woman* and I have apparently both been struck down by a particularly nasty tummy bug, with exactly the sort of colorful biological results you might expect from such a thing. This is not just any illness, either. No, clearly this one has crawled up from the deepest pits of darkest Hell to afflict us. Think "Captain Tripps," only less merciful.

It is so bad that I was actually afraid to let my wife drive the two blocks to pick up Firstborn from his summer camp. Instead, I left work and picked him up myself... which, in retrospect, may have been equally ill-advised. Having returned Firstborn and myself to our home, I put the boy in front of the television and sat down to finish my workday as a telecommuter.

This has not been accomplished without cost. To drag me back from the brink - far enough that I can, for example, compose this post - has taken two Motrin, two Extra-Strength Tylenol, Immodium, Sudafed, Mucinex, and half a gallon of water (to wash it all down). Despite this pharmacological cornucopia, I am only barely functional; and as soon as the work day is over, I will collapse on the couch and let Firstborn jump on my head**. Dinner is a prospect almost too daunting to consider.

This being the current state of affairs, it seems possible that the usual Wednesday morning entry by the Deranged Cultist may be delayed.

Also, in anticipation of those who might be wondering: yes, as a matter of fact, I do talk like this in real life. This complicates my personal life considerably.

* That's my wife.
** As he is wont to do.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Placing Criticism Off-Limits

There is a natural human urge to defend the things you care about. I'm not just talking about people: people will defend relationships, organizations, religious beliefs, hobbies... pretty much anything that's important to them. Nor am I talking about defending these things from physical danger; as a matter of fact, I'm talking about defending them from criticism - even constructive criticism, even deserved criticism, even criticism that is desperately needed.

True story: at various points in my brilliantly misspent youth, I was involved with the S.C.A. The first time, I was a member for about a year and a half; after that, I tended to find a group, meet some people that I liked, and hang out with the people while staying away from the organization. At one point, someone asked me why that was. I said, basically, that while I liked S.C.A. people, I had some issues with the organization itself. She said, "Really? Like what?" So I started to explain a couple of the things that bothered me. I wasn’t three sentences in before she said, "Oh, but it isn’t like that at all." ...I think I just stopped and looked at her. I don’t know if I even answered. Maybe I just gave her an Eloquent Look. Because whatever she thought, it was that way for me. If she didn’t want to hear about it, she shouldn’t have asked.

It's a perfectly understandable urge, but it's also horribly misguided. It's one thing to listen to criticism, weigh it, and then decide that it's incorrect, or misguided, or otherwise unreasonable. It's quite another to reject criticism out of hand, without even taking the time to consider it.

The really frustrating ones, though, are the people who don't want others to criticise the object of their affection at all - and they're especially irritating when they refuse to admit that that's what they're doing. The message is usually disguised as some sort of concern for the critic ("that much anger really isn't healthy", "isn't it time you moved on", "we miss the old you", "you shouldn't be so negative", and like that). If you don't want to hear it, say so... but be honest about it.

Oh, and one more thing: anger is perfectly natural. Sure, it can be destructive - but it can also be healthy. And if somebody, or some group or organization, did something to hurt you, you have the right to be angry, and the right to talk about being angry, and the right to talk about why you're angry. Saying that something hurt you is not whining; exploring the nature and extent of the damage is part of the process of healing.

So when someone tells you that you’re being too negative, or you need to move on, or whatever... consider the source before you take it to heart.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Dennis Markuze: Repeating the Request

Hello again, Dennis.

Please stop pasting your text in the comments on my blog. If you want to post an actual response - that is, a unique comment relating to a specific post - you're welcome to do so. Otherwise, I will continue to delete your comments as soon as I see them.

...will not happen.

Seriously though, Dennis. You're being rude, and I'm asking you to stop.

Ten Commandments: The Sex Ed Edition

This is another list that someone else wrote up, which I am repeating here because I think it deserves to be repeated. (Thanks, Denelian.) The person who wrote it used to mentor teens, and would - once trust was established - share the list with them and ask them to pass it on.

She says that out of the seventeen girls and twelve boys she mentored, at age 18 none of them had become/gotten anyone pregnant, none had any STDs, and 21 of them went to college.

Comprehensive sexual education: it works.
(Abstinence only education: not so much.)

Anyway, here are the Ten Commandments:

1. always use a condom
2. always use another form of BC, like the pill, foam, shot, etc.
3. always use a condom.
4. always use a safe space - a REAL safe space, not "an empty alley no one will look here", not "the backseat of the car". A SAFE SPACE where you won't get caught and won't get hurt.
5. always use a condom.
6. make sure your "no" is listened to immediately, and your "yes" even more so. if s/he won't take "no, don't do X, i don't like" when you're just kissing, s/he won't take it anytime.
7. ALWAYS use a condom.
8. if you won't kiss it, don't put it in your body/put your body in it
9. always use a condom.
10. get tested A)at least twice a year B)before a new partner C) after you've been with new partner 3-4 weeks.
[11. don't get caught.]

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Aesthetics of Tattoos

There's something that bothers me about a lot of the tattoos I see. Not all of them, by any means, but a lot.

I should probably start by pointing out that I'm not opposed to tattoos per se. Also, the choice of tattoos is a very personal thing - I get that. But even granting all that, I still think a lot of people are overlooking some very basic aesthetic considerations when they decide to get tattoos.

Tattoos are a type of visual art, and visual art consists of two basic elements: the image, and the medium. A sequence of abstract shapes is not the same as a picture of a fox; that's the image. Similarly, a picture of a fox rendered in charcoal on drawing paper creates a very different effect from a picture of a fox done in acrylic paint on a concrete wall; the medium makes a difference.

And the human body is a very odd medium. It's three-dimensional, for one thing, and composed almost entirely of curves. Plus, it moves - it changes its position, causing its surfaces to stretch, retract, or even bunch up. That's a very interesting medium on which to impose an image. It offers a lot of possibilities for using the medium to play up the image (or enhance it: "When her muscles start relaxin' / Up the hill comes Andrew Jackson"); it offers a lot of possibilities for using an image to play up the shape of the body.

To be fair, there are plenty of tattoos that do take advantage of those possibilities. Those are the sorts of tattoos that I usually like.

And then there's the other sort of tattoo: the kind where someone has decided that their ankle would be radically improved by having an image of Sixgun Sam (or Tweety Bird or a fearsome black panther) wrapped around it. Never mind that the shape of the ankle makes it impossible to see the whole image at once, and gives it a three-dimensional element that's entirely at odds with the sense of depth implied by the two-dimensional image. Those are the sorts of tattoos I dislike. I understand that they're usually filled with symbolic importance for the person who got them, but they just look misplaced.

C'mon, folks. This is basic art theory: the medium and the message. Make 'em work together.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Joy of Analytics

Okay, so... I've been looking at the analytics for my site, and I have a question.

It is not, as you might expect, "How come so few people read my blog?" I'm a little surprised that anyone does read it.

No, this is a much more specific question... addressed to a single reader.

A reader in Mumbai, India.

A reader who was using a mobile device to browse the Web.

A reader who viewed the article on Rape Prevention Tips.

A reader who arrived from a Google search.

My question is this: when you put in a search for "preventive tips for sexual organs" (I am not making this up!) what the Hell were you trying to find?

Comments are open for anyone who cares to speculate...

The Law of Parking

Listen up, everyone. This is your new Emperor. To celebrate my successful world conquest, I am introducing a new law. You will find it just and humane - yes, that's an order. Henceforth, anyone who cannot reliably park their cartoonishly oversized truck or SUV will be required to trade it in for something smaller. This process will continue until your transportation consists of something that you can park inside the lines of a parking space, every time. I realize that some of you will be reduced to driving skateboards, but that is a sacrifice I am willing to make. If you fail to comply with this fair and generous new law, I will set my zombies on you.

That is all. Honor and Glory to the Mock Empire!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Dennis Markuze: A Request

Hello again, Dennis.

Please stop pasting your text in the comments on my blog. If you want to post an actual response - that is, a unique comment relating to a specific post - you're welcome to do so. Otherwise, I will continue to delete your comments as soon as I see them.

...will not happen.

Seriously though, Dennis. You're being rude, and I'm asking you to stop.

Atlas Shrugged: A Question About Race

Pardon the mess, folks. I'm reposting this because of a weird, finicky issue with the layout of the blog. Hopefully this will fix it, and I can quit deleting and re-adding things. ~MM

Yes, I'm finally reading Atlas Shrugged. Somehow I managed to overlook it during my brilliantly misspent youth. But, with all the talk about "Going Galt" in the wake of the last election, I decided to pick it up and see what it actually had to say. And I'll talk about that, just as soon as I finish wading through the last hundred pages or so.

Meanwhile, I have a question. It is, basically, this: where are all the black people? The hispanics? Maybe a Korean immigrant or two? Why is the America of Atlas Shrugged almost exclusively white?

I say "almost" because we do have Francisco d'Anconia, who comes from Argentina - but he's a foreigner, not a non-white American.

Atlas Shrugged is very much focused on the U.S.A. It holds up America as the only moral nation in history*. Plus, it is - at least ostensibly - laying out the argument for a new socio-political morality. Add to that the fact that the author seems willing - even determined! - to have her characters lecture, at length, on every conceivable detail of her new philosophy, and the fact that racial issues are a Big Deal in American politics and society, and I'd expect to see them addressed - at least in passing.

But failing that, I'd at least expect to see some minority characters. I mean, this is supposed to be taking place in near-future America, right? But as far as I can tell, all the workers on Taggart Transcontinental are white; all the Washington Men and their looters and thugs are white; even the faceless hordes are white. So what's going on? Am I missing something? (I'll admit, I skimmed a bit here and there, but that was usually when the characters were pontificating.) Is this a sign of some odd, unconscious racism? Is it just a product of the times - when the book was written, was the general view that everyone important was white? Was Ayn Rand painting the world to reflect her own circle of acquaintances (or, to put that another way, did she just forget that there were other races out there)? Seriously, what's going on here?

'Cause for a story that's supposed to be set in the real world - or some reasonable facsimile thereof - that seems like a pretty major omission to me.

* Because of the U.S. reliance on Capitalism and because the U.S. was not a product of historical circumstances, but rather an invention of the Mind. (Never mind that history in the real world doesn't even remotely support either assertion.)

Reflections on Impatience

It’s been a busy week. Work has been completely crazy; Claire and I have been working different shifts, so we’ve barely gotten to see each other. On top of that, I’ve spent all my free time trying to learn more about the nature and origins of that dream. I even went to the Elders about it, since I needed to update the report I put in the archives anyway.

Billy has been a huge help. I mention this because, hey, credit where it's due. He went back and looked through the archives also, thinking that maybe a fresh pair of eyes would see something that I’d missed. (I don’t know where he got the eyes, and I’m not asking.) He didn’t find anything, unfortunately.

Meanwhile, I’ve managed a couple of evocations, but neither of them told me anything useful. I hadn’t really expected them to, but the cost was minor and it was worth a try. The next step is to consult... let’s call it Oracle.

That’s riskier - not so much because of Oracle itself, but because in order to contact it, I need to have some things and do some things... Well, if Claire caught me, I wouldn’t be able to explain them away. Also, this is a lot more serious than the sorts of rituals I usually do. So I’m being very careful, and as a result it’s taking a lot longer than I’d like. With a little luck, I’ll be ready by the end of the week - and then it’ll just be a matter of finding the right time.

The Elders are also arranging to let me speak to the Thing In The Well. That’s worrisome in a completely different way. The Thing In The Well is old, old enough to remember things that might not be in the archives, and the Elders give it what it needs in exchange for access to its knowledge. So, it’s not likely to do anything horrible to me... at least not directly. No, the danger here is that the Thing In The Well has no discretion. It might tell me nothing; it might tell me something helpful; it might tell me something that the Elders don’t want me to know; it might tell me something that could destroy me and everything in a three block radius. All of those things, and a few more besides, have happened to people who’ve consulted it.

Which leads me to another worry: the Elders are actually willing to let me talk to the Thing In The Well. That doesn’t happen very often, especially for someone like me - I’m just not that important. So either something about that dream has them worried, or else they’re a lot more interested in Claire than they’re admitting, or both.

There is some news there, by the way. Or rather, no news, which is good news. She hasn’t contacted the church, or anyone associated with it. (So say the Watchers, and no one with any sense doubts their word.) It’s still possible that she’s some sort of deep-cover agent, but I just don’t believe it. If a dream that stains your arm doesn’t make you break cover, there’s no cover to be broken.

The other bright spot in this is that neither of us has dreamed of that place again. I’d be a lot more comforted if I thought we’d seen the last of it, but I’ll take my good news where I can find it. Hopefully by next week I’ll have something more definite to report.

And hopefully, by then, I'll have caught back up on my sleep.

The Deranged Cultist is a regular contributor to this blog. His reflections are collected here, for anyone who needs to catch up on the whole thing. His views and opinions do not represent those of Mock Ramblings, its parent, or any affiliated companies.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Rape Prevention Tips

I found this over at Uzza's blog. While I have some issues with a couple of the items on this list, I'm reposting it here because... well, two things, really. The kind of crap that generally gets sent around as "rape prevention tips" always ends up making sound like it's your own fault if you get raped, and almost never offers anything that might be a useful suggestion in any but the most unlikely circumstances. In fact, a fair chunk of it seems likely to put you in more danger, rather than less. At the very least, here is (finally!) a list of rape prevention tips which put the responsibility where it belongs.

Ways to Prevent Rape

1. Do not rape anyone.

2. Do not think you have the right to rape anyone.

3. Know what rape is. Know the meaning of 'consensual'.

4. Understand that anything sexual, with someone who does not want it, is Rape.

5. Don't believe that spending money on a date entitles you to sex in return.

6. If you're on a date, keep in mind that if your date wants to go so far, but then stop, and you don't stop, you are committing rape.

7. If you see a woman who is drunk, or asleep, or otherwise unable to resist, treat her the way you would like to be treated, by not molesting or raping her.

8. Don't think that having had sex in the past means you can have it now.

9. Recognize that consenting to be your girlfriend or wife is not consent to have sex.

10. Remember that no matter how horny you are, it doesn't mean anyone else is.

11. When someone says no to you, stop.

12. Remember that when someone pushes you away, or otherwise verbally or physically indicates that they do not want to have sex with you, you are committing rape if you continue.

13. Accept that when a woman wants to stop having sex, even if it's in the middle of the sex act, she has that right, and you must respect it.

14. Remember that rape is a crime, and even if you get away with it, you have violated another person's rights, and are guilty.

15. Understand that rape is about power, not about sex.

16. Accept responsibility for your own gender. Stop expecting and advising women to prevent rapes.

17. Place the burden of stopping rape on men, who are the ones that do it, not on its victims.

18. Don't expect women to stop rape, all on their own efforts, without help from you.

19. Learn about rape, don't just accept common myths. Talk to nurses, social workers, and others with experience. Or just listen to the women in your life, since some of them without doubt are rape survivors.

20. Learn about the aftermath of rape. Learn what rape victims experience in the courts, at the hands of police, doctors, even their families and friends.

21. Learn how rapists destroy lives, in ways that are as inhumane as murder.

22. Spend some time imagining what it is like for your woman friends, how it would change your life, to be aware every second of every day that they are at risk of a man violently attacking them.

23. Understand what people mean when they talk about 'rape culture', 'patriarchy', 'male privilege'. Don't dismiss people's legitimate concerns.

24. Volunteer to help your local Rape Crisis Center, even if it's only by donating money. Help publicize their efforts and the good they do. Work toward a day when they are not necessary.

25. Keep in mind that for your woman friends, rape is not just a hypothetical, and the subject is just as painful for many of them as the war is to veterans with PTSD.

26. Reject the idea that one gender is superior to the other. Value and respect both of them equally.

27. Face the fact that sometimes women will not like you, will think you are stupid, will make fun of you, will not treat you well, will fire you from a job, will laugh at you, will refuse your advances. Just like men will.

28. Grow up. Learn to accept rejection, disappointment and frustration. Don't take them out on others.

29. Don't laugh at rape jokes. When you hear one, object to it.

30. React to comments like 'She's asking for it” the same way you react to 'It'd be fun to strangle that baby.”

31. No matter how much of a slut you think a woman may be, defend her right to choose when and where she has sex, and who she has sex with. Insist your friends do the same.

32. When you talk with your buddies, be sure to warn them to NOT RAPE ANYONE if they are out at night, or with a new girl, or in any situation where it is possible for them to commit rape.

33. If you know someone who is a rapist, do something about it. Do not ignore, tolerate, pretend you don't know or don't care, or make excuses for him. DO SOMETHING about it such as, reporting him to the police, and everyone else.

34. If you know someone has or uses Date Rape Drugs, do something about it. Turn them in, warn any women who may be endangered, or do whatever you can to stop that person.

35. Be aware of your surroundings. When you see a man who may be a threat to a woman, watch him, and intervene if necessary.

36. If you have raped anyone, go to therapy until you figure out what is wrong with you, and fix it.

37. If you are a rapist, know that a few million human beings on this planet right now have no respect for you and may even wish you were dead.

38. When you get email chain letters telling women what to do to prevent men raping them, substitute this list instead.

39. Send this to every man you know.

Friday, July 9, 2010

When Romantic Metaphors Turn Creepy, Part II

Part I can be found here, if you're interested.

Sergeant John Davis ducked under the yellow tape and entered the dorm room. As an officer of the city's police department, he didn't usually work on campus; the campus police handled day to day issues here. A case like this, though - with a young man dead in his dorm room - was something else altogether. Campus police didn't have the resources for a thorough investigation, so they called him in.

Billings met him just inside the door. "Looks like another one," he said. "There's not a mark on him, no sign of pills or ingested poison, no indication that he strangled. It looks like he just collapsed. He was still sitting in front of his computer."

Davis nodded. It happened - maybe twice a semester, here at the college, and about that often for the entire rest of the city. They always investigated, because it would be far too easy to disguise a homicide as this sort of death, and he always hated it. It shouldn't have to happen this way.

Billings waited while Davis pulled on a pair of latex gloves, then led him to the computer. He touched the keyboard and the screensaver vanished, revealing the e-mail that the boy had been reading when he died.

Davis glanced at the first lines. Dear Martin, I'm so very sorry to be writing to you this way... He scrolled down to the end. ...Hope that someday you will see that this was for the best. Best Wishes, Christine. He scrolled back up, and read through the whole thing.

"She didn't even call him," Billings said from behind him. Davis could see Billings' reflection in the screen, shaking his head sadly.

Sergeant Davis straightened. "Do we know who Christine is?"

"She's the victim's girlfriend - or she was. Christine Sumner, eighteen years old, student at Rhoades College in Tennessee."

"All right." Davis peeled his gloves off. "Call Memphis, have them pick her up." The e-mail gave him more than enough Probable Cause.

"Glad to," said Billings, and hurried away.

"Jesus," said Davis. "An e-mail like that... It'll be manslaughter, at least." He'd have to wait for the Coroner's report to be sure, but he already knew what had happened. He'd seen it happen far too often: two kids dating in high school, then graduating and heading for separate colleges. Sooner of later, one of them met somebody new. The smart ones did their breaking up in person, or over the phone. Christine had been in too much of a hurry, or she hadn't wanted to deal with Martin. Something like that. So she'd sent him an e-mail.

And broken his heart.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A Study in Fairness

When I was younger, my mom took my brother and myself to see a movie. I was around ten or twelve, I think; my brother is two years younger than I am. I don't remember what the movie was, or why Mom had taken us by herself. No, what sticks in my memory is a conversation we had in the lobby. I'm paraphrasing, of course, but it went a bit like this:

Me: "Can we get popcorn?"
Brother: "Mmm. Popcorn."
Mom: "No, we don't have money for that."
Me: "Okay." (Heads for snack counter)
Mom: "Where are you...?"
Me: "I've got some money."
Brother: "Wait, that's not fair.
I don't have any money."
Mom: "Okay, fine, here's some money."
Me: "Wait, that's not fair. You'll pay for his popcorn but not mine?"
Mom: (Sighs) "Okay, here's some money for you, too."
Us: "Thanks!" (Head for snack counter)
Mom: "Wait, how did I just end up paying for popcorn?"

The scary part is, it was completely innocent. We really didn't set out to grift our mom. Sure worked out that way, though.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Reflections on Other People's Dreams

There are two big developments since last week - or rather, one development, and a complete lack of progress on something important. Let's start with the nothing, first (if that makes any sense).

I went back to Claire’s church again last Sunday. It was Independence Day, so I expected a certain amount of patriotism; but it was a Catholic church, so what I heard was a comparison of those who had given their lives to found our country, and those who had given their lives for their faith. I’m sure it was meant to be inspiring, but in either case it seemed like a waste. Why risk yourself for something so temporal and ephemeral?

And yet, people do. Even when it means going up against us.

Which brings me back to Claire. I still don’t know if she’s a spy. If she’s suspicious of me, or interested in anything beyond the usual romantic connection, I can’t see it. And maybe she does just know Peter socially, and everything is exactly what it seems to be. Or maybe she's conspiring with the old priest, and I'm in real trouble. I don't know, and I don't know how much longer I can stand not knowing.

So that's the important lack of progress. The other development is even stranger:

This morning, when we were in the bathroom, I noticed a mark on Claire's hand. It looked like... well, it looked like someone had spilled India Ink down her arm. She was startled when she noticed it; but she stopped, and closed her eyes, and took a deep breath. “Maybe I spilled something on myself at work,” she said.

I said, "Any idea what?"

She said, “No. But it does kind of explain a nightmare I was having, where this smoky thing was grabbing at my arm.”

Ordinarily, I'd have been concerned. I'd redouble my research; I didn't find anything the first time, but there are some... alternate... avenues of inquiry that I haven't tried yet. They're dangerous, and they require special preparations, but I know how to use them.

To be fair, I was concerned - I still am. And I have gone back to my research, though some of the, er, stranger inquiries are going to take time. But my first reaction was a wave of relief, because now I had a chance to find out how much she knew. If she goes to the Church about this, the Watchers will find out. And if she doesn't, then either she has no idea what she might be dealing with, or else she trusts me a whole lot more than she should.

I probably shouldn't admit this, even here in relative anonymity, but there are days when I hate worshiping the Elders.

There are days when I hate myself.

Vital Disclaimer So The Whisperers Don't Eat Me: Reflections of a Deranged Cultist is a work of fiction. The collected entries can be found here.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Independence Day

In honor of this holiday, I'd like to draw your attention to the Treaty of Tripoli, and in particular Article 11 thereof. It was written in 1796, and introduced to the Senate in 1797 - where it was approved unanimously. Here is Article 11:

As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

Here's celebrating political freedom, religious freedom, and the Great Experiment. Happy Fourth of July! (And hey, if you happen to be a citizen of a country which doesn't celebrate it - which would, after all, be most of the world - then I hope you have a great day anyway!)

Friday, July 2, 2010

Mutant Powers Should Be More Random

I'm just going to assume that everyone knows what I'm talking about when I say "mutant powers". Let's face it - if you aren't already familiar with the term, this post won't interest you anyway.

These powers are supposed to be the product of random mutations. Most mutants are only gifted with a single power, though sometimes you'll see someone with a spectrum of powers (different sort of psionics, for example), or just a collection of unrelated mutations (Nightcrawler, for example, can both teleport and cling to walls). Strangely, though, the powers are nearly always useful - or at least, they were back when I was reading the comics.

So you have, for example, Kitty Pryde, who can phase through solid objects; Professor Xavier, who can read and control minds; Wolverine, whose healing ability accounts for his enhanced senses; Marrow, whose bones constantly grow and extend (and regenerate), allowing her to use them as tools and weapons; Caliban, who can detect other mutants; and Rogue, whose original power (to steal other people's energy and powers) left her unable to safely touch anyone.

Admittedly, some of those powers are pretty unpleasant; the idea that a mutant ability could be a curse instead of a blessing is not new to the world of comics. What you don't see, and what I would expect if capital-M Mutations were truly random, is a fascinating array of essentially useless powers.

The power to shot beams of force from your eyes is fairly impressive (even if you have to wear a dorky-looking visor to keep from blasting your friends). But what about the guy who can summon jelly from thin air? There are benefits to breathing underwater, but what about the girl who can breathe in tea? Or the librarian who's an uncontrolled projective empath: she makes everybody within thirty feet feel really happy, all the time. What would you do if you had the power to cause or cure acne? I mean, there's probably a market for that, but still... Or the power to remove impurities from the air? And what do you do with the kid whose power kills everyone who comes within sixty feet of him?

Physical mutations would be even stranger: picture the slightly pudgy fourty-something investment banker who happens to have scales instead of hair. Or the kid whose skin excretes 4-5 gallons of laboratory-pure water each day. Or the woman whose arms and legs are tentacles. Or the guy whose skin is green, because his body has the ability to use photosynthesis.

Some mutations would be actively harmful: the ability to breathe methane might be cool, but not if it means you can't breathe air. The Blob's ability to fix himself in place is great, but only because he can turn it off. Let's face it: in a world like the Marvel Universe, where sudden and radical mutations are causing huge changes in the human species, we should also be seeing an alarming increase in stillbirths. There should be horror stories in every newspaper about children who hit puberty, manifested a mutant "power", and died on the spot: summoned fire and died from smoke inhalation; found they could fly at supersonic speeds, and died when they tried to land; tried to change shape and couldn't maintain basic biological processes; or, with the methane-breather above, died on the way to the hospital because nobody could figure out how to save her in time. Some would probably explode, for one reason or another, possibly taking out other people or even whole continents.

A world with mutant powers should have a whole lot more random weirdeness than I've ever seen in comics.

UPDATED: My brother reminded me about this video...
(caution: includes violence)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Choose A Side

Okay, so you've just arrived at college, and you're noticing that the fraternities around here seem a little... odd. They're all co-ed, for one thing, and never mind that a co-ed "fraternity" is a bit of a contradiction in terms. Members of one group don't show up in mirrors, members of another won't touch the silverware in the cafeteria, members of a third keep buying out all the eye of newt at the local grocery story... and then there's the group whose members occasionally walk through walls when they're late to class. Maybe there are a couple of other options, too, but those are the ones you've noticed.

Rush is almost over, and Shake Day (or Bid Day) is fast approaching. Who do you pledge?

Reality TV

I have a new idea for a reality TV show. Yes, really. It'll be a big hit, and I'll make a million dollars. I promise.

Here's the setup: we'll follow a group of young women who are considering a major new career path. The show will give them a chance to live and work in their chosen field (ostensibly so they can learn more about it), but mainly it'll be an excuse to see just how much sh*t they'll put up with. We can get the usual run of characters - you know, the sweet one, the bitchy one, the slob, the obsessive organizer - and maybe add a panel of judges to provide sarcastic commentary.

So what's the twist? Well, these girls are on their way to become nuns.

We'll call it The Wimple Life.