Friday, October 29, 2010

I can haz Zomby Pokalypse nao, plz?

Where is my zombie apocalypse? Really, I don't think it's asking too much to be able to go have a nice, exciting adventure in which everyone dies except the people I really like.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

When Romantic Metaphors Turn Creepy, Part III

Just in time for Halloween... If you want to read the earlier entries, they're here: Part I, Part II.

Sarah parked the car and hurried towards the church. The hairdresser had taken longer than she expected, and Sarah was running a little late. The ceremony wouldn't start for another twenty minutes, but there were still things to do. Putting on my dress, mainly, she reflected. She wondered again if she and Tom should have eloped, but... no. She really did want a traditional wedding, even knowing everything that it would require.

Lisa met her at the door and hurried her into the dressing room. Sarah caught a glimpse of Tia, her college roommate and Maid of Honor, in the sanctuary. Tia was keeping her mom distracted with floral arrangements, which was good. It would give her time to dress.

The preparations went by in a blur. Sarah's mother gusted through, kissed her, and then was gone again; Lisa guided her gently back outside before she could start them both crying and ruin their makeup. Tia came in, hugged Sarah, then went to check her hair.

When Sarah looked up again, the music was playing and her father was standing in the doorway. "Are you ready?" he asked gently.

Sarah looked away, knowing that if she saw tears in his eyes she'd start crying herself. She wasn't sure if she was ready - who ever was? - but she nodded. How could the most important day of her life be going by so quickly?

Tia helped her stand, and made sure her dress was arranged correctly. It was beautiful, long and white, satin with lace accents; it made Sarah look like a princess. She took a breath, and nodded to her father. Tia was already going out the door, to be escorted down the aisle by the Best Man. She took her father's arm, and waited.

A moment later (it seemed) they were walking. Everyone was standing, all her friends and family, and they were all looking at her. She barely saw anyone: her eyes were on Tom, who waited - tall and dark and handsome - in front of the altar. He stood stiffly, but his smile was wide and genuine. Tia and Lisa were off to one side, Charles and Will to the other. The priest was standing just behind Tom, next to the altar.

Sarah kept her steps steady, matching her father's pace despite a sudden urge to rush. It seemed to take forever to reach the altar, but finally they were there. Her father led her up to her place, beside Tom and in front of the altar. Then he stepped past her, in front of the altar itself. The priest nodded and discreetly passed him the microphone. Out in the aisles, their friends and family were seating themselves.

"Ladies and Gentlemen..." Her father's voice broke, and he took a moment to recover himself. "We're very glad to have you here. Six months ago, this young man came to my house to ask for my daughter's hand. With the agreement of Sarah and her mother, I gave him my consent. Now the day is here, and it is my great pleasure to give my daughter's hand to Tom Grayson."

He reached out and pulled the cleaver up from the top of the altar. Sarah came forward, filled with an inseparable mixture of anticipation and dread. The priest stepped up and helped her pull back the sleeve as she carefully extended her arm. She placed her wrist on the ceremonial cutting board, and thought to herself: Finally.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Reflections on other things that happened this week

I am so not ready to go to work. Unfortunately, after the trip to Montana, I don't dare call in sick. So I'm... trying to get myself together enough to get ready. And since I can't seem to focus on anything else...

Last Thursday I called Billy, and told him to be careful because we might have trouble with the snake cult. He already knew. Mbata had told him. Nobody had bothered to tell me about it, which was a little disturbing. Either the Elders expected me to figure it out for myself, or they were afraid I'd tip off the snake cult. Or else there's something else going on that I really don't understand. That's always a possibility.

In other news... Claire adopted a cat. Yes, despite the problems and expenses that it's going to give us with the apartment complex. It was basically a fit of whimsy: she decided that we needed one, so she went out and got one. By the time I knew about it, she'd already named him Hector. It's a good thing I love her, because that... well, it wasn't so much irritating as startling, but I hope she's not planning to make habit of this sort of thing.

Hector... well, he's a mid-sized cat with a tuxedo pattern, and he thinks I'm the devil. Claire, he practically worships. He's always nuzzling up to her, probably because she got him out of the shelter. Me... well, around me he acts like a jealous boyfriend who thinks I'm putting the moves on Claire. He hisses, or at least scowls, when I come into the apartment. If we're sitting together on the couch, he tries to sneak up behind me. I don't know what he plans to do... yet... but I don't like it.

I have a feeling we'll be talking more about that cat, but right now... well, I have to get into the shower now, if I want to be at work on time.

Stupid job. Stupid cat. Stupid fighting with the stupid snake cult. Stupid dream...

Reflections of a Deranged Cultist is a work of fiction. No cats were sacrificed in the making of the post. Not even if they really, really deserved it.

Reflections on the Palace

The walls were curved. Even the flattest surface had a bit of curve, and even the sharpest angles were rounded. I don't think there was a single straight line anywhere in the palace. I drifted along, staying away from the walls. It wasn't just that I was afraid of the curves; I was, though I can't say why. There were also things on the walls: the life of this place, oozing obscenely back and forth. I did not want to come into contact with them, even as a mist.

I knew that I was moving deeper into the palace, but again I can't say why. Was I being guided by something? Was I driven by curiosity, or just a desire to keep moving? Was I looking for something in particular? Those questions belonged to the waking world. Here in the dream, I approached the center of the palace because that's what I was there to do.

The throne room was a massive sphere, its surface puckered by the passages that converged there. The far side was hidden by the thing that hung, or sat, or... I don't know, filled the center. Massive tendrils extended from that monstrous, obscene ruler to the walls around it; I wasn't certain whether they held the thing in place, or whether they held the palace in place around its ruler. They did not remain still, but moved constantly, writhing from place to place.

By the time I realized that one of the tendrils was moving towards me, it was too late. It split and expanded, dividing in two, flattening as they curved around me. For a moment, I was completely enclosed, and I found myself looking at... it might have been yellow mask... which seemed to be pushing out from the wall in front of me. For a moment I saw - really saw - the shape of it.

In that moment I was aware of the walls around me: paint and plaster over wood, bed and carpet and padding and concrete. I was laying on my face on the bed, with a pillow tucked between my extended arm and my right cheek. Claire was beside me... but not completely. I could feel her, too, the gross movements of breathing and the flow of blood through veins and arteries; the constant, microscopic movements of a living organism, almost a vibration unto itself.

But I could also see the mask, feel the curved walls that were no kind of life that I recognized, but still some obscene sort of flesh. I remember wondering what sort of being would compose a body out of that, and I remember the mask moving closer, extended by some obscene limb or organ. The walls were moving closer, concentrating the mists of my body and driving me towards the mask. And while I was utterly aware of Claire lying beside me, I was equally aware that she was not here.

I woke up screaming.

Claire startled awake beside me, and the cat left the bed as if he had been fired from a cannon. I caught myself, trying to slow my heartbeat - it was going so fast that I was afraid of having a heart attack. Claire grabbed me, and after a time my breathing slowed and my heart returned to something like its normal pace. "Nightmare," I told her.

She looked at me strangely. "Must have been a bad one."

I nodded, though she didn't know the half of it. The worst details were already leaving my mind - I couldn't remember the shape of the mask, for example, or even the nature of the things that had squirmed along the palace walls - but I'd come awake in time to see my left hand expand in mist... and then coalesce back into a hand.

There are other things that happened in the last week, but nothing to compare with this. As soon as Claire was asleep again, I went and wrote this down. I wish I remembered more of the details... but then again, I'm also glad I don't.

It's four in the morning. I'm going to see if I can go back to sleep. The idea has no appeal at all, but now that the adrenaline is leaking away, I can tell how tired I am. Tomorrow is going to suck.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Dreams and Perspectives

Perspective is a funny thing.

Before I elaborate on that, let me just note that last night's dreams were weird - even by my standards[1]. I mean... Look, I know that megachurches can get kind of... extravagant... but what sort of megachurch combines their sanctuary with a swimming pool, so they can flood the first few rows of seats? Admittedly, the kids sure enjoyed swimming around, but it seemed a little distracting in the midst of a service. There was a birthday party at a girl's house, which for some reason involved traveling up and down a river - maybe playing in the river, too. Later on, I dreamed that I was watching a movie where a guy was getting checked into a psych ward, and - perhaps appropriately - a moment later the dream shifted and I was the guy getting checked into the psych ward. Not a nice clean psych ward, either - the kind of grungy, claustrophobic, old-fashioned psych ward that tends to show up in horror movies. That wasn't the scary part, though.

No, this was the scary part: somewhere in there, my girlfriend turned up pregnant.

Now, in the waking world, this is a girl I knew in the first half of college. I haven't seen or heard from her in nearly two decades. I'd say more about her, but between the passage of time and the limitations of my younger self's judgement, there isn't much that would really be relevant.

In the dream, she was apparently still my girlfriend, and real-world current-time elements (like my wife and children) simply didn't exist. And in the dream, I learned she was pregnant.

Back when we were still dating, my younger self wouldn't have considered that the end of the world. A difficult and unwelcome situation, certainly, but nothing we couldn't work through. Part of me even found the idea of having a child appealing - not by this particular girl, perhaps, but in the abstract I rather liked the idea.

Apparently my perspective has changed over the years, because dreaming that I was actually in that situation was enough to wake me in a cold sweat with my heart pounding. Frankly, I prefer the funhouse nightmares, where monsters are chasing me. This one was just a little too scary for me.

[1] This was probably the result of a combination of Nyquil and sleeping on the floor in my son's room.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Real Work Conversations: Zombies

Okay, so... one of my co-workers is a huge fan of horror movies in general, and zombies in particular. I mentioned that I changed the background on my desktop to a zombie theme for Halloween, and she responded by showing me her background, which was Michael Myers (of the Halloween film franchise).

"Michael Myers," I said. "Nice. And still kind of a zombie, even. Admittedly, a little more intelligently malevolent than the usual sort..."

Co-worker 2, from the next cubicle, says: "But how can a zombie be intelligent?"

There's a momentary silence.

"Well," I tell him, "I'm about to launch into a forty-five minute discussion of the metaphysical underpinnings involved in rising from the grave, and I don't think any of us need that." There are murmurs of general agreement. I continue, "The short version is: it depends on why they came back."

I love my workplace.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Right Through Every Human Heart

"It was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. Even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained; and even in the best of all hearts, there remains a small corner of evil. . . . If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

-Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archapelago

Steve posted this in the comments over at Slacktivist. I've never read the book (though I may have to, now), but I'm reposting it here because it fits so neatly with my thoughts on why a certain strain of Christianity seems so sure that Halloween is Satanic.

There are people who truly believe that the evil in the world comes from "evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds", and who therefore spend their lives trying to "separate them from the rest of us and destroy them." To be honest, I think that desire - profoundly misguided and destructive though it is - is at the heart of the Tea Party's politics. They really do want to make the world better, but this pernicious misconception, this idea that evil is something that Other People do, makes their attempts to do good not only ineffective, but actually counterproductive.

I'm sure there's more to the dynamic than that - there always is - but this strikes me as a big part of it.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Reflections on New Arrangements, Part I

We had dinner with more of my family last Saturday - Grandpa D, in fact, though I introduced him as my uncle. It's far too difficult to explain how he could possibly be my grandfather when he looks, at most, twenty years older than I do. That went well, at least as well as the dinner with my father and his wife last weekend. Grandpa D told a couple of embarrassing stories about my childhood, carefully tailored to omit any unusual elements, and charmed Claire out of some of her own childhood tales. I tried to pick up the tab, but Grandpa insisted that it was his pleasure, and I finally gave up.

We've found an apartment we like, but we can't move into it yet. Neither of our leases is ready to expire. Mine is set to run out before Claire's, so I'll probably put most of my stuff in storage and move in with her for about six weeks; then we'll move all our stuff into the new apartment in my current complex. Fortunately, neither of us has any pets; as far as I can tell from the manager, that adds several pages of extra paperwork and quite a bit of extra fees. (The actual phrase was "non-refundable deposit", but let's face it: if it isn't refundable, it's not a deposit. It's a fee.)

The Elders contacted me shortly after my last post. (You know, if they ever found out that I was putting this stuff online, even a fictionalized version under someone else's name, they'd be very unhappy... and they'd express their unhappiness in a variety of unpleasant and - eventually - fatal ways. So if I suddenly quit posting, that's probably what happened.) They didn't have any new information, as I'd hoped. Instead, they wanted me to kill someone... and they wanted me to do it using a specific ritual.

I was afraid this would happen. The things I've been forced to learn how to do in order to deal with the dreams... have become things that the Elders expect me to do regularly, at their bidding. And, really, if they keep in mind that I'm trying to hold down a mundane job and only call me in for emergencies, that's workable. Troublesome and dangerous, but workable. But if this becomes a regular thing, well... I can't do this and be a pharmacist at the same time. There are only so many hours in the day.

There are rituals, and then there are rituals. Most of the ones I've done so far - not counting the illness I set on Toby - have been aimed at gathering information. This one was purely an attack: a targeted summoning with no other purpose than to kill. Except, as I thought about it, that wasn't entirely true. There were other, more subtle ways to kill. They'd told me to use this one for reasons that weren't related to its effectiveness - at least not entirely.

So on Monday I completed the ritual, and watched a ball of smoky blackness flicker off into the night. Another presence went with it, even more ephemeral, and that presence passed its vision back to me. It had taken me three days to find that presence, and another day to invoke it... and its addition was a calculated risk.

If the Elders asked, I could claim - honestly - that I had added the second ritual to make sure that the first did its job. I really did want to know that. On the other hand, if the intended victim somehow failed to die, and if he noticed the spy I had sent along, he might be able to use its presence to trace the attack back to me. What made the risk worthwhile was not learning whether the attack was successful, but seeing exactly what it did and who its victim actually was.

I was not disappointed. The victim was male and about my age, and he was on his way home when the ball of shadow latched onto his face, sucking the air from his lungs and refusing to allow any more in. My spy hovered nearby, and I saw through its... sight. In particular, I saw when the victim focused, briefly, on the spy itself. A moment later, I saw him bare his fangs: long, narrow, backward-curving things, their extension made possible by a lower jaw that had suddenly unhinged itself. Fortunately - for me, if not for him - there was nothing substantial enough to bite, and certainly nothing with the sort of physiology which might be poisoned.

Suffocation is a slow, nasty death. He ran off the road before it ended, but he wasn't going fast enough to finish himself. He thrashed desperately against his seatbelt and an attacker he couldn't touch for a full two minutes after the crash. Finally, his movements slowed; angry desperation gave way to hopeless desperation. The flickering lights of emergency vehicles were visible when he finally succumbed. The tentacular shadow remained a full minute longer, obeying my will, ensuring that there would be no unexpected revivification for him. But it was my spy that let me see.

So now I know some things that the Elders probably don't want me to know. The victim they assigned to me was a member of... well, of the snake cult, the same one that owned the fellow who had been following us on Sixth Street. So this assignment probably served two purposes: a shot across their bow, to tell them to keep their distance, and a test of my loyalty, to see if I would kill one of them. Do they think I might have some loyalties to the snake cult?

I don't know. I don't know why they might think that. And I don't know how to find out.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Light Fairy

My brother was the one who first told me about the Light Fairy. Every home has one, he says, and most offices. The light Fairy turns on lights. That's pretty much the Light Fairy's purpose in life.

I don't know how it is in your home, but in mine... well, the lights go on, and they tend to stay on. So we'll be bundling everybody into the car, and I'll realize that not only are all the lights on in the living room and the kitchen, but also in both bathrooms, both of the boys' rooms, and the main hallway. Quite possibly a closet or two, as well.

Now, sure, I might think that the lights were on in the boys' room because we'd never managed to turn them off after getting the boys out of bed. I might think that the lights were on in the bathroom because nobody can finish their business there before Firstborn comes bursting in to see what they're doing. I might think that the hallway light was still on from when I was stumbling around early, early this morning when the cats were yowling for food. The kitchen has excellent natural light, so it's easy to forget that the electric lights are on. Really, there's a perfectly natural explanation for all of this.

Except I know... and now you know, too. It's the Light Fairy at work.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

What the Hell is going on?

I mean it. What. The. Hell?

Have I offended a stereotypical Hollywood Old Gypsy Woman and been cursed or something? Has God decided that, while I don't deserve a full-on smiting, a Plague of Urine will cause me to mend my wicked ways? Is there some astrological configuration causing this affliction (Mercury is Retrograde and Venus is in the House of Piss, or something)?

Seriously. Firstborn woke up - and woke me up - at four o'clock this morning. Since he obviously wasn't going back to sleep, I took him out to the living room and put on a video. Somewhere around six-thirty, he managed to urinate on the couch despite wearing pull-ups. One couch cushion and one regular pillow needed to be washed as a result. Also one small boy (who appears to be a conscientious objector when it comes to potty training).

This is on top of the cats, who - probably feeling unsettled and territorial because of the arrival of Secondborn - have been spraying all over the firk ding blast house, which now smells strongly of cat urine in some very unlikely areas.

Then Firstborn, who had been playing on the Sesame Street website so that I could take a much-need and discouragingly-belated shower about an hour ago, manages to poop in his underpants, and piss all over my computer chair. He doesn't bother to tell me about this until I get out of the shower and come to see how he's doing, presumably in order to make sure his urine has a good chance to soak in.

Now the drain basket on one side of the kitchen sink has broken, causing the sink to pee all over the cabinet underneath. I can fix it - pretty easily, in fact - but I sooooo did not need this.

Once I've finished changing the cat litter, I'll have to go outside to get in my car so I can pick up a replacement part for the sink. If it starts raining urine the moment I walk outside, I honestly won't be surprised. This is just exactly that sort of day.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Texas State Board of Education Repudiates Polynomials

The Texas State Board of Education (ironically among the least educated people in the state, which is saying something) is apparently preparing to remove polynomials from the curriculum. The Chairman of the Board, Brenda Cahill, had this to say:
"The Board has determined, after extensive study, that the study of polynomials is inappropriate curriculum for Texas schools. Do we really want, or need, to have our children learning about these sorts of things?" When asked what prompted the board's decision, Cahill replied: "I know you liberal media types are going to say we're prejudiced, but polynomials are a clear threat to traditional marriage. We do not want our children learning about them in school."
You heard it here first, folks.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Reflections on Communication

Various family and relationship matters this week. Let's see...

Gee-Gee Mags won't tell me anything about my great-grandfather, Jeremiah. I sent her an inquiry, and she refused to respond: "I will not speak on this," basically. So I sent her a second missive, asking what offense I had given, and what I could do as penance. She responded to that, but the response was not exactly helpful: "Wait." That may be a literal command, or it may be one of those irritatingly passive-aggressive responses which basically equate to "figure it out for yourself." I'm not sure, and it's going to take some work - not much, but I'm still annoyed by it - to figure out which is actually the case.

On a more cheerful note, we had dinner with my father and his wife last Friday. It went well - easy conversation, with a lot of references to popular culture. I've never been sure whether my father actually enjoys modern music and television, or whether he's constantly working on his camouflage, but either way it works for him. He has a real skill for putting people at their ease, and I could see him using it on Claire.

Sometimes that's just to set them up, though. About halfway through the conversation, my father gestured at me and asked: "What are you doing with someone like him?" Put on the spot, Claire replied that I was a surprisingly good, if underappreciated, guy. "What do you want?" she added. "He treats me well, and we have a lot in common. You wouldn't believe the number of times I've opened my mouth to joke about something, and found him already making the joke - and better."

That was particularly funny to me, since I was just opening my mouth to say the same thing about her.

My father's new wife is... well, I don't really like her. We get along well enough, but everything about her seems artificial: her politeness, her smile, her affections. The Watchers haven't taken her, so she's loyal where it matters, but I still don't trust her. On the other hand, she makes my father happy, so I'm willing to have her around. I had been worried that she and Claire might clash, but in the event they were superficial and polite at each other, and everybody went away happy.

Claire and I are thinking about getting an apartment together. It seems a little silly to keep paying rent for two place when we're always at either one or the other, and there are some decent-sized places in my complex (which happens to be closer to work than hers). So that'll be something to completely devour the rest of our time: packing and moving.

Blah. I'm tired just thinking about it. More news next week...

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Bullied Into Belief

Most of my regular readers are aware of the contributions of Dennis Markuze. If you're coming in late, Dennis - who also posts as DM, Dave (or David) Mabus, AtheistWars, and various other pseudonyms - is a Canadian fellow who lives in Granby, which is a suburb of Montreal. He creates long, incoherent diatribes which are punctuated with links to pictures or videos; then he pastes these creations in the comments of other people's blogs or message boards, or (I believe) sends them out as e-mail. He occasionally attempts a more personalized communication, generally in the form of death threats.

He stopped by a few days ago and left another threat: "michael mock you are a traitor against God and will be executed..." I responded by pointing out that if God is truly all-powerful, then He does not need Dennis' help to give warnings.

Dennis actually gave me a response to that:
don't worry, michael mock
we are going to have MERCY on you....
we just wanted to give you a little fright...
This is interesting to me, because it echoes something from one of my earlier exchanges with him. He said: "repent and turn to God and everything will be ok!"

Now, several people have pointed out that I'm probably overthinking this, and that Dennis probably does what he does because he's mentally ill. I'm not arguing the point, because (with the usual caveats*) I think it's likely true. What puzzles me, and has all along, is the shape of the pathology. What is Dennis trying to accomplish? Why does he use this particular method?

There's certainly an element of power fantasy to it. There's a grandiose quality to the way he delivers his threats and judgements and warnings; an assertion of knowledge and power that, in real life, he simply does not have. I suspect - though again, I can't be sure - that this is part of reason he's so unwilling to answer questions, or carry on a more normal conversation: delivering his pronouncements makes him feel powerful, and actually communicating would ruin that.

But insofar as this is an anti-atheist/pro-Christian effort - and I think, on some level, it is that, too - I think the goal is to scare people into finding God. The rants and the threats are basically Dennis' version of Scared Straight... or, to pick a more religious and Halloween-appropriate example, Hell Houses.

This is not a terribly winsome (or, I suspect, effective) approach to evangelism. I am not a Christian because, on a fundamental level, Christianity makes no sense to me. Trying to scare me does not change that. Christianity remains as incomprehensible when I'm afraid as it does when I'm happy, sad, angry, or concentrating on something else entirely. So by all means, explain to me that I'm going to Hell for not believing in God. It doesn't work. First of all, I don't believe you;** and second, you obviously don't understand why I don't believe.

I can dismiss the Hell Houses as more-or-less-harmless lunacy. Oh, I think they're placing far too much emphasis on the wrong portions of Christianity and missing the essential point of the Gospel. I can even see where they could do some actual harm - they are basically trying to change behavior through fear, after all, and that's an approach that's almost impossible to use without some level of bullying - but I'm also sure the vast majority of people who attend them are already sympathetic to the view they present. And, of course, if you don't want to be scared by them, you can simply not go.

Dennis Markuze, on the other hand, shows up uninvited, delivers explicit threats loaded with unequivocally violent imagery, and disregards requests that he either moderate his behavior or leave. In doing so, he crosses the line from preaching into bullying - or terrorism, though I think that word gets used far too loosely as it is. It's a strange, self-defeating sort of bullying - most of his "victories" seem to come when he annoys someone enough that they block him from posting, and I'd bet heavy money that the number of people who've read his diatribes and converted to Christianity is exactly zero - but it's bullying nevertheless.

I'm not really sure where to go from here. I still think Dennis needs help from a mental health professional, but obviously he's not going to take my word for that. The bullying behavior is completely inappropriate, but I don't see a really good way to make him stop. Most bullies, if you call their bluff, either escalate or back off and try something else; Dennis just keeps at it. Playing along doesn't seem like a particularly good idea, either; I don't want him to think that his behavior is in any way acceptable.

So I'm keeping the policy in place: meaningless, disruptive bullshit gets deleted. That's not just for Dennis, though he's the only one for whom I've ever had to invoke it.

And meanwhile, every time he leaves a threat - anywhere - I see someone who desperately wants to be important and powerful and dangerous, who ardently wants to change the world... and can't.

* I'm not qualified to diagnose him, and even if I were, I couldn't do it over the Internet.

** This should probably go without saying, but I'll say it anyway: I'm not talking about all Christians here. I'm not even talking about most Christians. Hell, the denomination I was raised in mainly taught that God expects us to do our best, treat other people well, and trust in His forgiveness for the things we get wrong. As far as I know, that's the mainstream of Christianity - it's just quieter than the "damnation awaits" crowd.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The War On Halloween

I was recently reminded that a sizeable contingent of American Christianity thinks of Halloween as, well, Satanic. Not just something that isn't for them, but something to actively avoid; something to warn people against. Okay, so it's not exactly Kevin McCarthy screaming in traffic, but... well, take a look:

This weird obsession with halloween being evil – which seems to have become more and more prominent over the course of my life – upsets me greatly. For one thing, it’s my favorite holiday. We made our own costumes, so they were always unique, and there was a strong arts-and-crafts/family-activities vibe to October. For another thing, it’s easily the most imaginative of the holidays: the one time a year when you can dress yourself as almost anything you like. Mainly, though, Halloween strikes me as far less pernicious and potentially damaging than, say, Christmas – you know, the day when we celebrate the birth of Our Lord And Savior, the man who told us to give all our possessions to the poor, by buying each other as many new possessions as we can afford?

There’s a strong element of magical thinking in the opposition to Halloween – the idea that by, say, dressing up as a witch or a Power Ranger, you make your soul vulnerable to demonic influences. I mean, by that logic, dressing up as a banker should make me rich, and dressing up as a minister should actually make me holier. Or maybe it’s the candy that’s supposed to let the evil in? I'm sure there's a verse to support that. Ah, yes, here it is: "The love of processed sugars is the root of all evil."

For people who are supposed to draw comfort and peace from their religion, a surprising number of Christians seem to go out of their way to find things to be afraid of. I'm not a believer myself, but this looks to me like a sign of extremely weak faith - or maybe it's just the Human need to create drama, out of thin air if necessary.

More than that, though, the opposition to Halloween strikes me as a profound misunderstanding of the nature of evil. It casts evil in the role of scary outside influences: The Things That Are Trying To Get Us, rather than The Temptations We Carry Within Us. Evil is presented as an external, something to be opposed and faced down, rather than an internal, something we should struggle to avoid being or doing. On top of that, it puts the emphasis firmly on surface appearances (that magical thinking, again) so that the appearance of evil is evil, while the actual nature of one's actions are never even considered.

The measure of evil isn't in how you dress, folks. It's in our actions, and their results and consequences, intended and unintended alike.

Friday, October 8, 2010


I don't post political stuff very often, and there are reasons for that. But for a democracy to work, its citizens have to be involved in its government. So even if you wholly disagree with this video, and think the folks depicted are going to save the republic, please vote!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Simplified For Dennis

God does not need your help.

If He wants to scare me, HE can do it.

If He wants me to repent, HE can tell me so.

As for you...

The Futility Of Opposing God

Here's the thing: God is omnipotent* - also omniscient, though I tend to think of that as a special case of omnipotence, rather than a distinct trait. What does that mean in practical terms?
  • God does not need an army.
  • God does not need you to stand up for him.
  • God does not need you to defend His reputation.
  • God can speak for Himself - He does not need you to tell me what He thinks.
  • God does not need women; or men, for that matter.
  • God does not need you to kill for Him. He's quite capable of smiting anyone He takes issue with - any time He wants.
  • God does not need money.
What does it mean to be an "enemy" of God, when God is immune to any possible harm? How can someone oppose His designs, when everything that exists is His design? I don't mean that in a fuzzy, feel-good, why-would-anyone-choose-to-do-that sort of way, either. I mean it as a serious technical question: if God is truly all-powerful, then those things are not possible. God can do anything He wants, without effort. That's what all-powerful means. And yet, so very many of His worshippers act as if God is all but helpless without them. And in the process, they make God look weak and ineffectual - or, worse, they secretly believe He's powerless, so they try to hide this by making Him look like a monster instead. So who, exactly, is a traitor against God? Have a little more faith, please. I don't think God exists, because I don't see any reason to think God exists. But if He does exist, then my failure to perceive Him makes no difference to Him at all. He's above all that, and if you're one of his followers, then you should at least try to be above it, too.
* In the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions, at least... though I still think that the entire metaphysical structure underlying the Bible makes a lot more sense if you assume that God isn't actually omnipotent. I mean, why was he wandering around in the garden calling after Adam & Eve, otherwise?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Reflections on Boundaries

It's been a quiet week, thank the Hungry Dark. I haven't seen anybody following me, or watching the store, or even just being around more than usual. If the Elders have learned anything new, they haven't seen fit to let me know. It's possible... not likely, but possible... that the snake cult didn't have any idea what their man was doing, and doesn't know what happened to him.

He died, by the way. Mbata told me. Concussion and cerebral hemorrhage from striking his head against the pavement; basically, he bled out inside his skull. Other injuries were mainly bruises, and consistent with being in a fist fight. As far as the medical authorities were concerned, the death was unfortunate and unusual, but these things sometimes happen. Mbata didn't see any indication that the twins had done anything occult, but he said he couldn't rule it out, either. It had taken him too long to locate and examine the body, and there were too many effects that would have faded beyond recognition by then. I took his word for that; he wouldn't lie to me unless the Elders told him to, and in that case I'm better off to go along with it anyway.

Claire and I talked about the fight, too. She'd seen the guy in the pub, but apparently she hadn't noticed him in the store. She was a little frightened (it's not every day you see somebody taken down like that), but she doesn't seem to think it was anything do with us.

She's going to meet my father and his current wife on Friday; we're all going out to dinner. The rest of the family would love to meet her, too, but they'll have to wait. A little at a time is probably best - and like I said, I'd feel really stupid if I managed to blow my cover by introducing her to my family.

In other news, I think Claire had the dream again. Last Thursday I woke up in the middle of the night; I don't know why. I rolled over and looked at her, and there was a sort of silvery, shimmering mist around her face. I started to reach for her, but the palm of my hand started tingling when it got too close. So I pulled it back and waited. After a while the mist faded, and then she rolled over and her breathing changed. I don't think she ever woke up.

I, on the other hand, had the Devil's own time getting back to sleep.

I asked her about her dreams the next morning, but she said she didn't remember them. I left it alone; it was another situation, like the fight, where too many questions would call attention to things I'd rather not have her thinking about. Claire is anything but stupid, and the best protection for both of us is to keep her thinking that everything is normal.

That may be trickier than it sounds, though. We'll see.

The usual disclaimer, for anyone who missed it: Reflections of a Deranged Cultist is a work of fiction. Despite the rumors, I do not actually worship dark and alien gods, perform human or animal sacrifices, deal with inimical alien species, or play with ancient artifacts which are better left alone.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

So Bruce is gone again...

I see that the NW Ohio Skeptics site is down, and that Bruce Gerencser's Blogger and Facebook profiles have been removed. Unfortunately, I don't keep a proper blog feed going - I preferred to visit his site directly - so while I see that his last message indicated that he was taking a break, I can't find any of the details. Can anyone fill me in?

I hope that this is simply a matter of Bruce taking a well-deserved vacation, and isn't symptomatic of any new or recurring difficulties in his life.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Shampoo and the Decline of Western Civilization

I went to the grocery store this afternoon. We just came back from a weekend in Arkansas (one of my wife's cousins was getting married), and we needed to restock on various things. So I pushed the cart around the store and loaded it up: cat litter, laundry detergent, tea bags, dish soap... and shampoo.

And it was there, in the shampoo aisle, that I saw the shape of things to come: our civilization is doomed. Our culture is too far gone to survive. We have crossed the Shampoo Horizon.

Look, I'm not opposed to variety. I like variety. Competing brands are the sign of a healthy Free Market, and there were plenty of competing brands on the shelf. I walked past Head And Shoulders, skipped over the Prell, ignored the Johnson's No More Tears. Finally, I found the brand I was seeking: Pantene.

It was here that I stopped, dumbfounded. I mean, this shouldn't be too difficult, right? It's shampoo. You find the brand you want, drop it in your shopping cart, and make your way to checkout. The only problem was, I couldn't. I stood facing an entire wall of Pantene bottles, and I couldn't find the fucking shampoo. Over here we have Pantene Frizzy To Smooth Shampoo - and matching conditioner. Here, Breakage To Strength. And here, Flat To Volume. Below that, Dry To Moisturizing. Next to it sits Curls To Straight.

You know what kind of shampoo I need for my particular thickness and texture of hair? Dirty To Clean. That's it. I want the bottle that just says: "Shampoo."

And I found it... eventually. It was hidden away, down on the bottom shelf, looking lost and forlorn beneath rows and rows of its bright and specialized cousins. And I put it in my cart, and went to the checkout. On that front, all was finally well.

But now I know. We will not survive. The varieties of shampoo have begun to proliferate. They've taken on a life of their own. Folks, they are growing at a geometric rate. It won't be long until our entire manufacturing base is completely devoted to the production and distribution of shampoo - a process that will continue to expand until there is a precise, personalized shampoo formula for every person on the planet. That will never happen, of course. We'll starve to death long before then, human sacrifices to our ablutory masters.

But at least our hair will be healthy and clean.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Friday Math Humor

Investigator 1: "Well, we know the solution is a prime number greater than two."
Investigator 2: "Hm. That's odd."