Tuesday, January 31, 2012

One Downside of Parenting: Recurring Illness

I've mentioned before that being a parent is not - contrary to what some people would have you believe - an experience composed entirely of sunshine and roses and happy bunnies who fart out rainbows and a deep spiritual bond that distance will never weaken nor time ever sunder.

Sometimes, it's... well... kind of tiring.

Sometimes it's exhausting.

And sometimes - as, hypothetically, when you're trying to extract a half-sick toddler in a poop-inflated diaper from farthest corner of the gerbil tunnels at a McDonald's playground, while his older brother argues about why it's important not to leave yet and, failing that, moves on to explaining at high volume that forcing him to leave now is evil-evil-evil, and you're fully aware that even if you get the toddler down to the car you have already used every single one of the diapers you brought along, and... where was I? Oh, right - sometimes being a parent sucks.

Or, well, let me offer another example: being sick.

When I was younger, being sick wasn't that big a deal. I mean, I'd take a couple of days off, drink a lot of liquids, and sleep as much as I needed... and eventually I'd feel better. As a parent of small children, being sick is a bit different.

For starters, kids get sick a lot. Particularly younger children, who haven't had a chance to really develop their immune systems, and particularly as they start to attend school and daycare and even play dates, where they will be exposed to all manner of intriguing new microbes. Our pediatrician recently told us that kids in our age range get sick, on average, ten times a year - so about every five or six weeks, if the diseases are evenly spaced. (Ha! We should only be so lucky!) And since most children will cheerfully come home and share cups, slobber on their parents, and rub germy little hands on every available surface, it's good odds that as a new parent, you'll be sick a lot, too.

That leisurely approach to recovery that I described earlier? The one that involved resting and taking it easy? Well, guess what? That's probably not available anymore. Because if you're sick, it's most likely because your kids are sick - and they'll want you to take care of them. So much for taking it easy. Alternatively, you'll be sick and they'll be well... in which case they'll have all their energy, and they won't understand why you don't want to do anything and everything with them. So, again, you won't get much chance to recuperate.

And every once in a while you'll get into a wonderful cycle that I like to call "musical diseases". This happens when the members of your family start passing their illnesses back and forth, so that just as one member of your family finally starts to feel better, they pass their disease to a new victim. Eventually it makes its way through the entire family, and starts over again. There's a point in here where you start to feel like none of you will ever be healthy again.

All of this presumes, of course, that you're basically healthy; that you can take time off from work when you need it; that you have access to (and can afford) quality medical care; and, in all likelihood, that you have some sort of support network in the form of friends or family. If you're working two part-time jobs (with no insurance) just to make ends meet, a year or two of recurrent illness can be disastrous. If you have a physical disability, or chronic pain, or mental illness - conditions which, by the way, may limit the amounts or kinds of medications you can take - then being sick adds another layer of exhaustion and stress. If you don't have a good support network, you have to do everything yourself - meaning that you don't have time for yourself, to help you get better.

We're lucky: we're in a very-nearly Best Case Scenario when it comes to the boys getting sick. We have decent insurance - I'd say very good insurance, by modern standards. We have kith and kin who live nearby and are very willing to help out. (Thanks for taking over on Monday, Nana!) We have access to good medical resources and the money to afford them. And if we have to, we can take time off work.

But - and this is important - not everybody does.

This is one of the reasons why, despite the strong love I have for my boys and my role as their father, I take issue with people who insist that children are always a blessing, at all times, under all circumstances. For me, with my wife and my two boys, it's totally worth it. But that isn't true for everyone. Not everybody wants children. Not everyone should have children. There's no shame in that, and there's certainly no shame in acknowledging it.

And if you're part of that peculiar lunatic fringe which believes (or at least preaches) that the cure to all the world's ills is for everyone to Have More Babies, well...

Think again. It's more complicated than that.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Too Much Myself Not To Have Children

Last week, a friend of mine pointed me at a misbegotten blog post called "Too Smart To Have Children" which I promptly picked apart. From this article, I learned that, as an American, I don't want children, and - by way of contrast - I want as much debt as I can get.

Yeah, I know. Surprised me, too.

See, until I read that, I would have sworn that I was doing my best to avoid debt. I mean, you'd think if I wanted debt, I'd have kept my old credit card, instead of paying it off and canceling the account. Admittedly, I got another credit card about a year ago, but at the time I would have sworn that I did that simply (and only) because without it I had no credit score whatsoever. But, no - turns out that it's because I want to run up a huge pile of debt. As much of it as possible, as quickly as possible.

And, of course, I was dumbfounded to learn that I don't want children. I would have considered the number of tests, medicines, and careful planning to be some sort of evidence of actually, y'know, wanting children. But it turns out that I'm American, so I must not have. Hell of a thing to learn, especially now: the older boy is five and a half, and the younger one's nearly two.

But, well, you can't argue with mindless overgeneralizations, so I guess I'm going to have to face facts.

And the fact is, I love these boys. I love being their dad. (And I love being married to their mom!) I love showing them things, and I love it when they show me things. So, in honor of the fact that stupid rhetoric is stupid (and wrong), join me below the cut while I show off my boys!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Friday Joke Part Three: The Pope vs. The Rabbi

...And all this has reminded me of yet another joke that I remember from a long time ago. This is an old joke, and there are at least a dozen variations of it, but this is the closest I could find to the version I remember. It's kind of a visual joke, though, so you'll have to see it on video to get it.

Friday Joke Continued: In Remembrance

Another religious joke, because apparently that's where my brain is at today.
One Sunday morning, the pastor noticed little Johnny standing in the foyer of the church, looking at a large plaque that hung there. After the young man of seven had stood there for some time, the pastor walked up beside him and said quietly, "Good morning, son."

"Good morning, Pastor," replied the youngster, not taking his eyes off the plaque. "Can I ask you, Sir -- What is this for? Why are all these names listed on here?"

"Well, son, these are all the people who have died in the service," replied the pastor.

Soberly, they stood together, staring up at the large plaque. Little Johnny's voice barely broke the silence when he asked quietly, "Which one, Sir, the 8:30 or the 10:30?"

So hey, as long as I'm throwing these out here, what are your favorite religious-ish jokes?

Friday Joke: The New Priest

I remember hearing this joke in my youth - from a priest, no less - and thought I'd share it in the hope of brightening everyone's Friday. So, enjoy!

The new priest was so nervous at his first mass, he could hardly speak. Before his second appearance in the pulpit he asked the Monsignor how he could relax. The Monsignor said, "Next Sunday, it may help if you put some vodka in the water pitcher. After a few sips, everything should go smoothly." The next Sunday, the new priest put the suggestion into practice and was able to talk up a storm. He felt great. However, upon returning to the rectory, he found a note from the Monsignor. It read:
  1. Next time, sip rather than gulp.
  2. There are 10 commandments, not 12.
  3. There are 12 Disciples, not 10.
  4. We do not refer to the cross as the big "T".
  5. The recommended grace before meals is not "Rub-a-dub-dub, thanks for the grub, yaaaaaaaay Lord!"
  6. Do not refer to our savior, Jesus Christ and his apostles as "J.C. and The Boys".
  7. David slew Goliath. He did not "kick the shit out of him."
  8. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are never referred to as "Big Daddy, Junior, and The Spook".
  9. It is always the Virgin Mary, never "Mary with the Cherry".
  10. Last, but not least, next Wednesday there will be a taffy pulling contest at St. Peter’s. There will not be a Peter pulling contest at St. Taffy’s.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A story to illustrate plot

Firstborn: "What is plot?"

Me: "Well, let's look at a story."

Once upon a time, there were two boys. Their names were {Firstborn} and {Secondborn}. Firstborn and Secondborn were lost in the woods. They had no idea how to find their way home.

Firstborn: "Let's say we went to Target and bought a new calendar and put it on the wall. And then we went to bed, and when we woke up our bed was in the woods and we didn't know how we got there."

Me: "Okay. Creepy. We'll work it in."

So Firstborn and Secondborn got out of their bed, which was now in the middle of the woods. They looked around. Then they saw something moving in the bushes - something really, really big. They said, "Ahhhh! A monster! Run away!" And they ran and ran.

Then they came to a clearing. You know what a clearing is? It's an open space where there aren't any trees. And in that clearing was a house. Firstborn and Secondborn saw the house, and they said: "A house! Maybe somebody who lives there can help us." So they went and knocked on the door.

The door swung open, so they went in. Inside the house was a witch, in a long black dress and a pointy black hat. She looked at the boys, and said, "Oh, good, you're just in time for dinner."

Firstborn said, "Good. We are very hungry. We would love some dinner."

But the witch said, "No, you don't understand. I am very hungry, and I'm going to have you for dinner!" And she used her magic to close the door and make it so they couldn't open it.

Firstborn: "And then I went bonk! bonk! and I threw her into the wall!"

Me: "Okay, then."

So the witch was knocked out. And since she was knocked out, the spell that held the door closed didn't work anymore. So Firstborn opened the door and said, "Now we can go home."

But Secondborn picked up the witch's broom. "I bet we can use this to get home," he said.

So Firstborn and Secondborn went outside, and they sat on the broom. Just then a big monster came out of the woods. The monster said, "You bonked my witch! I will eat you up!"

But Firstborn and Secondborn said, "Too late! We are going to fly away on this broom!" And they flew up into the air, and the monster couldn't get them.

Then they flew the broom all the way home, and lived happily ever after. The End.

Me: "So, who were the characters in the story?"

Firstborn: "Me, and {Secondborn}. And the witch... and the big guy."

Me: (surprised) "Very good. So the characters are Who Is In The Story. Now, the plot is What Happens In The Story."

Firstborn: (looks thoughtful)

Me: (ticking off points on my fingers) "You woke up in the woods. You ran away from the monster. You found a house. You went inside. The witch tried to eat you. You bonked the witch. You took the broom. You escaped the monster. You flew home. That's the plot."

Me: "Now, what's the setting?"

Firstborn: "The forest."

Me: (surprised, again) "Very good. You've been working on this in school?"

Firstborn: "Yes."

Me: "Well, now when you get to plot, you'll know what the plot is, right? It's what happens in the story."

Firstborn: "Right."

* * *

It occurs to me on reading this that Firstborn also has a natural understanding of roleplay. In fact, this might count as the first GMing I've done in years.

Firstborn will be six in June - so he's just over five and a half years old right now. Secondborn will be two in mid-April, so he's about one and three quarters right now. So while Secondborn talks in the story, he mostly sort of burbles in real life - his current vocabulary is about two dozen words. ("Mommy, Daddy, Elmo, Apple, Water, Please, Choo-Choo (train), Beep-Beep (car), Meow (Cat), Pizza," and like that.)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Music Recommendation: Heartless Bastards

Heard this band on the radio this morning and thought I'd share. The Heartless Bastards are an Austin band, and worth a listen:

Rebuttal - Too Smart To Have Children

Trigger warning: rape, death penalty, and adultery are all mentioned in passing.

One of my iFriends just pointed out an article titled Too Smart To Have Children on a blog called "Set Your Heart." To be fair, I should point out that I don't ordinarily read that blog, and I am unfamiliar with the belief tradition that its author is working from. (In fact, I wasn't initially sure that he was even a Christian; there's an awful lot of Jewish terminology in his writing. But the Statement of Faith for the place where he's an Elder explicitly includes both the Old and New Testaments as the inspired, infallible, and authoritative Word Of God. So, y'know, pretty clearly Christian.) Also, this particular piece is from all the way back in July of 2011, so this is not what you might call a timely response.

Having said that... well...

Okay, first of all, it opens by quoting from Psalm 127. Understand, I don't think there's anything wrong with that particular Psalm in itself; it's just that people seem to read it... oddly. In particular, that's precisely the same Psalm that a father in the Quiverful movement recently told me that he "prayed over" before coming to embrace that particular lifestyle. (This was the same man who insisted that the "Godly Model" of marriage was obvious to anyone who prayed over it, and that anyone whose marriage was set up differently didn't have the faith to follow God's Plan For Everyone. I'm paraphrasing, but only slightly.) So seeing this particular passage again throws up a huge red flag for me.

Then I started reading the post itself, and the red flag was suddenly joined by all sorts of flashing lights and blaring sirens.
The recent census has reported that children are now making up less of America's population than ever before. According to the passage of Scripture above, children are a heritage (an inheritance, a gift) and a reward from Adonai. What can we deduce from these two facts?
Okay, I can actually answer this. What can we deduce from these two facts? Not much. From a Biblical perspective, the U.S.A. now has less of the blessing of children per capita than it had before. That's about all you can deduce here.

Unfortunately, deduction isn't actually what our author has in mind.
Adonai has given us a choice; we choose if we want to be blessed or cursed. The Bible says that children are a blessing but Americans don't want children. In fact they consider them 'inferior goods.' The Bible says that debt is a curse but Americans will take take as much of it as they can get.
See? This isn't a deduction. It's a mess of assertions and rampant over-generalizations. Frankly, I'm a bit irritated to be told that Americans don't want children: I'm an American, and I wanted children - and now I have two boys, and guess what? I still want them. I just don't want any more children.

Look, I'm down with the idea that children are a blessing. Thing is, they're also a responsibility. They take work, and use up resources: time, money, energy. They require attention. Saying that they're a blessing doesn't change that. I generally consider beer a blessing, too, but that doesn't mean I should be drinking as much of it as possible as often as possible.

That said, it's a nice rhetorical setup, isn't it? There's a choice between Good and Evil. Children are good. Debt is evil. Everybody wants debt, nobody wants children. Who has time to deal with nuance or complexity when the world is clearly going to Hell in a handbasket?
As our nation moves further and further away from God and His Torah (instructions), it becomes more and more profane. In the US it is now the norm to choose curses over blessings because the curses make more sense in this secular society and the ways of God are seen as archaic, antiquated and flat out foolish.
Okay, first of all, these sorts of blanket statements about the rise of evil in the world? People have been saying that since at least 2800 B.C. So at this point in history, I'm having a hard time taking the assertion seriously.

Second, the ways of God are seen as archaic, antiquated, and flat-out foolish? Nonsense! The only reason I don't stone disobedient children is that I don't have a gate to drag them out to. Here in Texas, we're all in favor of imposing the death penalty for adultery. And, of course, the country has really never been the same since we gave up on the idea that anyone convicted of rape should have to marry his victim and pay her father fifty shekels of silver.
Last week I came across an article from Time Magazine that labels fertility [in women] as a stumbling block to higher education. A recent study has found that:

"...women who had children early — by their mid-20s — were much less likely to continue their education beyond the required first two years of high school; they were also less likely to achieve a higher degree later in life than women who delayed childbearing until they finished their education."

The researchers of this study find it is necessary to inform young women about this potential difficulty in pursuing an education. It is their belief that by educating young women, they will be able to make better decisions, like how many children to have. But what does God have to say about education?
The researchers of this study "find it necessary" to inform people of their findings, because that's what researchers do. It's not like they're conducting a smear campaign against pregnancy, here. They're pointing out that women are far more likely to finish their educations if they do so before they have children. This is factually correct, and something to consider if getting an advanced degree is one of your goals. So why would our author object to this?

I can make a guess, of course: children are a blessing, so if women are putting off having children in order to pursue advanced degrees, then clearly they aren't receiving all the blessings they could be... and by extension, they're depriving the rest of us of those blessings as well. But, of course, our author does not explicitly say this.

Instead, he asks: "But what does God have to say about education?" I'm just going to go out on a limb here, and suggest: "Not much."

And, look! I'm right!
With the help of Bible software, I searched for the word 'education' in a few of the more popular translations of the Bible and did not find it once.
But is that going to stop us from drawing conclusions anyway? No, of course not.
However, the Bible does mention the word 'knowledge' 130-169 times, depending upon the translation. In fact, Proverbs 1:7 declares that "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge." Before we can have a proper understanding about anything, we must first acknowledge Adonai as God and His Holy Word as relevant for our lives today. Only then will we be able to see the world through His eyes and make decisions that are in alignment with His will.
And this is relevant how, exactly? I mean, okay, points for a boilerplate restatement of basic Christian doctrine, but this has nothing to do with higher education. It does nothing whatsoever to support your thesis.

And then, just as I'm shaking off the whiplash from that abrupt change of topic, our author changes direction again:
Am I saying that women should not pursue a higher education? Of course not.
See? His Christian beliefs aren't repressive. Education is fine for women, as long as they understand that having as many babies as possible is far more important.
The point I am trying to make is this: we must be very careful when we handover our young adults to professors and teachers in secular universities and colleges.
Oh, and we should be careful about letting women get educated. It might be dangerous. He's saying that, too.

So, to recap: education is fine for women, and it's dangerous so we have to be very careful about it.
When believing young women become immersed in a secular educational system, they can sometimes become too smart to have children. They may end up rejecting the blessings that our God desires for them.
That's right. God desires the same blessings for all women, and those blessings are children. Advanced education, rewarding careers, and personal development are never blessings from God; babies are always blessings from God. Get your priorities straight, people: babies. Babies are the priority. Face it, if you're not having babies, you are not being blessed!
We may be one of the smartest nations in the world but we are obviously[1] not receiving all the blessings that God intends for us to have.
And the solution for that is clear: less education and more children.

But wait! The Apostle Paul clearly states that celibacy is the Christian ideal, and marriage is for people who lack the self-control for celibacy. So by delaying having children, and possibly even educating themselves to the point of complete unmarriageability, these young women that our author is so worried about may actually be moving closer to a Godly lifestyle! Clearly,[2] this is something we need to encourage.

[1] I love the way "obviously" gets tucked in the middle of that sentence. It's the sort of thing that college Sophomores tend to stick into papers when they haven't actually defended or supported a conclusion, and they're hoping the professor won't notice.

[2] See the note on "obviously", above.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Do it yourself Wooden Sword

Friend of mine posted a link to this on my FB wall a while back. So, for the benefit of anyone who might be so inclined: How to make a wooden sword for your kid.

Open Thread: Writer's Recharge tips

There are several writing projects that I'd like to be working on. Unfortunately, January in Dallas/Fort Worth is currently... I don't know, sixty degrees or so - I mean, I'm in slacks and shirt, here. Who needs a jacket, or even a sweater, in the middle of January, right? So, yeah. Nice Spring weather. With, of course, nice Spring allergies.

So, my head is stuffy and a little achy, and I'm notably more tired than I should be. First World Problems, I'll admit, but still annoying - especially when I'm hoping to get some writing done.

The upshot of all that is that I don't really have anything witty or insightful to say today. So this is an open thread. In honor of the occasion, the suggested (but by no means mandatory) topic is, "What helps you get over writer's block? (Or Artist's block, or other sorts of doldrums in the creativity?)"

For me, exercise usually helps. Violent exercise, for a preference, but even a medium-length walk has been known to help. What about you?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Somebody explain Bakugan to me?

Okay, I have a pop culture question: can somebody tell me what the deal is with Bakugan?

To be fair, I have only a limited interaction with the milieu. Firstborn owns a mess of the toys, mostly in the form of oddly-colored little golf balls that pop open into easily-broken robot/animals when placed against a ferrous metal. These toys came with cards, but we've mostly lost those. I presume, therefore, that it's basically a game, similar to Magic: The Gathering or Pokemon, but built around these toys. That's not what puzzles me.

No, what puzzles me is the cartoon.

By way of explaining, let me offer a bit of contrast. We own one Pokemon DVD, and one Bakugan DVD. Both feature kids who carry around tiny balls which, when opened, produce full-size monsters (or aliens, or something along those lines) who then do battle.

Now, coming into the Pokemon movie with no prior context - I think the one we have is Pokemon Heroes - it's pretty clear that the monsters exist in real life, and can be captured and trained. They can apparently be kept (for storage and transportation, I guess) in the little Pokemon balls, but they don't have to be. And when they battle, it takes place in the real world. The monsters have powers, and those powers can be used to affect real people and real things, so it's pretty obvious why people would want them.

Now, with Bakugan I'm getting a lot less of the complete story. We don't own a movie, we own four episodes of Bakugan Battle Brawlers. So I have, if anything, even less context than I do for Pokemon. But in Bakugan, the monsters only manifest their full-size forms during a battle - and the battles only start when the two opponents throw down "gate cards", which create a sort of temporary extra-dimensional battlefield. Beginning a Bakugan battle effectively takes the contestants out of the real world: they can't affect real-world things, and no time passes in the real world while they're battling. In the real world, the monsters are only ever in the form of little, mutant golf-balls. Some of them can talk to their owners, but that's about it. Unlike the Pokemon monsters, Bakugan monsters are apparently pretty useless.

But the cartoon keeps treating these Bakugan contests as if they were vitally important - not just a sort of extradimensional football game, where we want the right team to win, but something where the question of who wins could actually change someone's life. One of the taglines for the show is "One Goal, Two Worlds." And while that sounds all nice and dramatic, I admit I'm at a bit of a loss. What's the goal? Is there something about the Bakugan monsters that could possibly make some sort of difference to the larger world? As far as I can tell, if all the Bakugans disappeared, the worst that would happen is that some people would have to find new hobbies.

So what's the deal? Am I missing something? Or is there really just this huge disconnect in the way the show is set up?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Just imagine...

I have a radical and subversive theory that I'd like you all to consider. What if... and I know this is going to sound crazy, but... what if Shakespeare actually wrote the plays that are attributed to him?

Right Behind: They Are Legion, Part Six

The smell of coffee drifted tantalizingly through my room. Maybe that was what woke me up, even. For a time I just lay there, being awake... but, well, not awake enough to actually move.

There was sunlight on the blankets, and on the wall behind me. It was bright enough that I knew I wouldn't be able to go back to sleep. That realization brought me another small step closer to wakefulness, but it was so nice to just lay and drift until I was actually ready to move.

I'd been dreaming about a roller-coaster, I remembered - an improbably massive structure that wound around an entire mountain, and even dipped through tunnels inside. There had been someone... no, that was gone. I couldn't remember anymore. I was too awake.

I sat up at last, cracked my neck, and yawned. My room was the same as always, decorated with posters for a couple of movies and another for the Marine Corps, which I'd briefly considered joining after High School. The bookshelves still held my old favorites, but the computer desk was empty - I'd taken its contents off to college, and left behind an empty shell. I remembered telling my parents that they could do whatever they wanted with my room, but either they hadn't heard me or they'd just decided to leave it alone...

Once things had settled down last night, I'd sent Tina and Mom off to bed and sat down to watch a little television. The news reported looting and other violence. At least some of the violence seemed to be a product of people trying to loot houses and stores that were still occupied. A lot of the rest seemed to be people who were convinced that the world was ending, or just taking advantage of the social disruption. I doubted that the troubles were anywhere near as widespread as the talking heads implied; for one thing, we hadn't seen anything like that around here, and for another the TV news programs had been getting ever more hysterical in their attention-seeking for as long as I could remember. Still, I made a note to go and find a couple of guns in the morning... just in case.

One guy they interviewed said that God had clearly turned His Face from us. Since he knew he was damned, he said, there was no reason not to do all those things that he'd always wanted to do. That was right before the police stuffed him into the back of a patrol car. I found myself reminded, very uncomfortably, of Anna - and I realized that I should call her. Probably not then, though - it was after midnight.

Instead, I'd shut off the television and wandered up to my room. I didn't exactly remember collapsing on the bed, but since I'd woken up there I was prepared to take that part for granted...

Now I paused in the hallway outside the kitchen. I could hear voices inside: Mom and Tina, talking. I stopped where I was, just out of sight. It wasn't a desire to eavesdrop, exactly; it was more that I wanted to know what I was about to walk into. And I wasn't quite awake enough to make conversation myself, so I waited... and listened.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Apocalypse River 003

This is one of those of those stories that I come back to as the mood takes me, so my progress is infrequent and irregular. The rest of it can be read here, if you want to start at the beginning or just refresh your memory.

The edge of the river was a dangerous place to be. Tammon stayed a few feet back, watching for sudden breaks in the irregular edge that dropped away into the water. He ran half-crouched, trying to keep his profile low. It was probably a wasted effort: movement would make him far more obvious than his height ever would. River to the left, Forsters to the right. I should have stayed in the trees.

He couldn't do that, of course. Not with the village itself in danger. His presence might call attention to the evacuation, but it might also provide the evacuees with a hunter to support them. So he ran, following the edge of the river until he neared the boathouse and the skeletal remains of the docks. He glanced back up at the village, in time to see one of the Forsters lift Old Man Gaston and bring him down across its knee. A flick of his eyes caught another Forster falling from the warning tower. That one smashed into the sandy soil of the flood plain and did not move again.

Nobody seemed to be watching the river; nobody seemed to be looking at him. He paused to catch his breath. Then he sprinted for the boat house. When he reached the corner of the building, he paused; but nobody seemed to have seen him. He gave the battle a fierce grin, called out softly, and ducked inside.

The boats were relics from the old day, preserved by regular care and shelter from the elements. They were made from that rarest of materials: true metal. The boathouses were wooden reliquaries, sealed with whatever seemed to work. Since things began to change, the sealants and roofing materials had become unreliable. Nobody knew what would work, or how long it would last. That was just the nature of things in this changed and changing world.

Shannan was standing just inside the door, with a dagger raised in a fighting position. She would have killed him if he hadn't announced himself. The children were huddled behind one of the boats, which had been taken down and leaned against the wall. It was shelter of a sort, but not enough to keep them truly hidden.

We have to hurry. Tammon slid past Shannan and over to the boat. Belinda, who was Old Man Gaston's daughter and very nearly old enough to remember the world as it had once been, was standing beside it. She studied him warily.

Tammon gripped the edge of the boat and pulled it over until it was right side up. Shannan watched aghast as he edged it carefully into the water, but Belinda was grinning and nodding at him. The coarse hairs on her cheeks flexed with the movement of her head. They watched for a moment, but nothing stirred; nothing reached up to take the boat.

"In," said Tammon softly, gesturing to Shannan.

She shook her head, looking at the water. He looked at the water, saw nothing, and climbed in himself. He had to shift his grip carefully to keep the boat from drifting away, but he managed it.

Belinda was already whispering to the children. One by one, they climbed into the boat. It rocked unsteadily, but it held them and Tammon could see no sign of leakage.

When the last of the children was inside, old Belinda climbed in behind them. It was crowded, now, and the boat was lower in the water than Tammon would have liked, but he gestured for Shannan to join them. She shook her head, still afraid of the river. And rightly so, he thought, but we have no time for that.

A low grumble reached his ears. There were voices outside the boathouse, deep rumbling voices backed by Forster lungs. Shannan raised her head, looking panicked. Then she closed her eyes, and held out a hand.

Tammon pulled her onto the boat.

Her arrival was enough to set them drifting towards the open river. Tammon looked for a way to speed their escape, and saw the old wooden sticks hanging on the walls - oars, he thought they were called - but they were too far to reach and it was too late to go back for them.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Oppose SOPA

I don't generally talk politics or plug causes around here, mainly because it's bad for my blood pressure. Today, however, I'm making an exception. Everything I'm reading about SOPA (or PIPA, which is basically the Senate version of the same bill) indicates that it is not just misguided, but potentially catastrophic.

To get involved - or just learn more - I'd suggest you check out:

Also, for the record, How Copyright Industries Con Congress.

And my favorite Tweet so far: "Feel sorry for Congress. Wikipedia blackout affects them the most. Now how will they find out who fought in the American Civil War?" (from @bergopolis)

I'm generally pretty cynical about predictions of doom and gloom, but... that list up there? It's just the tip of the iceberg. An awful lot of knowledgeable people are saying that, yes, this legislation really is every bit as bad as all that. Like, "The end of the Internet as we know it," isn't an exaggeration. That bad.

Please get involved.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Notes from the Mad Science Lab: Self-heating Tea

Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to introduce you to my newest invention. Here at the Mad Science Laboratory, we are fully committed to our ongoing efforts to improve your quality of life. So, in the spirit of making cold weather just a little bit easier to endure, I am proud to present my latest effort: self-heating tea.

How many times have you taken your child out to the playground in winter, and found yourself wishing you had a nice cup of steaming-hot tea with you? Or perhaps you were wishing that the cup you'd brought along wasn't already lukewarm, and well along the way to becoming iced tea? Well, I'm proud to say that I have the answer to your woes.

Just insert a bag of self-heating tea into a cup of water. As you can see, my min- erm, my assistant Gregory is using metal tongs and latex gloves to ensure that the moisture from his fingers doesn't activate the effect prematurely. I have assured Gregory that these precautions are unnecessary, but since he keeps muttering about his predecessor, Jim, and the purely coincidental matter of Spontaneous Human Combustion, I have graciously decided to humor him.

There we go. Note the slight bubbling of the water, and now you can see the steam rising... lovely. See how it darkens as the tea steeps? Excellent. Those of you watching remotely will not be able to smell the refreshing aroma, but I assure you it is now permeating the testing chamber.

Self-heating tea will remain hot for nearly four hours, or until it is placed in an environment - such as your stomach - where the ambient temperature consistently exceeds 35.4 degrees Celsius, or 96 degrees Fahrenheit. And the flavor? Gregory, please sample the tea and tell us what you think.

What? You don't want to sample the tea? Gregory, this is a live demonstration before an international audience. Yes, there were some glitches during the testing process, but do you really think I'd let you drink that if there was even the slightest chance of immolation? That's right, go on...

There. You see, ladies and gentlemen? Gregory is fine, and the tea is...? "Tasty and refreshing." Very good, Gregory. Yes, all right, you may go now.

So there you have it. Self-heating tea: one more way in which Mad Science is making life better for everyone.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Weird dreams, even by my standards.

Okay, so: anybody who's following this blog knows that I have weird dreams. Just peruse the Dreams tag and you'll see what I mean. But Friday night/Saturday morning's dreams set a whole new standard for weirdness.

I mean, okay, the sprawling and elaborate indoor play area - which included both play structures, of the ladders/steps/nets/tunnels/slides variety, and a landscaped floor that also offered opportunities for climbing, sliding, and jumping - was a bit odd. It looked like it might have come out of some sort of video game. But in itself, it wasn't that weird. I mean, my dreams feature strange architecture and odd spacial arrangements often enough. But why would anyone set up a play area where you could capture Bigfoot if you got to the particularly high and inaccessible ledge in the back corner?

(And why was Bigfoot only about three feet tall, despite having these giant feet? Actually, I think I know the answer to that one: Roger Zelazny presented him that way in the story Unicorn Variations, and the image obviously stuck with me.)

After that, as the person who found Bigfoot, I got to go speak to a class at a local school. Only apparently at the same time I was also the main assistant to... wait for it... Charlie Sheen, who was addressing the class (alternately) as an actor and as the President of the United States. Who thought that was a good idea??? (The "letting Charlie Sheen be president" part, or the "letting Charlie Sheen speak to a classroom full of children" part, either one: why? For the love of all that's holy, WHY???)

I swear, they brought him a Sprite and the first thing he did was pull one of those little mini-bottles of rum - you know, the kind you get in hotel rooms, or airplanes - out of the pocket of his coat. While he's pouring it in, he's explaining to the kids how much better the Sprite is this way.

Fortunately, the boys came in and woke me up at that point. I'm really afraid of where the dream might have been going...

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Questions To Keep In Mind When Reviewing Scenes

(Keep in mind, this more of a conceptual list, so if anybody wants to offer additional suggestions, go for it!)

1. What is this scene doing? (i.e. are we establishing character, setting up an interaction, filling in backstory, advancing the action, following up on something that just happened, or what?)

2. Is the scene doing what it’s supposed to be doing?

3. Does it fit with the rest of the story? (This kind of a two-part question, because I want to watch for issues of pacing – am I racing ahead? Is this interrupting the action? – but it also concerns issues of tone: did reading that Stephen King book last night switch me out of the mythic tone I was using and into something more colloquial?)

4. Is she just sitting in the middle of nowhere naked? (Basically, does the scene include enough detail that the reader can picture it clearly and tell what’s happening?)(New, taken from Carrie Spencer’s comment here.)

Friday, January 13, 2012

A final note for Gerie

Disagreement is a funny thing. It's hard to disagree with someone, especially in an area as profoundly personal as religion, without seeming to attack them (or, you know, actually attacking them). The more important the issue, and the more the people involved are sure that they're right, the harder it gets. But my disagreement with you, Gerie, boils down to basically two points, and I'm going to try to state them as neutrally as possible:

1. I don't think your approach to Christianity is as firmly grounded in the Bible as you think it is.

2. Your representation of other people, especially people who don't share your views, is profoundly flawed. You state things authoritatively that simply are not true, and the way you characterize other people tends to be wildly caricatured where it isn't (as far as I can tell) made up out of whole cloth.

Also, just to make sure we're completely clear: I have no desire to argue that you ought not to believe in God, Jesus, or the Ultimate Truth of the Bible. Everything I've said about why I don't believe in God myself is just that: why I don't believe it myself. I emphasize it because you seem to have some very misguided impressions of how and why someone might not believe as you do - but I do not intend to argue that you shouldn't believe.

As far as my atheism goes, it's not an accusation. It's not, "God does not exist." Instead, it's a question: "Why should I believe that?" I've never found a satisfactory answer, so I remain an unbeliever; but I understand that other people's experiences are different. And that's really about all there is to it.

The Truth of Atheism Told!

Right, so, this is continuing my response to Gerie over at Exposing The Darkness and Telling The Truth. Her post, Atheist, The Most Tragic Thing About You - Is That You Have Already "Decided", is a veritable case study in misunderstanding. It is, I think, instructive - particularly as an example of how to be completely unpersuasive in spreading the Gospel. So Christians, go thou and do otherwise... please.

When we left Gerie, she was confusing herself with the "least of these" that the Gospel commands Christians to help. From there, she moves to high-grade condescension:
These lost souls ( let's call them what they are, until they believe they are poor lost souls) have decided in their heart to trust in themselves and to rely solely on what they think instead of the words of Jesus Christ, the very Son of God. Who came down from Heaven, who left the presence of God for us. Who just happens to BE Wisdom. All Wisdom and knowledge and understanding comes from Him. He IS God. He knows everything, from the beginning to the end. All things were created FOR HIM and BY HIM.

We, on the other hand, ARE mere HUMAN BEINGS and incomplete in knowledge. We don't have all knowledge like God does. For everything that we DO know or think we understand, there are thousands of things we DON'T know and DON'T understand, to say the least, yet these people, these FOOLISH PEOPLE, and some of them are true Atheists, choose to stake there whole eternal future, on what they can see, feel, hear, taste, touch, smell etc. or think. And that last one (think), by the way - they do with the BRAIN THAT GOD GAVE THEM!

Yet they arrogantly refuse to use it to believe His words? And insist on trusting in their OWN ideas?
Wow. Just... wow.

Pot, meet kettle.

Mote, meet beam.

Glass house? Meet stone.

Here's the thing. Everybody does the best they can with their own judgement. Gerie may claim that following the Bible gives her access to some solid, objective, irrefutable Truth - but she still used her fallible human understanding to decide to follow the Bible. And she still uses her fallible human mind to understand how to follow the Bible.

Gerie is very good at pointing out the limits of other people's understanding; it's a recurrent theme in her writings. But it never seems to occur to her that her own understanding might be equally flawed, albeit in different ways.
And they are SO sure that they're right. I'm amazed at them! How can they be so sure? Because their prayers weren't answered when they were a child? They believe there is no God because their prayers weren't answered 10 or 20 or 30 years ago?
I'm honestly not sure what Gerie's referring to, here. I'm an atheist because I don't see any good reason to think that any sort of gods exist. Part of that is that I've never experienced anything that I might classify as God answering my prayers, true. I'm not a Christian because Christianity doesn't match my understanding of the world - or my experience of the Divine, for that matter. But, okay, fine. Ignore that. Be all contemptuous and dismissive and tell us how we don't believe because God didn't answer our prayers decades ago. That's how Jesus taught, right? He just marched into town and told people How It Was, gave 'em a swift spiritual kick in the bottom.

Or, y'know, not.

For the record: it's quite possible that I might change my mind at some point. Thing is, there would have to be a reason to do so. Just having someone tell me that something is true won't do it, no matter how many times they repeat their claims.

As a result, as far as I'm concerned the entire next section of Gerie's sermon is one long, irrelevant digression:
Do you think that there might be a reason for that? That maybe is going over you're head right now? And mine too? But God knows why, and I know and believe and testify to you, that GOD IS GOOD. If you want to blame Him, then tell me, who in your eyes is good? YOU? You arrogantly think that you can run things better than God? Do you think that He doesn't see the suffering going on? Do you think He doesn't know all about it? If it's this way, then that means, for right now, that it HAS to be this way. He would never have sent His Son to suffer and die, if there had been another way. Can't you give Him the benefit of the doubt, instead of accusing a GOOD GOD?

Whether you want to believe or not, I KNOW THAT GOD IS GOOD AND YOU ARE NOT! How can you be good, if you are still in your sins and are accusing God of botching things up?
Let's take this is a bit at a time. Do I think that there might be one or more gods who exist, but choose for reasons of their own not to answer prayers? Sure, it's possible. It just seems more likely that He, or they, aren't there. Do I blame God for the suffering in the world? No. I don't think He's there. It seems far more likely that there's suffering in the world because the world is the result of impersonal natural processes, than that there's an all-powerful Creator who stands by and lets people get hurt, but is somehow "good" despite this. Shouldn't I give God the benefit of the doubt, instead of accusing him? I can't do either. I can't accuse Him, because I don't think he's there. I can't offer him the benefit of the doubt, for the same reason. If it's this way, then that means, for right now, that it HAS to be this way. Even if that were philosophically defensible, it's irrelevant. The question of how there can be evil if God exists only matters if you have some reason to think that God exists. It's also pure assertion, with nothing concrete to back it up.
Why do they choose to believe that everything is God's fault and that there really is no evil being called Satan, that's doing all of the damage?
Um, what? That's not atheists, that's Christians who believe that sort of thing. Or possibly Gnostics. Again, I know this is hard for you to imagine, but atheists really don't believe that there's anyone - God, Satan, or the entire classical Roman pantheon - running the Big Show.

I'll grant, there is an argument that looks a bit like this. It says, basically, that if God is aware of the evil in the world (omniscient) and able to stop it (omnipotent) and chooses not to do so, then He is complicit in that evil and cannot be omnibenevolent. That's not, however, generally meant as a serious argument that "God must be evil." Rather, it's an explanation for why some people, myself included, find the concept of God {as all-knowing, all-powerful, and perfectly good} to be incompatible with a world in which evil exists. (From that angle, it really doesn't matter whether or not Satan exists, or what his role is.)
If He says that things will happen a certain way, then that's the way they will happen! How do I know that for sure?

Because He said so! That's how!
Again, wow. That's not even circular, it's just rampant assertion: "It's true because it's true because it's true because..."

But, okay, I'll spot Gerie this one: she truly believes this. However wonderful that may be for her, it's completely useless to me.
As for me, I know whom I have believed in and I trust Him with my life. Who do you trust in Atheist? Yourself?
To be honest, I'm not sure I "trust in" anyone, in the somewhat specialized sense in which Gerie seems to be using the phrase. But in a more general sense, I trust in those who have given me a reason to trust them. And it's not an all-or-nothing proposition, that trust. There are kinds and degrees of trust.
Wait till you die, then you will finally see clearly and you'll understand all of the mysteries for yourself. The mystery of why God chose to remain hidden all this time, why He allowed evil to destroy without stopping it,

and why He allowed you to mock Him, dear Atheist,  without blasting you right off your chair!
I'd like to just pause for a moment, and admire the sheer magnitude of triumphal hostility contained in that paragraph. Does Gerie have any idea how that sounds? "Someday you'll find out I was right, and then you'll wish you'd listened to me!"

Uh huh. Maybe so. Or maybe I'll die, and cease to exist as any sort of conscious entity. Or maybe I'll die, and the Almighty will tell me just how hilarious it was watching me muddle my way through life without even the sense to realize that He was around. Or maybe I'll die, and Brahma will reincarnate me as a house cat. Cessation of consciousness seems the most likely to me, but I could be wrong.

I also have the Holy Spirit living inside of me who witnesses to me that what I believe about God is the truth.
This is particularly interesting to me, because Gerie said just a few paragraphs earlier that in this age we are to trust in His goodness and WALK BY FAITH. (Emphasis hers.) How much faith do you really need if you've got the Holy Spirit hanging around inside you as a witness of God's existence? Honestly, if I had the Holy Spirit telling me I was right, I'd have a much easier time believing.
Atheists are forced to live their lives all alone inside. Or else the witness that they do have living inside of them is a liar.
So, wait. Gerie says that the witness inside of me is a liar. She knows this, presumably, because the witness inside her says it's true. The witness inside of me thinks that that's exactly the sort of thing that a corruptor spirit would say to someone it was leading astray.

Or, actually, no. There's no witness inside me, and I have no way of checking whether the witness inside of Gerie is good, evil, or non-existent, so this is all completely hypothetical. That means I'm forced to live my life all alone inside. Poor, poor, pitiful me, carrying around this Jesus-shaped hole in my heart... except that I don't have a Jesus-shaped hole in my heart. Or else I'm completely unaware of it, in which case I might as well not have a Jesus-shaped hole in my heart. Whichever, really.
Atheist, is what you believe real enough to you that you are willing to bet your whole life that you're right? Are you willing to die for what you believe?
Depends on how you mean. There are things I value strongly enough to die for; some of them are beliefs.
I have heard some Atheists who act as though they are good and they have no need of a Saviour. 
Have you ever even considered your speech? The mouth that God created to praise Him you use to spew out obscenities and some of them are even directed at Him! This is sin and a great one, in my opinion. The mocking you do of His word, the mocking of His servants, that all matters and it just won't make much of a difference to your case on Judgement Day, when you are being judged, if you say that you gave every single one of your paychecks to feed the poor. It just won't matter and it won't stop Gods righteous judgement from coming against you.
My goodness. (Pun intended.) God is going to punish people for making fun of His servants - you know, like Gerie. That's a... well, from here it looks like a really nice, if slightly petty, revenge fantasy. "Someday those people who made fun of me will get what's coming to them, and then they'll be sorry."

And where does this obsession with the idea of Salvation By Works come from? Gerie sees it everywhere. She frequently attributes it to people who don't actually believe it. It even creeps into passages like this, where's it's only vaguely relevant. What is up with that?

Gerie can threaten me with Hell all she wants. It doesn't bother me, because I don't see any reason to think that that's the way life - or death - actually works. But if there is a God who will someday pronounce eternal judgement on me, I'm pretty sure that it won't be because I pointed out that Gerie says some silly - and, frankly, unChristian - things.
You are blinded by your own arrogance and you are guilty of fighting against your own soul.
No. No, I'm not. I'm drawing the best conclusions I can from the evidence I have available. I'm not fighting against anything: not my soul; not some secret knowledge that Jesus really, truly exists; not my unwillingness to give up my sins. It doesn't matter at all whether Gerie believes that, or not; or what she says about it. It doesn't change the fact of it.
Repent of your sins and turn to Jesus. He's real! Hes alive! And He has the answers you have been seeking.
If he is real, He can convince me of this in a heartbeat, with no effort at all. (That's what being omnipotent means.) That wouldn't violate my free will; in fact, leaving me in darkness and ignorance seems to limit my ability to choose freely far more than knowledge ever could. Again, I'm not fighting it: I'd love it if Jesus dropped by for a chat. But it doesn't happen.
Everything will make sense to you when His Spirit of truth comes and lives inside of you and opens up your understanding.
And now we're back to that Catch-22 I mentioned earlier. In order to understand, you have to believe; but for me to believe, I have to understand. Since I can't understand, I can't believe, and since I can't believe, I can't understand. There's no way out of that for me. There's simply no way to get there from here.

This would bother me a lot more if I actually thought there was any sort of "there" to get to... but in that case, presumably I'd have more knowledge or better understanding, so I'd probably be more able to believe.
Remember this dear Atheist God loves you, and so do I, very very much.
I don't know about God, but if this is true then Gerie, at least, has a funny way of showing it.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Darkness of Atheism Exposed!

I missed this earlier, probably because it went up during the holidays, but back at the end of December Gerie (over at Exposing The Darkness And Telling The Truth) posted another of her interminably long sermons. This one was directed at atheists. It's called, Atheist, The Most Tragic Thing About You - Is That You Have Already "Decided", so you can see right off that Gerie is going to treat this subject with every bit of the sensitivity and careful discernment that it deserves.

A word of warning, here: this is a looooonnnnnnnnng sermon. If you have a compulsive need to read things in their entirety so as to ensure that nothing's being taken out of context, use the links above and see for yourself. But her entry alone is something like 3,500 words - about eight pages in Word, with the fonts all reset to Times New Roman. Reading all the way through it once is more than enough for me, and I'm not going to reproduce any more of it than I need to, here. So there will be things I'll be leaving out.

Oh, and one more word of warning: I don't have a lot of respect for Gerie. For one thing, she doesn't actually interact with the people who disagree with her; her entire communication with anyone she disapproves of is to lecture them from afar via her blog. She keeps the comments turned off on her own blog, and as far as I know she doesn't comment on anyone else's - at least, not anyone who takes issue with her pronouncements. She also has a well-established habit of pretending to understand the people she talks about, while at the same time setting up the most outrageously laughable Straw Man versions of their positions. Her theology and general sense of perspective are also pretty dubious, but honestly I'd probably leave her alone if she didn't keep making these ridiculous assertions about people she clearly doesn't know and doesn't care to understand.

So, with all that in mind, let's begin:
Have you ever been invited to have a conversation with someone who says, "let's sit down and talk about it"?
Gerie may actually be talking about me, here. I invited her to join the comments on an earlier thread over at Former Conservative's Blog - twice, I think. So did one of the other commenters. So it's entirely possible that this is her response.
And you find out later that their real, hidden reason for asking you to join them, was not to sincerely examine truth, but for the purpose of trapping you in your words? You may have entered the conversation with good intentions but the other one has invited you into his domain, and has in effect lured you in, so to speak, so that he can pick your words apart, for the purpose of discrediting you and to try his best to make you look foolish.
By extension, this is her reason for not joining the conversation: clearly we're not planning to converse in good faith. It's a trap! And since we're really secretly out to get her, Gerie is absolved of any need to make the effort and attempt to converse.

Which is just... Okay, it's not entirely wrong. Like I said, I really don't have a lot of respect for Gerie. And I have made fun of some of the things she's written, and I probably will again. In this post, as a matter of fact.

But I'm not out to trap her, or make her look foolish. As far as I'm concerned, she can manage that quite well without my help - and, for the record, it's not her faith that does it, but this curious insistence that she alone Knows How Things Are.

No, I'd like to talk to her because that's how people actually communicate. Writing an eight-page sermon about them may be satisfying, but it isn't a conversation. Instead, it lets Gerie keep a safe distance, where any criticism occurs elsewhere and she doesn't have to acknowledge it; and it lets her preserve this artificial relationship where she gets to play the authority and tell people what is True.

I don't know, maybe Gerie thinks that's the most effective way to communicate. To me it looks arrogant, condescending, and possibly cowardly as well. It lets her preserve her misconceptions by insulating them from direct feedback. So, once again, I'll extend the invitation: comments on my blog are completely open. Drop on by. Talk. I won't promise to agree, but I do promise to listen.

And for everyone else: if by some wild chance Gerie does decide to comment, I expect you all to behave. Be polite, keep your disagreements to specific ideas, and don't pile on - nobody can respond to a dozen people at once.

Right, back to the sermon:
"Let's all come together and talk about it and try to understand each other," they say. But if you take them up on their offer you will find, that their heart has already been firmly set against you and also against the God that you love and are representing.

They cannot hear the truth you speak, they have already decided they won't.
Ah, Gerie. It's a bit more complicated than that. Again, you're partly right: if you're going to explain the Truth Of Christianity to me, I'm not going to immediately agree just because you said it was so. But my disagreement isn't a refusal to hear the truth; looking for the truth is precisely the reason that I'm not a Christian. Try as I might, look how I will, I can't make sense of Christianity. It doesn't speak to me; it doesn't resonate for me.
Did you know they lured Jesus into conversations too? Conversations that many times became violent. One time they tried to push Him off the cliff!
This section is followed by a series of accounts of people who were attacked or persecuted for sharing the Truth of Christianity, which culminates in this:
If they hated Jesus (which they did) then they will hate us too.
They killed Jesus for what He said. They killed Stephen, Paul, the Apostles for what they said. Today they are killing Christians overseas and if they could get away with it, they would do that here too, or at least lock us up.
Heh. Okay, this is the part where, yeah, I'm going to make fun of Gerie's persecution complex. Because, yes, there are Christians in other countries who are genuinely persecuted, and whose beliefs put them in danger of their lives. Gerie, by contrast, doesn't face any such danger. As far as I can tell, she lives in a part of the world where... well, let's face it: Westboro Baptist Church is free to spew their hatred, with their right to do so protected by the Constitution and the force of law. And whether their beliefs are right or wrong, they are vastly more offensive than Gerie's beliefs.

On that scale, Gerie doesn't rate. Westboro has her beat by several orders of magnitude. So claiming that (in some nebulous fashion) she shares the danger of people who are genuinely being persecuted is nothing more than silly self-aggrandizement. Here in the West, it's the Christians who do the persecuting. (Don't believe me? Ask the next Muslim you meet about how their faith affects their job opportunities, general treatment, and ability to feel safe in public.)

True fact: I wouldn't kill Gerie if the State was offering a bounty for her head. (Strangely, despite my lack of Christian faith, I consider that sort of thing immoral. Shocking, I know.) In fact, I'd help her to hide. I don't bear her any particular malice, and while I might point and laugh at her writings, I don't find her "truth" at all threatening... mainly because I don't find it at all convincing.

Anyway... I'm going to skip the next bit, where Gerie bears false witness against her fellow Christians, and move on to this:
Sometimes while I'm listening to Atheists and God rejectors spewing their stuff on TV or radio shows, or even while reading their comments,  I wonder why they just can't ever seem to get it! It is SO clear! It's not hard to understand, really.

Why can't they know and understand truth the way that we do? And then I realised something, and it is major - They have already DECIDED!
This is the sort of statement that makes me wonder what color the sky is in Gerie's world. Because that isn't my experience, and that wasn't the experience of anybody I know. It's not even close. Most of the non-Christians I know, including myself, are also ex-Christians. And none of them made anything that might be called a "decision" not to believe in God. A good many of them reached that conclusion against their every hope, desire, and prayer. For most it was a painful, confusing process. But hey, if you can skate past that and write it off as a "decision," you go for it. Just don't expect non-believers to take you seriously: for all practical purposes, you've told non-believers that you don't have any idea what happened to them, and don't have any desire to find out.

Why can't we just get it? Because it doesn't make any sense. The basics of Christianity are simple and obvious - every bit as simple and obvious as you think they are. God loves us all, and he loves us so much that he sent his only son to die in our place and take away the weight of our sins. Got it.

What isn't clear to me is why I should believe that. You're convinced because the Holy Spirit is prowling around in your brain, and that's great - but it doesn't help me.

The basic claims of Christianity are relatively simple. The truth of those claims is not as obvious to everyone else as it is to you.
 With arms crossed in front of them they refuse to believe. Rather, they have decided to mock His followers, which is in truth mocking Him. Because it is written, that as much as they have done it unto us (believers and followers of Jesus) they have done it unto Him. That idea works for giving a disciple a cup of cold water as well as for mocking one of the least of His disciples, which we are. Think about it...

(Mathrew 25:45)Jesus said,
Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
And here we get to the trainwreck that is Gerie's theology. The "least of these" that Matthew 25:45 refers to isn't Christians; it's the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, the sick, and the imprisoned. Read the whole thing. But taking care of these "least of these" seems to run counter to Gerie's view of the Gospel, in which one is saved By Faith Alone to such an extent that even the concept that "faith without works is dead" becomes foreign.

And just to make it perfectly clear: much as Gerie might like to conflate the two, I'm not making fun of Jesus when I make fun of her. I don't make fun of Jesus for much the same reasons that I don't make fun of Santa Claus. No, I am pointedly and specifically making fun of Gerie - and her alone.

...And I'm going to cut this off here. I'm about halfway through Gerie's post, and I'd hoped to skip past more of it, but there's still a lot coming up that deserves a response. So I'll tackle the next bit in a day or so.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Right Behind: They Are Legion, Part Five

I told myself a story, about a young man who took an unexpected turn and found a strange set of ruins, where some evil genius had hidden away the world's children and covered his tracks by taking a few of the adults. In this story, the young man found his way into the hidden laboratory, and happened upon a death ray, and destroyed the evil genius and freed the children.

Then I told myself another story, about a young man who woke up imprisoned on a spaceship. He tricked his captors, took control of their weapons, and brought the abducted children - and the others, his own father among them - back to Earth.

That got me as far as Memphis. On the way to Little Rock, I told myself a story about a young man who came home to his father's funeral, and found that he'd inherited a book and a sword: the book to explain what had happened and what was coming, and the sword to fight against it. The Demon Lord commanded powerful forces, but in the end human stubbornness prevailed. With the Demon Lord vanquished, the ties between our worlds were severed - but the dead were still dead, and the missing, missing.

They were vague and grandiose fantasies, though I took some pleasure in filling in the little details: how the ruins look, why the villain had bothered with a death ray, how the aliens differed from humans... It was comforting, to imagine a world where good would triumph and evil would be defeated. It pleasant to think that, with the right combination of wit and insight, things might still be set right. And it was, ultimately, just a fantasy. I knew that, but I indulged it anyway.

I stopped in Little Rock to eat. I don't remember what I ordered. I don't remember my waiter. I don't actually remember eating the food, but I must have done so. I have a vague memory of latching my seatbelt on the way back out of the parking lot. Presumably someone would have stopped me if I'd forgotten to pay...

Mom called me just as I was leaving Little Rock. I pulled over to answer the phone, then assured her that I was fine and still on my way. She said she was glad that I was coming home, and I told her I was, too. And when she was done, I put the phone on the seat and got back on the highway.

It was starting to get dark, and I was tired. But I thought about it, and decided that I'd continue on; I wasn't too tired to drive. (This may not have been the wisest decision I've ever made.) So I drove, keeping the Jeep in its lane and watching the mile markers go past, and eventually I hit Texarkana. An impossibly long time after that, I drove into my parents' house in Grapevine.

By then I'd gotten my second wind, which was a good thing: Mom and Tina were still awake, waiting up for me. I barely made it in the door before they they were holding me. I was worn out from the drive, and maybe still in shock, so all I could do was wait through their tears and their relief, and assure them that I was glad to see them, too.

It was the worst homecoming I ever had.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Not much to say... (Open Thread)

Weekend trip left me worn out and a little sick. Better now, but we're up to our eyeballs in projects at work. Regular blogging will resume tomorrow, probably with the next installment of They Are Legion.

Consider this an open thread. Suggested topic: What's your favorite method/model of time travel? Books, TV, movies, and comics are all valid sources.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Amateur Escape Artist At Work

So we've driven to Houston for a wedding this weekend. (One of my wife's cousins is getting married.) We got in Friday night, and attended the rehearsal dinner. Then we came home and slept.

Despite getting quite a bit of sleep, I found myself completely worn out after lunch today. So I went into one of the rooms where we're staying, stretched out on the bed, and napped. And somewhere in there, the Beautiful Wife brought Secondborn in and put him in his pack'n'play for his nap. Secondborn hates napping, so naturally he screamed, a lot. And after a while he quit screaming, so I assumed that he was napping, too. (I wasn't actually in a position to check, as that would have required opening my eyes, and possibly rolling over.)

A while after that, the Beautiful Wife opened the door again and said, "I need you to move to another bed. I have to put Secondborn down for his nap."

I cracked an eyelid and said, "He's not in here?"

She said: "You didn't take him out?"

It turns out that Secondborn had, well, escaped. Not only had he gotten out of his pack'n'play, but he'd gone out into the main area and closed the door behind himself to cover his trail. So my wife thought that I'd taken the screaming child, plopped him outside the room for them to deal with, and gone back to sleep. I thought he'd quieted down because he was asleep.

And sure enough, when we put him back in the pack'n'play and asked him to show us how he could climb out, he did. He swung a leg up and hooked his ankle over the top of the wall. Then he used that to lever himself up until he was on top, and then he lowered himself back down on the outside.

Life as we know it is essentially over.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Right Behind: They Are Legion, Part Four

There really wasn't much left to do. I'd put most of my stuff in storage before Anna and I went camping, and it took very little time to load the last few bags and boxes into the Jeep. It would have been nice to stop and eat, but I didn't want to keep my family, and Mom in particular, waiting any longer than necessary. I could find a drive-through on the way...

I called again when I was on the road. I didn't stay on the phone for long; I didn't like talking while I was driving, and this seemed like a good time to stay alert. I just told them that I'd left, and when I'd call next. Tina told me to be careful, which was advice I didn't need.

The trip was remarkably uneventful, though. I mean, the end of the world is supposed to involve massive chaos, right? The highways should be littered with wrecks, city streets should be full of rioters or looters or partiers, and bands of cold-eyed survivors should be retreating to the wilderness with canned food and extra ammunition. Instead, I got... nothing. If anything, traffic was lighter than usual. But the roads were neither empty nor blocked with wrecked and abandoned vehicles.

From Sewanee, Tennessee to Grapevine, Texas is about thirteen hours by car. Call it fourteen, since you'll want to make stops for gas, food, and sanity. The easiest route goes up to Nashville, then swings down through Memphis, Little Rock, and Texarkana. I found an eighteen-wheeler doing a respectable speed on the highway, and settled in behind him. Eventually, he turned off, and I found another. Their presence was reassuring: it meant that an awful lot of our economy was probably still in place. I didn't need to be spot-welding weapons-mounts to the outside of the Jeep just yet.

I left the radio off. For a while I tried listening to one of my playlists, but it clashed with my mood and after a while I shut it off. So there I was, following the big trucks, driving in silence.

And realizing that my father was dead.

It didn't seem real. I couldn't make it real. Dad was a vibrant, living figure - he couldn't be dead. Not dead dead. He was still fixing up that old Karmann Ghia, for fuck's sake. No way he could die before he had it working again. It just wasn't possible.

I could imagine a world without my father in it, sort of, abstractly. I mean, I'd been in college in another state for three years, now. Yeah, I came home for summers and holidays, but holiday visits were just visits, and summers were always a shock. My parents were trying to figure out how to handle a kid who was basically out on his own, and I was trying to adjust to having parents again. So the idea of not seeing my dad wasn't all that strange. I spent a lot of my time not seeing him.

The idea that he wasn't out there, anymore... that it wasn't just that I wasn't seeing him, it was that he was really gone... That was something else altogether. I couldn't process it.

And after a while I gave up trying. I thought about Anna for a little bit, and realized that I should call her... and then realized that I wasn't sure if I wanted to. We balanced each other in some important ways, but her insistence that the disappearances had been The Rapture... and that we'd missed it... was strange and unwelcome. It made me realize that maybe I didn't know her as well as I'd thought I had. That maybe we weren't as... connected... as we'd thought we were.

But that was something else I wasn't ready to deal with. So I left it alone and kept driving, losing myself in the simple act of keeping the car on course. I wasn't thinking so much as waiting, letting my brain absorb the new information and giving it time to adapt, to formulate new responses.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

My Refrigerator Door was covered

So, school is back in session. Yesterday this came home in Firstborn's backpack:

If you could be any animal, what would be and why? Draw a picture of yourself as that animal.

Can you guess what that's a picture of?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Conan the Gozerian

Because Scalzi's wish is my shamelessly-stolen-story-idea...

Wind stirred in the nighted trees and stirred the high grasses to life. Above, the wispy clouds drifted past a gibbous moon, which spilled its silver light across a half-ruined structure of stone.

Conan paused in the shadow of a tree and surveyed the ancient building. It had once been a smooth dome, its stones perhaps clad in beaten copper; faint gleams of metal were still visible in places, and the stones below them were stained with something that looked green enough - though it was hard to tell in the moonlight. A ring of pillars had surrounded it, statues atop them, but now only a handful remained; the others had toppled with the inexorable passage of time. The great central dome, a hundred paces across and nearly that high, was cracked. Off towards the back, a part of it had fallen in.

Conan thought the place had once been a temple. It looked ill-suited for anything else. The thought stirred a faint uneasiness in his barbarian soul, for he knew well the dangers that might lurk in such forgotten shrines. Still, it would have to do. The remains of his Kozaki lay strewn on the battlefield less than half a mile behind him, and there was a sizable reward for Conan's head: the Duke's men were still beating the bushes in search of him. With any real cover, he could elude them; but the trees were growing sparse here, giving way to flat grasslands. His mounted pursuers would quickly ride down a man on foot.

They might hesitate to enter a place such as this, though. And if they did, well... the only passage looked narrow enough that he could stand off a small group of men from inside it. Thus decided, he did not linger. Quick and graceful as a panther, he strode through the grasses, listening for the sounds of his pursuers as he went.

When the high grasses gave way to broken, uneven paving stone, he sprinted for the dark rectangle of the doorway. A moment later he was inside, and he stopped there, looking back. Finally, satisfied that there was no pursuit, he stalked further into the darkness, keeping one hand on the wall and the other extended in front of him. He heard no sounds save his own soft steps, smelled nothing but ancient, dusty stone. Nothing lived here, and nothing came here. The shattered temple was uninhabited, desolate, and would serve his purposes admirably.

Then a section of floor gave way beneath his feet, and he felt himself falling.

* * *

There was light when he looked up. It filled the room, soft and white, little brighter than the moonlight he had left outside. He could not see its source. It seemed to come from everywhere, perhaps from the air itself. But it was enough to let him see, and he raised himself from the floor and checked his body for injuries. Despite the added weight of his chainmail shirt, he had suffered nothing worse than bruises.

The room was wide and circular. No doorways were immediately evident. Conan had fallen near to one wall, so perhaps the way out was blocked by the ornate dias and the crude stone altar that filled the center of the room.

Conan began to walk, following the wall. The hairs on his nape were prickling; he did not like that altar. It was only a lump of rough stone, but it was set atop steps carved smooth and even, steps decorated with half-recognizable symbols and strange reliefs. The contrast gave the altar itself an impression of inhuman antiquity, as if the sculptors and masons who had shaped this place had not dared even to touch that one stone.

A pair of stone statues flanked the altar. They were animals, a matched pair, but no animal that Conan knew. They seemed some strange cross between a dog and bull, low-built with wide shoulders, and forward-curving horns on their heads. Such beasts had no place in the world Conan knew, and he wondered if they were fanciful - or if the hands that carved them had been guided by eyes which had once looked upon such things.

His gaze fell on the altar again, and this time a shadowy figure might have been standing behind it. Conan froze, his hand resting on the hilt of his sword, as a horrible, atonal, screeching voice filled the room. "You have come at last, sub-creature," it said. "Choose. Choose and perish."

"Choose?" asked Conan. The voice roused in him all the ancient fears of his people, but also a sort of atavistic defiance.

"Choose the form of the Destroyer. Speak your fear and give shape to the Gozerian."

"Bah," snarled Conan, and drew his sword. "I am Cimmerian! I fear not pain or death, neither man nor ghost nor demon! Bring your destroyer, and if he can fall to steel I'll send him back to Hell."

There was a momentary pause, and then the awful voice spoke again. "The choice is made. The Traveler has come."

And from behind the altar stepped... Conan.

On the floor below, Conan grunted in surprise. This reflection was perfect, from the mane of black hair to the battered chain mail shirt, from the torn breeches and leather boots to the sword at its side. Only the eyes were strange, and when Conan met them he was nearly undone. There was a great, sucking sense of vertigo, as if he were being drawn into a whirlpool, and a profound sense of being pulled into something unclean. He forced his gaze away by an effort of will, and found that his reflection had a blade out and had nearly closed the distance between them.

Furious, Conan sprang at his opponent. Steel rang on steel as Cimmerian battled Gozerian. Only the unerring instinct of the barbarian allowed Conan to survive those first few moments, for his twin moved at a pace no mortal man could match. He felt more than saw his opponent's blade as it flashed past his face, and cut up behind it. Backed by Conan's steely-thews and wolf-quick reflexes, the tip of his blade brushed the top of his opponent's hand...

...And Conan felt his own thumb begin to bleed. He backed away, and saw that his opponent was untouched. Understand flashed through him like lightning.

Whoever had summoned this destroyer here had called it from across unimaginable gulfs of time and space, from places strange and alien to this world. And in whatever ancient epoch that was done, the summoner had departed without completing his conjuration. To work its evil in this world, the blasphemous thing needed an earthly form... and in taking Conan's form, the Gozerian had not only bound itself to the Earth, but to Conan's form as well. It had forged a connection between them, and that connection was both its strength and its weakness.

Conan considered none of this. He saw, he understood, and he acted. A tigerish spring carried him momentarily out of the Gozerian's reach, and before it could close with him again he turned his point and rammed it into his own heart. The blow which had unhorsed him in the day's earlier battle had split his mail there, and the blade barely slowed as he drove it home.

Only it was not the Cimmerian who reeled back, wounded and dying, with blood pulsing from a gaping wound in his breast. Conan's flesh was untouched, despite the force of his thrust. The tip of his blade rested lightly against his skin, while his opponent stumbled, gasped, and fell.

"So," said Conan. He extended his arm, and with the back of the blade delivered a powerful blow to his own neck.

A moment later he exhaled, in a powerful mixture of relief and awe, as the head of Conan the Gozerian rolled away across the floor.

The altar cracked, and a powerful tremor shook the temple. The pale light dimmed, then came back. One of the beast-statues fell with a terrific crash, losing an arm and one horn as it plowed down the steps.

Conan continued his original course, following the wall and staying well clear of that ancient and blasphemous altar. There was indeed a door on the far side, and he sprinted for it, unsure if the entire building was about to come down around him. The light from the altar room was just enough to reveal the bottom-most step of a staircase, leading up.

* * *

In the morning, Conan departed the temple. From the outside, it seemed only a little more ruined than it had been, but the Duke's men must have been close when it happened: he found traces of their steps near the entrance, and with a little work could see how they had paused, staggered, and then turned and fled back to their master. Realizing this, Conan gave voice to a low, throaty chuckle. He had a blade at his side, and a bit of dried meat in a pouch on his belt. What more did he need? He would continue on his way, perhaps take work with a mercenary company, and see what might come next. He was alive, and had a fighting chance; he asked for nothing more from life...

...Though a flask of wine would have been welcome.

Random Joke

Firstborn told me this one. He said he got it from a movie they'd watched at school.

Q. What do you get if you cross a chicken with an octopus?
A. Enough drumsticks for a family dinner!

Update on my Mom

So here's what we have right now:

It does appear to have been a (very minor, localized) stroke. At this point, hearing in her right ear seems to be returning, though the right-side facial slackness remains. There's supposed to a sort of "team meeting" with my parents and the doctor(s) in a while, so there may be more details to come, but it looks like the crisis-y part of this is over.

Also, yay for modern medicine! And thanks again to everyone who offered advice, information, and/or prayers and vibes.

Right Behind: They Are Legion, Part Three

My mom answered on the second ring. I'd been considering what she most needed to hear, so when she said, "Hello," I said:

"Mom, it's James. I'm still here. I'm fine."

There was a brief, choked sob, and then a moment of silence. I said, "Hello?" but nobody answered.

I tried again: "Hello?"

Then I heard my sister's voice: "James?"

I said, "Yes... are you guys all right?"

"Jesus," said Tina, "We thought you were dead, too. Why didn't you call us?"

Something cold and tight curled in from my shoulders and settled in my guts. "I was camping. There's no reception. What do you mean, you thought I was dead, too?"

There was a long pause. Then Tina said, "It's Dad." She hesitated, but I didn't say anything. I couldn't. "There was an accident. The driver beside him disappeared. The car drifted into his lane, pushed him off the road. He's... dead."

You hear that, Anna? I thought. It's not the Rapture. Because if that was the Rapture, your God just murdered my dad.

There was sound of fumbling, and then my mom was speaking into the phone. "James? James, honey? You have to come home. You should be with your family."

"I'm on my way," I told her. "I'll call you when I'm on the road. I love you."

"I love you," said Mom, and cut off the call.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Help from the Hive Mind: weird medical question

I need thoughts, ideas, and relevant personal experiences.

Apparently my mom woke up yesterday morning in pretty bad shape. The primary symptoms seemed to be a profound sense of vertigo, and high-grade nausea (probably as a result of the vertigo). In addition, she can't hear out of her right ear at all. My dad called their doctor (who seems perfectly competent, as far as I can tell), and told him about the symptoms, and he prescribed some medication which seems to be helping with the dizziness (and hence the nausea).

So, you know, so far, so good.

Upon coming over to visit today, I found that the right side of my mom's face is... slack. I hadn't been expecting that, and immediately wondered if she'd had a stroke. On further inspection, I don't think so - but I'm not a medical professional, I only know what I read. And this is sufficiently disturbing that I'd like to get some input from you guys.

Here's the information I'm working with:
1. The side of her face isn't numb, it's just slack. This effect seems to extend from up around the right eye, down to the chin; it's giving her trouble drinking water, rather as if she'd just come home from getting a filling at the dentist's office. (She hasn't.)

2. Part of that area, maybe most of it, seems to be oddly swollen. Now, her lower lip has been swollen for a couple of weeks - nobody seems to be sure why. Anti-chapping balm has cured some surface chapping but not affected the swelling at all. This new, wider area of swelling appears to extend from the lip, across the cheek, and up to the cheekbone; it's particularly obvious where it reaches the bottom of the cheekbone.

3. Yesterday's medication (apparently some sort of next-generation dramamine equivalent) has resolved most of the vertigo, and that seems to have cured the nausea as well. She can eat and drink, and keep her food down.

4. She still can't hear out of her right ear, but her right eye seems to be working fine: she has full binocular focus, and as far as I can tell no drifting of the eye or delay in response time, or anything like that.

5. She is oriented as to place, time, and events; she has a very slight slur (about what you'd expect when one side of your mouth was numb) but is otherwise perfectly capable of speaking clearly. She also has no trouble understanding, following conversations, responding appropriately, etc.

6. Her doctor seems to think it's a blockage in the Eustachian tube. He's apparently trying to get it to drain.

7. My mom is post-polio, and cannot move her legs. She normally walks with crutches and braces. This is probably irrelevant here, but might be worth mentioning.

Here's my current hypothesis:
I don't think this is the aftermath of a stroke. It's possible, but I don't think that's what's going on. But I'm not a medical professional, so what do I know?

I think this may actually be the result of a bacterial infection. Mom's lower lip has been swollen for two weeks, now. I'm thinking that maybe the infection has spread, causing more swelling, which is currently squeezing off the Eustachian tube (and possibly part of the nerves in the face) and thus causing the more obvious symptoms.

So here are my questions:
1. Does that hypothesis seem at all possible?
2. Are there any other possibilties that I'm missing? If so, how likely are they?
3. Have you ever run into anything like this before? If so, what fixed it? (If we can clear the whole thing up by, say, having her down a glass of lemon juice, I'd love to know about it.)
4. Any other thoughts or ideas you'd care to contribute?

Cross-posted on the ULMB