Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Stopping evil plans via unconventional means in mission control

I'm not entirely sure where this came from.  I know that I was refreshing my memory of the plot of Captain America: The Winter Soldier (spoiler: almost entirely not about the winter soldier) and it started when I got to the part with the standoff over the launch, but that was over relatively quickly in the movie and, moreover, nothing like this.


*there's some kind of launch, not necessarily physical, that has separated some kind of agency into two sides.  Good people want to stop it.  Bad people want to cause it.  Our scene is in mission control*

*almost everyone in the room is pointing a gun at someone else in the room*

Talkative Technician: People, people, can't we all be friends?

*almost no one takes notice*

Talkative Technician: Plus, you're all acting like guns win battles and I really feel like our employers have trained us better than that.  I mean the reason you're all pointing guns at each other isn't that we're arguing over where to point some really big gun.

Talkative Technician: The fact of the matter is that guns matter only at the margins and it's rarely ever guns that win battles.  Tactics win battles.

*talkative technician presses a button on console*

*the lights go out*

*many guns are fired*

*the emergency floodlights come on*

*soon everyone is pointing guns at each other again*

Talkative Technician: All of those bullets and none of you hit anything?  I mean, don't get me wrong, I prefer a bloodless outcome.  Win without wounding or some such alliterative nonsense, but don't you think it proves my point that tactics beat guns?

*low level bad guy has used the distraction to get to a critical computer*

Low Level Bad Guy: Boss, we can't do anything.

*head bad guy points his gun at talkative technician*

*many of the people with guns shift where they're pointing them in response to head bad guy's change (the sides are the same, but priorities have shifted)*

Bad Guy: What did you do?

*talkative technician points to nearest emergency floodlight*

Talkative Technician: I thought that was obvious... I cut the power.

Bad Guy: Fix it.

Good Person: Don't.

*talkative technician rolls eyes*

Talkative Technician: I swear you people with guns think you rule the world or something.  You want to know what I think?  I think...


*cut to outside where there is special effect laden superhero combat*


*security monitors, lights, and various other things have been restored but all of the computer consoles that populate the room refuse to turn back on*

Talkative Technician: ... and that, at the end of the day, is what matters most.  Now, I know some people are all, "Cartesian dualism!" but I have to call bullshit on that and-

*talkative technician glances at security monitors*

Talkative Technician: Duck!

*bad guy reinforcements storm the room, several good people are wounded, none seriously, they're placed under guard, bad guys now have all the guns*

Bad Guy: Fix It.

Good Person: Don't!

*good person is struck*

Talkative Technician: That was completely unnecessary; besides nothing has changed.

Bad Guy: It looks like a lot has changed from my point of view.

Talkative Technician: Then you should get your eyes checked.  You had guns, now you have more guns.  Your guns couldn't help you before, what makes you think they'll start now?

*Bad Guy motions and several rifles are pointed at talkative technician*

Talkative Technician: Oh, yeah, shooting me will totally make me do what you want.  When I am good and dead and zombified I will be totally compliant.


*more superhero combat*


*bad guy angrily walks over and points his sidearm at talkative technician*

Bad Guy: Fix whatever you did so we can restart the launch.

Talkative Technician: Ok, see, the thing is that I cut the power.  Now I can't use the computer console to restore the power that I cut to the computer console because the computer console has no power on account of me cutting it.

*bad guy growls*

Talkative Technician: In fact, I cannot conceive of a way in which it might even be possible for--

*cell phone rings*

*talkative technician holds up a finger*

*talkative technician pulls cell phone out of pocket and checks the number of incoming call*

Talkative Technician: Sorry, I have to take this.

*talkative technician flips open cell phone*

Talkative Technician: (into phone) Kiddo!


*more superhero combat*


*talkative technician is speaking into cell phone, turned away from gun pointing bad guy, though still surrounded by other, lower level, gun pointing bad guys*

Talkative Technician: (into phone) Look, I know it's scary but the fact of the matter is that either she likes you or she doesn't and if she doesn't not asking won't change that while if she does not asking might make you miss your chance.

Talkative Technician: (into phone) So just ask her out, it doesn't have to be some big deal, just something you both know is a date.

Talkative Technician: (into phone) I-- I know.  ... I know.  ... Yeah, but see, stalling doesn't change that.


Talkative Technician: (into phone) Ok, how could that possibly make things less awkward?


Talkative Technician: (into phone) Look, I know where you're coming from.  Really I do.  In fact I'm asking you to be braver than I was when I was in your shoes, but trust me on this one, no good will come from the easy way out.  So just... just, if you want to to go out with her ask her out.


Talkative Technician: (into phone) I understand that, but...


*more superhero combat*


Talkative Technician: I'm glad you see it my way.  Now, there's one last thing.

Talkative Technician: You can't do anything to change whether or not she likes you, but whether she's attracted to you is another story.  You can't make her be, but you've got at least some influence so please, please, wear that dress I helped you pick out when you ask her.

Talkative Technician: You're not going to have to dress like that all the time.  ... No, don't worry about that. ... Because she already knows how you usually dress and you should make sure she sees how you look when you do dress up.

Talkative Technician: Great.  Best of luck.  I love you, kid.

*talkative technician puts phone away and turns to bad guy who has a gun an inch away from talkative technician's forehead*

Talkative Technician: Ah... neighbors.  Now, where were we?

*bad guy holds up radio*

Bad Guy: You're going to tell my friends how to restart the launch.

Talkative Technician: Well if I'm going to do it anyway then it's a foregone conclusion and whatever will be will be.  Que Sera, Sera.  So there's no point in us arguing about it; we can just wait for it to happen.  So why don't you put away your gun, and I'll put away my snark, and we'll just stand here and let the future wash over us?


*more superhero combat*


*bad guy cocks the gun*

Talkative Technician: Please, if you were going to shoot me in the head you could do it from across the room.  The only reason you're so close is because you want to intimidate me by using perspective to make your sidearm look big and scary.


Talkative Technician: Plus, manual cocking is completely unnecessary with that type of gun.


*more superhero combat*


*bad guy is now over by the other captured agents and technicians*

Bad Guy: Tell me how to restart the launch or I'll shoot her.

Talkative Technician: How did I know you weren't going to threaten one of the men when there were women available?  Let me count the ways.

*bad guy is about to fire*

Talkative Technician: No.  You don't need to do that.  I believe you.

*bad guy smiles and lowers the gun*

Talkative Technician: You're going to lose anyway, I was just stalling for time, and I'd say I bought more than enough.

*bad guy raises the gun again*

Bad Guy: Quit stalling.

Talkative Technician: Right, yup.  Give me that radio.


*more superhero combat*


Talkative Technician: (into radio) Now you want to pull out the bundle of wires that looks like a purple octopus... well, except that it has seventeen wires, but you'll know it when you see it.


Talkative Technician: (into radio) Got it?  Good.  Now strip the...


*penultimate superhero combat*


Talkative Technician: (into radio) And that should do it.

Bad Guy: It's done?

Talkative Technician: Well it'll take about two minutes to boot up, during which there still could be problems I need to address, but in theory, yes.


*ultimate superhero combat*


Talkative Technician: I told you you were going to lose.


Sunday, December 28, 2014

Computer update: computer gone, along with more money

For some reason, unknown even to the people who worked there after much investigating, my computer was not allowed to be repaired.  Not "not able to be repaired", which would require actually checking it out, not allowed to be.  Repairs were discontinued on that model or something.

Like I said, even they didn't understand and they gave it their best shot.

In the absence of repairs my warranty covers replacement.  Thus: replacement.

At which point there were more problems.  They didn't have a comparable computer in stock.  They couldn't order a comparable computer because the only comparable computer (how can there be only one?  I don't know) was even out of stock online.

Searching thus began.  What's closest to comparable?

In the end it came down to basically two choices.  Both were a step down on the disk drive (but ... external disk drive.)  One was better than what I had, one was worse.  If I got the worse one then, since it was cheaper than the one it would be replacing, some of the savings could be put toward a new warranty.  Also it was available at the store so I could walk out with it right then.

In every imaginable logical way of looking at the world I should have gotten the worse one.

I chose to get the one that, instead of being a step down from where I was before, was a step up.

I don't have to pay for the computer.  I don't have to pay for the external disk drive to make up for it having a worse internal one than my old one.  Woo, warranty!  (Seriously, that truly is a great deal.)

I do have to wait about a week and a half for it to get here, but repairs usually take two weeks so I was expecting to be without primary computer for longer than that anyway.

The problem is: what happens if something goes wrong with the new computer?  The warranty doesn't carry over.  On the one hand, that's understandable, on the other hand they should totally have the option to buy a protection plan that ensures you have a working computer for the duration, even if that means replacement.  My family mixes with technology the way potassium mixes with water, but surely not everyone has such problems.

So I had to buy a new protection plan.  Except... remember back when I got the now-old computer?  Remember what the plan was?  The plan wasn't for the computer to be replaced in a year.  That was, very much, not the plan.

The plan was to get any problems repaired for the duration of the warranty and then keep on using it for as long as fucking possible afterward.  My old-old computer was held together with screws from Home Depot and ran off parts ripped from computers other people dismissed as junk because, after the warranty on that ran out, fixing it was left up to me.

That was the plan for the computer I've now parted with.  Which meant that I bought one of much higher quality than I normally would so that it would still be able to run decent programs in whatever technological environment we found ourselves in when I was holding it together with improvisation, faith, luck, love, 4-40 machine screws, matching nuts, a drill press to make holes for them, and a hacksaw to cut off the excess screw length.

The warranty on such a computer, and thus the warranty on a replacement, costs more than a low end computer.

Also: data migration.  It's not free.

So I have a new computer on the way, with a new warranty to protect it, and negative 500ish dollars at more than 20% annual interest.

Because what I really needed was more debt.


The people at the store were impressed by the highly noticeable damage to the hinges.  I care about working hinges, but Brin's right, hinge problems can be managed.  My primary concern was that the damn thing was crashing unpredictably without so much as a blue screen and with such speed that it seemed like I'd yanked the battery while it was unplugged.

I can fix hinges myself, I've done it before, I can't fix computer problems.  Hinges are a mechanical problem.

Sunday Sermonizing: An American Tune

I made a video.  Photos and video from the goings on at my university set to music

The song is Paul Simon's American Tune as preformed by him in 2011.

Obviously the pictures of articles are ... you know, pictures of articles.  Most of the photos of students, and most of the video of students, comes from this day.  The first bit of video of students, however, is from when students we kept out of a public building by handcuffing the doors shut.*

The "Don't have a friend who feels at ease" series of shots zooming in on someone's door were taken on the most recent day I was at the university.  I had stop by to pick something up, and I noticed that they hadn't torn down her signage yet.  Still her door, still her bulletin board.

Classics being cut never really made the paper the way that French did.  The reason is not, as you might think, that cutting French in Maine** was so shocking it made news, but rather that they had to vote to cut French.  Classics, on the other hand, was cut without a vote.  As were various other programs including every single (non-French) language program.

The reason they could get away with cutting those programs without a vote was that they'd been doing some bureaucratic shuffling for quite some time which kept the programs from being officially recognized as programs.

Anyway, pictures of the office of a teacher who has been terminated.  She was mentioned in a recent article, so have a quote:
One of my most exemplary colleagues teaches classics, and we’ve shared many students. Her students learn Latin and translation; they learn a different way to view the world, and a closer and more critical way to read the information around them. They learn to make sense of themselves and their lives in new ways. Just recently, she proctored a reading group of veterans who read Homer’s Odyssey together. It was an experience that helped all of them see their experiences in a new way. It was a surprising and transformative experience. It was the kind of experience that universities make available to those in their communities. But it was, apparently, “grandiose.” That colleague, Jeannine Uzzi, who recently published her second book with Cambridge University Press and has only begun what will be a long and distinguished career, was retrenched recently, in USM’s rush to stop trying to be a “flagship.”
The "wonder what's gone wrong" pictures of the Board of Trustees, featuring President Flanagan, are from the meeting where over 70 people, including myself, came to speak out against certain cuts because they were economically harmful (cut something that turns a profit and you end up deeper in debt) and morally repugnant (I could go on for ages.)  No one on the board responded to a single point raised in public testimony.  Some didn't even listen to it (Flanagan was having a side conversation with a member of the BoT during the part where someone explained the negative effect the cuts would have on providing healthcare to children of color.)

I've already pointed out that the rest of the video is from this day.

The "the ship they call the Mayflower" picture is just pointing out that they cut American and New England studies.

The "the ship that sailed the moon" is a picture of, and article about, the professor that had an asteroid named after her.  Not named one after herself, that hardly merits note, had the International Astronomical Union choose to name it after her (much to her surprise.)  Probably for her contribution to knowledge of comets.  (I guess a comet wasn't available so they gave her an asteroid instead.)  She was, of course, let go.

We can afford to pay two university presidents at once (high level administrators are never fired for incompetence, they're replaced but paid for the rest of their contract) but can't afford someone whose name is written in the stars.

I fucked up the formatting of the article trying to get it to fit nicely, and as a result if you pause and read the article you'll see the words "ago. Ziffer was part of the team that" before and after a line break.  Not a big problem (better than something getting left out) but it means on your initial read your brain will try to parse the sentence "Ziffer was part of the team that ago," which cannot be parsed.

And I think that about covers everything.

Next semester's going to be another working day.


* Things to note:
  • The doors had locks.  Using handcuffs was entirely to send a message.
  • There never would have been that many students if they'd been allowed in the building; forcing them to stay outside caused them to draw a crowd, myself included.
  • The building in question houses the law school and the administrative offices but the two are largely separated by floor.  If the administrators had really wanted to hide they could have locked down their floor (the penthouse) without disrupting the law school.  Instead they forced the law students to all file through a much smaller side door, which was never intended to service the entire building, where they were each individually confronted by police who were tasked with making sure that they really did have pressing business in the building.  After half a day of seeing the law students treated like criminals, the person in charge of the law school decided to cancel classes.  Said person: not consulted on the whole shutting down the building in which the school resides.
  • Note the "after half a day" thing in the last point?  Students, being students, need to attend classes.  The demonstration was at it's greatest point during a 15 minute break between classes and, in its entirety, lasted about two hours.  The armed guards were there all day.  The main entrance was closed to the public all day (though in the afternoon it was un-handcuffed and simply guarded by police officers with batons out.)  The secondary entrance was closed to the public all day.  The tertiary entrance was closed to the public, save law students who were subject rigorous verification that they were law students with classes at that time and not simply impostors who were trying to sneak passed the armed guards, during the first half of the day, and closed to the public entirely during the second half.
  • The parking lot, where the protest did not take place, was closed all day.  The only cars were police cars.  The only people who set foot in it were police officers who did a very good job of looking perpetually pissed off.  The reasoning for this has never sufficiently been explained.
  • I've often felt forsaken, and certainly misused.
** First you have to realize that cutting French at USM cut the major system-wide and is going to seriously fuck up the French teacher supply in the state.

Second you have to realize how important French is in Maine.  Where I live French is mostly spoken by recent immigrants.  That is not why Maine has so many French speakers though.  Maine's Francophone culture runs deep.

It has to do with Acadia.

Acadia was a French colony.  It included New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, parts of eastern Quebec, and most of Maine.  (I live in the extreme south west of Maine, which was not part of Acadia.)

The French settlers allied with native tribes.  Some members of those tribes speak French still.  Those are the deepest roots you'll find, French speakers whose families have been here for as long as there have been people here.

The largest portion of French speakers trace their roots to the French settlers themselves, of course.

The border of what is now Maine took a long time to get solidified.  That didn't just mean absorbing parts of Acadia, well after Acadia had ceased to exist there was a dispute over exactly where the border was and so there were parts of modern Canada that people considered parts of Maine and parts of modern Maine that people considered parts of Canada.

That only partially matters because British rule of the entire area was solidified by 1763.  That sort of stopped French people from coming in large numbers to settle in areas that would eventually become part of Maine.

In fact, it led to an exodus, (more from the other parts of Acadia than from Maine, though.)

The exodus resulted in the creation of Cajun culture in Louisiana.

Which brings us to how many people in Maine are French speakers, as compared to the rest of the USA.  It, like so many things, depends on precisely how you count.  Maine might have the highest proportion of French speakers of any state if you count one way.  Or, if you count another way, it's second to Louisiana.

Friday, December 26, 2014

So, my sister walks into a bar covered in blood

All available sources agree, this is how it happened.

My sister walks into a bar covered in blood.

My sister walks into an Irish (American) pub covered in blood.

My sister walks into an Irish pub in New England covered in blood.

My sister walks into an Irish American pub in New England, after the Patriots won a football game, covered in blood.

Everybody in the pub (except, presumably, the workers) is drunk out of their minds.  They're looking at this woman who just walked into the pub and is covered in blood.

Does my sister explain why she is covered in blood?  No.  She's my sister.  She tells her friends, "Come on!  We're going to have the best Christmas ever!"

Because that totally makes sense coming from someone covered in blood without explanation.


I've never had venison before.  I'm not overly impressed, but neither am I disappointed.  I don't think it made yesterday the best Christmas ever.  But it was good meat.

What happened is that my sister got into a car accident.  She was fine.  The car was mostly fine.  The deer was, thankfully, killed instantly.

After my sister found out that last part she was completely fine with the situation and, as noted by her when she was covered in blood, looking forward to the best Christmas ever.

Before she found out she was terrified that she'd find that the deer had been terminally wounded but was still alive and suffering.  I can see how scary that would be.  The only decent thing to do in that case would be, as she said, to finish it off.  But intentionally killing something isn't really something either she or I want to do.  (Though she's more comfortable with getting to know things which are going to be killed than I am.)

Also, I think though she did not say this, there would probably be lingering doubt.  What if you thought it was terminally wounded when really it would have recovered?  Then your attempt at mercy would actually be a bad thing.

Anyway, that didn't happen.

The deer died instantly.  However, it landed wound side down.  When my sister approached it looked like it was fairly pristine, just stunned.  Then she lifted the head.  Which is when she got covered in blood.

Thus, venison.

Before the meal she said a grace in which she thanked God,  the deer, the car that killed the deer, and her friend who prepared the deer for eating.

And that, basically, is the kind of person my sister is.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Jesus made a whip from some ropes and chased them all out of the Temple.

This isn't the time of year for shepherds to be in the fields with their sheep.  Jesus probably wasn't born now.  If, by some miracle (can't count it out considering who he is), he was born today, then it wasn't December 25th.

The Julian Calendar introduced the now-standard leap year, which mostly fixed the problem of a year not being a whole number of days long.  But it over-corrected.

It was three days long every four hundred years.  Thus the most recent adjustment to our calendar which makes it so we skip having a leap year every hundred years, but skip the skip every four hundred years.

Now it's as close to right as we're likely to get it.

Of course, the reason for the introduction of the modern, Gregorian, calendar was the same as the reason for the introduction of the Julian calendar: Things got fucked up.

Julius Caesar was annoyed that the calendar wasn't right, which meant that feasts and other religious things were happening at the wrong time of year.  (He was high priest, recall.)  So he attempted to fix it.

Centuries later Christians were annoyed that the calendar wasn't right, which meant that feasts and other religious things were happening at the wrong time of year.  So there was an attempt to fix it.  But there's an important footnote.  They didn't try to fix it the way that Caesar did.  Their festivals didn't even exist in the the time of Julius Caesar.  Their religious festivals were worked out around 325 AD (Nicaea is somewhat important as Christian tradition goes) and thus when the Christians reset the Calendar they reset it to 325 AD when it had already had almost 375 years to get out of whack.

So if Jesus was born at this point in the solar year, his birthday would have been more like the 22nd or 23rd.

And all of this is missing something fairly important: Christmas doesn't matter much.

Of the four canonical gospels, only two can be bothered to mention the fact that Jesus happened to have been born.  Christmas only became important when some people started saying that Jesus hadn't been born.  Not non-Christians who said he never existed, Christians who thought that he wasn't human after all and never went through that whole process known as birth.

It is likely that, for example, the author of Mark didn't feel the need to say that Jesus was born because he felt that it naturally followed from the fact that Jesus was walking around doing stuff.  He probably thought it went without saying, which is why he went without saying it.

But as the Church matured some people started thinking that maybe Jesus was never born in the first place.  Some of this was wrapped up in a mind-body dichotomy that goes back to Plato and the idea packed up with it that mind=good and body=bad.

We've still got a lot of that going on.  Body without mind = zombies eat your brains.  Mind without body = benevolent energy beings.

Anyway, people started saying Jesus was never born and suddenly it was very important for Christians who thought that that was horrible heresy to say, "No, he was totes born!" and thus Christmas started to matter.

But that was later.

What mattered at the beginning was what he said and what he did.  Which brings us to the whip.

Only two gospels tell us about the birth of Jesus.  Four of them tell us about his confrontation with the money changers.  He didn't just drive them out, he also drove out their livestock.  That's potentially some serious damage to their pocket books because the livestock may very well have run the fuck away.

Insurance does not cover acts of god.

He scattered their coins.

Think about that.  You've got a bunch of people doing business, then all of their money is in one pile on the floor.  What do you think happens next?  If you answered, "They calmly and rationally sort the money so that everyone ends up with exactly what they had before they lost track of what belonged to who," then I question your knowledge of business people.

He overturned their tables.

At this point I think he's just in the flow of things and going with what feels right because, really, if he'd merely driven them out with a whip, scattered their money, freed their assets, and insulted them to their faces do we really think anyone would say, "Well, at least he didn't knock over the tables"?

I think not.

My point here, though, is that we begin to get an idea of one of the answers to the question, "What would Jesus do?"

There are other answers.  He would turn the other cheek.  He would say, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone," he would fail to condemn someone, he would give medical aid to his enemy, so on.

But, this is an important answer.  He would get violent.  But violent against what?  He drove the people out with a whip, but did he hit them with the whip or just make threatening motions?  What about the animals?  Some translations imply that the animals were driven out at the same time as the whip-fleeing people, others make it sound like it was a separate act (with no clear indication of how it was accomplished.)

We don't know.  We don't have detail there.

Where we do have detail is that he would get violent toward things.  Your tables will be overturned.  Your money will be scattered.  Your animals probably won't be abused, but they'll be loosed.

Jesus is coming and he intends to smash your shit.

It's not the version of him that we hear about often, but it is a version that we should hear about.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was many things.  "Criminal" usually isn't the first that comes to mind.  But he was.  When he was in Birmingham Jail he was there because he did, in fact, break the law.  It was the 13th time he was arrested.  He was smuggled a newspaper while there and read a condemnation of the actions of himself and his allies.  In the margins of that newspaper he began writing what would become the Letter from Birmingham Jail.

Here's an excerpt:
But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." Was not Amos an extremist for justice: "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream." Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." Was not Martin Luther an extremist: "Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God." And John Bunyan: "I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience." And Abraham Lincoln: "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free." And Thomas Jefferson: "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . ." So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime--the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.
King labeled Jesus an extremist.  He wasn't wrong.  We sometimes forget that.

I think we forget because it's easier to forget.  Most people in America like Jesus.  (I attribute this to Christian hegemony.)  We'd like to think that he'd be on our side.  But we have more than one shirt.  If you've got two, you're supposed to give one away.

We want to think that he'd judge us as good, but we never take all of our possessions, sell them, give the money to the poor, and then follow the life of a homeless rabbi.

We want to think that he'd forgive us our faults without too much trouble, but the fact of the matter is that while WWJD includes stopping people from stoning us to death, it may very well also include overturning our tables, scattering our money, disrupting our business, and telling us that we're assholes.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
   and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
   and sent the rich away empty. 
In America, even those of us who are poor, who don't know how we'll make it through the winter, and worry about not having enough food, and can't afford better shoes to keep out the freezing but infuriatingly still-liquid water, have it relatively easy.

Omales has a simple solution.  No one takes it because the fable would fall apart.  But save that kid.  Omales will be screwed, and they may very well lynch you out of spite, but once the spell is broken there's no reason for the child to suffer anymore so there's a decent chance you can somehow help.

We don't have such easy outs.  The world we live in is built on the suffering of people we'll never see.  They're going to be lifted up.  We're going to be cast down.  That's what it says.

You can't escape the system.  My sister's farm has become a sort of hub for traveling homeless people.  For a while some stay with her and thus have a home.  You'd think they'd be far removed from the system, but note the "traveling'.  The trains that they use to get from place to place don't run for them, they're freight hoppers.  If everything goes to plan the people running the trains don't even know they're on them.

The trains run because of our economy.  Our economy runs because we exploit people in other countries and we exploit our own underclasses.

Even the freight hoppers get their leg up because someone else is down.

When you see the system, when you see how it surrounds us, when you see how it pervades everything, when you see how it can't be escaped, when you see how even by doing nothing you benefit from it and support its perpetuation, when you see that the world you live in is built on the discomfort of others, then lifting up the lowly and bringing down the powerful becomes scary.

Because, no matter how powerless you may be, if you're reading this you're a member of the powerful to someone.

So I think that's why we don't focus on Jesus the extremist, Jesus the confrontational, Jesus the economically minded.

It's a lot easier to think about a baby in a manger under a star.

But in shying away from the very things that scare us, we also shy away from the things that should give us hope.

Yes, Jesus might burst in, fuck up your workplace, and tell you that you suck, but he'll also stand between you and the person who wants to stone you.
“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,”Jesus declared.
I mostly quote this because Jesus' response to people trying to get him to condone a killing is to draw in the dirt.  (And it works.)

But, dirt drawing aside, the same verses that threaten whatever comforts you've managed to carve out in your own life also threaten the comforts the powers that be have made systemic.

You're going to be in trouble for basing your lifestyle on stuff built out of human misery in factories that would make OSHA collectively fall to their knees and cry.  The people above are going to be in trouble for instituting the system that made the previous sentence reality.

The very Jesus that threatens you for your part in oppression threatens those who oppress you.  Embracing that may be uncomfortable, but it seems like it would be better for almost everyone.  Very few people aren't being kept down somehow.  Why we let them be in charge I do not know.

It never happens though.

Given the choice of embracing an ideology that fights injustice, even though it might hurt us a bit because our hands aren't clean themselves, and embracing the status quo, we always seem to go for the status quo.

I think it's the Republican gamble.  People do things that hurt them, things that keep them down, things that go against their own self interest at every turn, because the things that would help them, that would lift them up, that would improve their lives would also have a side effect of damaging or abolishing the unfair advantages they do have.

Every election we see people vote in favor of keeping themselves down for fear of losing what keeps other people lower.  People support the unfair disadvantages that hinder them for fear of losing the unfair advantages that allowed them scramble to whatever height they have achieved.

You know that the dice are loaded.  You know the deck is stacked.  You know the odds are never in your favor.  But you also know that other people have it worse.  So you bet that you can do better on the current unfair playing field than you could on a fair one.

In politics and religion both, it seems easier for people to accept a situation where other people have massive gobs of undeserved privilege, than to accept that fixing things will mean losing their own, much smaller, privilege.

Thus we rarely hear about the Jesus who would have cast out Wall Street and their supporters while going on an Aramaic rant about how the government should be for the people but instead its been made into a den of thieves, because that same Jesus would be telling us that we're being too selfish too.

And yet what we would gain if we started to make things fair is so much more than what we would lose.

But the promise remains.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
   and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
   and sent the rich away empty. 
That's via Slacktivist.  It's the prelude to the Christmas story.  Jesus won't be born for a few months yet, but it's about him.

We (collectively) may forever be stuck with the zero sum thinking.  We may forever be afraid to truly embrace such extremism because we're worried about being brought down, rather than lifted up, but it's going to happen.

That's the promise.

It occurs to me that in my ramblings I've missed something.

The powerful are going to be brought down, the lowly lifted up.  But most of us are both.  I think that's why people act against both morality and their self interest.  They focus on how they'll be brought down while forgetting that they'll also be lifted up.

A friend from Denmark once remarked on how he kept having the same conversation with Americans.  It went like this:
American: You have to pay that much in taxes?
My Friend: Yeah, but after expenses I have more money than you.
The Americans did what we as a country tend to do: focused on what would be lost.  My Danish friend looked at the full equation.  Brought down by taxes, lifted up by benefits, and realized that the result was better than if there weren't that balancing.

People don't want a Jesus who would rebuke them, but they miss that the exact same Jesus would benefit them as well.  So they make up a Jesus that's unthreatening and doesn't mind that they haven't visited anyone in prison lately, don't have homeless people bunking with them, aren't opening their pantry to the hungry, and are generally failing on the things Jesus said to do.

But today is (probably not) his birthday.  So maybe today we should look at the question, "What would Jesus do?" and try for a real answer.  It's just one day a year.

So, you know, get some rope, make a whip, and cast out some money changers.


This long rambling post went sideways, then fell off a cliff, rolled down a hill, turned toward the fourth dimension, and ran through the forest of tangents before I even got going with it.  At this point I'm not even sure that sense can be made of it, and who the fuck can tell what it was I meant to say?

I'll leave you with this:

The word "history" comes to us from a work of, more or less, the same name.  It didn't mean history when it was named it, but since it tends to be considered the first history in the western tradition it spawned the idea of history.  It also marks the beginning of Greek prose.

Herodotus, for that was the author's name, set out to tell the story of the world as near as he could figure it, which basically meant the war with Persia.  You may have heard about it, there was a movie called 300.

Some of what he writes is pretty damned accurate.  Some of it is utter bullshit.  Sorting out which is which can be annoying.  What is of interest here, though, is a theme that he repeats over and over again.

Right at the beginning he says:
I shall go forward further with the story, giving an account of the cities of men, small as well as great: for those which in old times were great have for the most part become small, while those that were in my own time great used in former times to be small: so then, since I know that human prosperity never continues steadfast, I shall make mention of both indifferently.
The great become small and the small become great.  His history is a story of reversals.  It was how he viewed the world.  A natural order of things.  The lowly shall be exalted; the powerful shall be cast down.

It wasn't a moral teaching, it was just something that happened.  This is where we get the idea that you're not supposed to count someone lucky until they're dead.  It's not that being dead is good, it kind of sucks, it's that as long as you're alive there remains the possibility that it will all come crashing down.

You only know if you avoided the fall when you're no longer capable of falling, thus when you're dead.

It's kind of a depressing world view, but it has within it a kernel of hope.

Persia might be way more powerful than you now, but you can weaken their army at Thermopylae, hold back their navy at Artemisium, and kick their asses at Salamis.  Nothing, not even oppression, lasts forever.

Like all things, this too shall pass.

The idea was there, the idea has probably always been there, but in the Christmas story it gains a moral component.  He'll overturn your tables when you're the corrupter, but he'll protect you when you're the victim, and even Rome shall fall.

And he'd rather write in the dirt than sanction a public execution, which is a set of priorities I hope we can all get behind.

'Twas the Night Before Christmas (Image post)

Ok, so I've had a lot of bad news lately.  Not catastrophic bad, just that I don't have money for clothes, my shoes have holes, winter rains are cold, my computer is broken thrice over, and stuff like that.

Last night I had Christmas (eve) dinner with family which is always an ordeal, but there were some definite good points.  Just take a look at that tree.  (Actual picture, I took it myself.)

So, let's focus on the good.

I got to see Wally, our dog, for the first time in a long time.  See, Wally is our dog, but we don't all live in the same place anymore, so I don't get to see him much, in spite of how much I love him and I'd like to think he loves me.  Thus, Wally:

There was a lot of seeing my nephew (19 months old) too.  We'll get to him.  First, the snowman.

The snowman had fallen down before we arrived:

My sister wasn't having that:

Though I do wonder if she might have been interfering with divine wrath.  That's a Yankees hat the snowman is wearing.  Still, Christmas Eve, we can accept people of all persuasions, even worshippers of evil like fans of the New York Yankees.

Then My sister, he son, and the snowman tried to get a picture together.  They looked at the camera, just not at the same time:

Jen looks at camera
Jensen looks at camera, Jen has her eyes closed.
Now, Jensen, being adorable, steals any show he's at.  But a weird thing happened a few times with photographing him.

See, the light indoors was perfect for seeing, but just a bit too dim to take good pictures.  Thus flash.

Normally this worked out fine:

Perfectly normal picture
But sometimes he switched on his anti-flash sheilds or something and it happened more like this, taken mere moments after the above:

Abby Normal picture
Only with Jensen, no one else.  Possibly it was getting stuff from the wrong spectrum, tapping his aura, and proving he is the savior.  But that seems unlikely.

Anyway, three more Jensen pictures:

Jensen completely ignoring that someone is trying to take a picture

He may be covered in lasagna, but he knows he's awesome and you should too.

Jensen is an elf, and he has socks to give you.
Now then, to wrap up, I gave my mother a present.  I never made it home, so there was no time to wrap it, I instead wrapped it in my coat.  Here it is, unwrapped, and having found its place in the world:

It likes the chair
I mentioned to my mother the existence of long exposure photography, and then decided to give it a try for the first time.  Strictly speaking I don't think my camera is designed for it, and I'd need to look into actually manually screwing with things instead of using presets if I want to have any real sucess, but the first result is mildly close to promising:

I was going for "Hi Mom" but time ran out when all I had was the H and the dot of the i.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A charter school, on the moon, with Steve.

Lonespark has suggested that we start a charter school on the moon.  We'll see if we can work "With Steve," into the name somewhere.

She can teach science, and Norse myth, and Norse religion and such.  I'll cover classics and math and whatnot.  Then we get into the recruiting.  Ana Mardoll is a computer programmer, she can also teach classes on feminism, I would think.  Fred Clark could clearly cover such diverse subjects as Journalism, theology, how not to be an asshole (ethics), and HOW NOT TO WRITE.  (I also nominate him as spiritual leader, but it's just a nomination meaning it can be declined and other people might get nominated too.)

"How not to write" will likely have teachers from all departments pitching in.  Certainly no degree in how not to write would be complete without Ana Mardoll's insights on Twilight and Xanth.

It seems, to me, that we face three hurdles:
  1. Accreditation
  2. Recruiting
  3. Getting to the moon

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Secular Christmas Media

It is written:
There are two kinds of people in the world: those who think Die Hard is a Christmas movie and those who are wrong.
and that happens to be true.

Lethal Weapon is also a Christmas movie.  Even the bad guy knows it:

What must be remembered, of course, is that while both of the movies are, definitively, Christmas movies they are not religious movies.  They could care less about the birth of the famous long haired radical socialist Jew (who probably didnt have long hair and was almost certainly born at a different time of year, but was totally radical, socialist, and Jewish) and merely use it as a backdrop.

The final fight scene in Lethal Weapon is lit by a strange combination of Christmas decorations and cop-car lights.  John McLain attaches a gun to his back using festive present packing tape.

In music we also see things where Christmas is a setting, but not a focus.

Fred Clark of Slacktivist introduced me to Fairytale Of New York :

It was Christmas Eve in the drunk tank, and later the bells will ring out for Christmas day, but it's not about religion or Santa or the spirit of giving or any such thing.

My mother has always liked Same Old Lang Syne:

It is a true story.  The fact that it takes place on Christmas Eve is probably important but not because of anything Christmasy.

The reason that it matters is that the chance meeting described probably only happened because most stores were closed.  Only one store was open in that area that Christmas Eve.  If more stores had been open they might have gone to different stores, and thus not bumped into each other.


My point here is is that I've just listed two Christmas movies and two Christmas songs that are somewhat removed from, you know, Christmas.

What are some other good bits of secular Christmas media?

Sunday, December 21, 2014

My computer: now even more broken than before

It is completely reasonable to blame me.  I left it in the care of two small children.  It just never occurred to me that they'd break the hinges that attach the screen to the body.

Truth to tell, I'm still not sure how they managed to apply enough force to do that.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

There appears to be something wrong with my computer

Initially I hoped that it was just a fluke.  It wasn't.

Something, I don't know what, is causing my computer to turn off.  Not just down.  Not crash to a blue screen.  Turn the fuck off.  It can't be the battery because it's happened while plugged in.  It can't be an interruption in power from the cord because it's happened when there was a decent charge on the battery.

Whatever it is, it's like the computer suddenly lost all power because there's no warning, no lead time, it's just working fine and then it's off.  Boom.

This is, obviously, a problem.

I'm going to have to dig up information to see if it's still under warranty.  I hope it is, because I want it fixed.  That said, I never like being without my main computer for any length of time.  I have secondaries (at least one of which actually works in a consistent and repeatable manner), and I'm grateful for that, but I still prefer to work on the primary.

There are a variety of reasons, but one of the biggest is the simple fact that all my stuff is here.

How will this affect posting?  Not a clue.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Stuff I'd like for Christmas

On, I think, Monday I noticed that another pair of jeans had developed I-don't-have-thigh-gap holes.  This brings my total "Jeans that fit and lack embarrassing holes" count down to one.  This can be somewhat augmented by the category of "Jeans that don't exactly fit, but can be worn, and are lacking in holes."

So, since I regularly beg for money (which sometimes even works), I was thinking of what I might beg for money for, with winter coming on and such.  And then a list started to form in my head.

So, for Christmas, I would like:
  • Jeans
  • A new winter coat
  • A rain coat
  • Gloves that don't suck
  • A hat (mostly so my ears and forehead don't freeze off)
  • Shoes that are waterproof
  • Boots, maybe.  I don't know, though.  That might be a reckless spending splurging kind of thing to spend money on.  I mean you can shovel snow for six hours in sneakers if you have to.  (Not that I have sneakers at the moment.)
  • Non-jean legwear
And, you know, that might be about it.  I mean I did think of random other things I could add to be silly:
  • Food for the donkey.  "What donkey?" you ask.
  • A donkey.
Original thought was pony.  The thing is, I don't think of ponies in terms of their usefulness.  It's probably unfair, but if I think of a working animal then what I need is a pack animal and when I think "pack animal" I think "donkey."

If I am to imagine myself loading up my groceries onto the back of a quadruped so I don't have to suffer under their weight for the duration of the walk home, I picture said quadruped as donkey, not a pony.

So, for the moment, that seems to be my list.  If you feel like sending enough money to buy anything on that list to me, the donate button is always open.  And donating even lets you leave a message so you can say, "This is totally for thing X, not thing Y," if you so desire.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

December 2013

I like indices.  I like being able to find things.  The Month Indexes are probably the most useless of the indices I make here, but it was never my intention to stop them.  They're almost, but not quite, two years out of date.  So this is my plan to catch up:
On the first day of each month I'll post the index for two years ago if it hasn't been made yet.  On the 16th day I'll post the index for one year ago.

This is the first index being posted on that plan, we'll see how long before I screw up the plan.

As a reminder, the point of these, in addition to just recapping past work, is to create a way to navigate quicker than going through the blog's old posts manually, but more informative than just looking at the post titles on the "Blog Archive" at the side of the page.

Movies and Games
Long Live the Queen - What I liked about the game.  This is important because I liked the game overall, I'm just not terribly good at talking about why I like things in any kind of detail.  Bad parts are easier to pinpoint.
Long Live The Queen: Unfortunate Implications (Spoilers) - Spoilers, note the spoilers notice.  This is entirely about the very end of the game.  Anyway, civil rights or peace and prosperity.  You can't have both.  Apparently.

General Stories/Ideas for Stories:
American Tricksters - Story Idea - It's kind of hard to explain quickly, that's why the post exists.  Short version: American culture is dominated by Christianity and Christianity has no trickster gods.  Trickster gods themselves stuck to the people who actually believe in them so most of America was left with a dearth of trickster gods.  To fix this the associated trickster gods of the planet have chosen humans to elevate to minor godhood to be tricksters for the non-(trickster)-believers.

And the candidates all live in the same house.  Some scenes with token white guy are included.  Loki is his mentor, which is, I think, what got the whole idea started.

Snarky Twilight:
Snarky Twilight: The Start of Chapter 15 (Or, that time Edward stepped into a bear trap) - Snarky Bella would not let Edward stay the night and she takes precautions when she knows superhuman home invaders might be coming to her room.
Snarky Twilight: Creativity, Trust, and ... um... stuff - Edward does his traditional insultingness, impugns Bella's creativity, claims Charlie sabotaged her truck, and is left wondering how Bella keeps convincing people to defy the narrative.

If the Heroes did their Jobs (Narnia):
The Dinner Party - Caspian and Lucy discuss the oddness of having a dinner party before dealing with the evil magician and the disturbing implications it might have.

Me Stuff:
Hope springs in a sort of lasting way that we're told is eternal but really who can say? - Donations saved me from total financial collapse.  Do you readers even realize how often you've saved me?  I don't think I can say often enough how grateful I am.

Insomnia - Just letting everyone know I had it.

Salvage - It's still in my garage.  You kind of have to read the post to understand.  It's a story--a true story--the kind of story that is only understood in the telling.  Later I saw another bike under the same bridge.  I wisely left it there.

I have no heating oil - Just another day in the exciting life of me.
A quick pointer when it comes to dealing with known liars - Extrapolating general life advice from dealing with the evil heating oil company.
And an update - The evil heating oil company dumps me in a (possibly fake) angry huff that leaves me with a profound sense of 'whut?'
Present conditions (pictures) - A look at the conditions at the time, so look at the quantity of snow and remember that this is when the evil heating oil company decided to refuse to deliver the oil for which they had already accepted payment, and hung up the phone on me.  Also an update on the object from "Salvage".
I have heat! - A more empty post you will not find.  It's just letting people know the heating oil debacle ended.

Shoveling (Image post) - Images to illustrate what winter is like here.  Text version: There was a storm and I had to shovel for seven days to deal with it.

The world at large stuff:
On poverty, internet, and cell phones - I don't really remember why I wrote this.  I know the screed it was in response to, but not why I felt the need to respond.  The point is simple, if made at length, if you don't know about what's going on with people in poverty, for the love of fuck don't try to use them as a tool to argue your points.

Music related to the time of year in a place dominated by Christians - Ten songs.  Christians and the Pagans will crawl into your head and refuse to leave, so one might wish to start with song two.  Some of the songs are heartwarming, some are hilarious, some are just nice.

Blog stuff:
Fundraising and whatnot - Same thing that I've thought about often, is there a way to make money off the blog that isn't just begging for money.  It's not that begging doesn't work (again, I have been saved from catastrophe by reader donations so many times) it's just that I'd rather have some other way.
More talk of fundraising - Oh good god, I didn't even remember that I was originally planning to graduate last semester before deciding that for mental health and assorted other reasons it would be good to stick around and retake certain classes I failed when in deep depression.  That's not the topic though.  The topic is that I was still trying to work out something I could do to make money off the blog beyond asking for donations.


Monday, December 15, 2014

Monthly Donation Reminder

Hi, I have a donate button, just reminding you of that in case you've recently come into a fortune and want to use it to help me get through the winter or whatnot.

I've been sick today so no particularly interesting things will go on in this post, but I will keep up with my usual talking about this history of months posts.

December is a number month (Decem = 10) and as such it's pretty boring.

The original Roman calendar was a 10 month year with a bunch of monthless days in the dead of winter.  December was the 10th month of that year, hence the name.  December had 30 days.

When January and February were added to the front of the calendar the changes involved in that reduced the days in December to 29.

In 46 BC Julius Caesar reformed the calendar again.  With the exception of years divisible by 100 but not 400, it is the same calendar we use today.

Thus December grew to 31 days.

The Julian calendar added days to the ends of the month (after the ides) so the ides of December are calculated as if it were still a 29 day month (and thus fall on the 13th.)

Thus today, though within December, is notated as the 18 days before the Kalend of January (a.d. XVIII Kal. Jan.)

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Bill Towner: Electrician and Adventurer

 House II: The Second Story is not a good movie.  At all.

Even remembering that it wasn't a good movie it was still less of a good movie than I remembered it being.

And yet, it's built on a kernel of fun that shines through the total lack of living up to it.

Probably the absolute best part, even beating the main characters adopting a pterodactyl, is Bill Towner, Electrician and Adventurer.

The house in question isn't terribly interested in things like space, time, and logical continuity.  As such, it has some electrical problems.

Before main-character's fiance leaves him because it's-not-what-it looks-like, she called an electrician.  Bill Towner.

Main character, Jesse, has no time for an electrician because an object of immense magical power has been stolen and thus plot.  Bill is totally oblivious to Jesse wanting him gone and merely assures Jesse that once he's left alone with the problem he'll be totally out of Jesse's way.

He's bumbling, odd, and seems like an annoyance added to the movie to pad out its lack of plot.

Fast forward a bit.  Jesse and his best friend have armed themselves with swords and are trying to find out where whoever stole the Mcguffin went.  When Bill tries to get their attention the startled sidekick slashes blindly with the sword and, if Bill hadn't quickly blocked it with his hammer, bill would have been severely injured or even killed.

Bill is completely unfazed by the sword that was swung at him, says that he thinks he's found the problem and insists, even after Jesse tries to convince Bill to leave and come back the next day, that they take a look.

They go in and find a giant hole Bill has made in the wall.
"Well, there it is.  Looks like you got some kind of alternate universe in there or somethin'," Bill explains.
Oh, and Bill is played by Cliff from Cheers.

Main character and sidekick head in, over his objections:
"Uh, I don't know you guys, look: that's an alternate dimension in there or somethin' and uh..."

and when it's clear they're going anyway Bill follows:
"Well, hold on a second will you? I've been through this kind of thing before." *goes to his box of tools* "Don't touch anything till I get there." *pulls out a sword he keeps hidden in the box under a false bottom* "Looks like you're gonna need the help of a professional."
Bill gives Jesse a flashlight and, without comment, sets up a spool of thread so that they'll be able to follow it back out again.

When they reach the sword fight at the end of the labyrinth Bill is the only one who is even moderately competent.  The others are useless, he's awesome.  And he makes good use of an ordinary hammer as a parrying weapon in the hand that isn't holding the sword.

Bill holds off the bad guys, his string is the only way the good guys are able to find their way back.  (This isn't because they knew they could rely on it, by the way, they didn't realize it was there.)  His parting comment is:
"Don't worry about me. I gotta get home; it's my kid's little league night."
And, if you've ever seen a character like Bill before (think Ardeth from the movie The Mummy) you know that when the main characters do make it back out Bill is already there waiting for them.  He was starting to get a little worried about them, in fact.

He's just finishing packing up his tools when they come out, he gives Jesse his card (Bill Towner Electrician and Adventurer) in case Jesse ever needs his help again, and then walks right out of the movie.

Unfortunately he mars his otherwise wonderful character by doing the annoying, "You don't understand English so I'm going to speak English to you loudly and slowly as if that will somehow make you understand," thing.

He does it to the love interest who probably hits sexism bingo.  She's exotic, a prize to be won, a damsel in distress, an assumed-virgin, and she never speaks a single word.  And that's just for a start.  I said it wasn't a good movie.

But back to Bill.  The problems with the movie could fill volumes --the sexism and racism are just the start-- and I don't want to fill volumes, I want to talk about the character that is Bill.


We don't actually know if he's a good electrician or not; we know he's not a smooth electrician, but we don't really get a sense of whether or not, at the end of the day, he fixes the problems well.

Based on his talent with sword fighting we can surmise that part of the reason that he's less than ideal at his first profession (his card says "Electrician" first and has pictures of light bulbs on it) is that he spends a lot more time practicing his second one (Adventurer.)

He has a family.  We don't know anything about it beyond the fact that he's damn well going to make it to his kid's little league night, but he's got a kid and it's important to him to be there for said kid and bad guys with swords in another dimension he found in a hole in a wall when trying to find the source of electrical problems are not going to stop him from attending his kid's little league.

Which brings me to what seems to be the heart of Bill's character:

He's someone who has strange adventures that require keeping a sword in his toolbox, but he's also leading a normal life.  He seems to have achieved balance.  Being an electrician is apparently paying the bills, he's able to be their for his kid, and the fact that impossible other worldly events work their way into his life doesn't perturb him in the least.

Bill is totally lacking in any kind of angst.

His life, for whatever reason, includes finding other worlds hidden inside walls and needing to sword fight, and he just rolls with it and makes it work.


I think we need more characters like Bill and we them to be more central.  The movie would have been much better if it were about the electrician who needs to carry a (hidden) sword.  Then again the movie would have been much better if [any number of things.]

We have stories where ordinary people have extraordinary adventures and the adventures are set apart from their lives*, we have stories about people who have incredible difficulty living normal lives while facing extraordinary things, but we don't really have stories of people who are able to integrate the extraordinary (there's an entire alternate universe inside your wall) with the ordinary (I need to get back in time for little league) without angsting over it.

Which seems even more odd when you consider that wish fulfillment (I can do ALL THE THINGS) is a big part of a lot of the kinds of fiction where such characters could show up.


Do note that there is absolutely nothing about Bill's character that requires he be male.  When I say we need more characters like him I'm talking about non-male ones as well.


* We go to Narnia.  We come back.  Never shall our earth lives and Narnian lives intersect.  (Except if it allows us to be mean to Susan.)

Skewed Slightly to the Left: That sinking Feeling

[Originally posted at Slacktivist.  Fred Clark has started re-posting old Left Behind posts, and so this is back at the very beginning.  Book one, chapter one.]

People can't go missing on a plane. They can't. You can't just open the door and walk out, even if you could people would notice the sudden change in air pressure and the violent vortices caused by the air outside the plane moving up to a thousand miles per hour faster, relatively speaking, than the air in side the plane.
One person might somehow get lost between the bathroom and their seat, but this many people? It was impossible.
Hattie had to be wrong. There was no way. It just wasn't possible.
If anyone else were saying it he'd think they were setting him up. They'd heard him complain one to many times about Irene's-- no. He couldn't think about that. It couldn't be that.
Regardless, Hattie wouldn't play a trick like that. If it were a trick then she'd need to have been tricked too, and who could fool her about something like this? She knew how many people were on board at takeoff and she knew what seats they were in. And what seats they weren't in. If people had simply moved to the wrong seats she'd never mistake that for people being missing, and there wasn't standing room for people to hide.
It didn't make sense.
He had to see for himself what was going on.
Please let it be a prank.
Please let there be some hidden camera somewhere and have all of this be a sick, disgusting joke.
He prayed, please God-- and then he decided that it was best to leave God out of it. Let God be nowhere near this one. Let God be elsewhere. Please, please let this not be the work of God.
He walked toward the passenger cabins so he could see for himself. Maybe if he talked to the people who said that members of their parties were missing the truth would come out.
There were still a lot of people who wouldn't think twice about lying to a flight attendant that would never lie to a pilot.
When he entered the first class cabin, and saw the empty clothes in a seat, he became weak. He stumbled back to the bulkhead and tried to support himself with it, but his body was too heavy, and his limbs to weak. He sank to the floor.
He barely noticed as Hattie ran to his side. He didn't even hear the first thing she said.
She shouted, "Ray!" and he noticed, but didn't respond beyond turning his head to look at her. "What's wrong?"
"She was right," he mumbled.
It was impossible. It couldn't be. There was no way. And yet it was. Irene had been right.
That meant that Ray, Hattie, Chris, and everyone still aboard the plane were all damned. Perhaps even literally. Was there even any hope left? Was their any point in landing rather than letting the plane fall from the sky?
Irene was right.
At any other time he would care that his behavior had made the passenger's mood worse. Uneasy before he arrived, they were now on the verge of full blown panic.
You never showed that you were anything less than completely confident in front of the passengers. Never. No matter how bad things really were, they had to think that you were in control. If the pilot was afraid then they'd be afraid. You couldn't let anything, any tiny bit of doubt, ever show.
He'd let himself cross several lines by allowing emotion to overcome him here instead of making it back out of sight before it hit.
It didn't matter.
Irene was right. Irene was right, and that meant that missing people were the least of their worries. Those were the lucky ones. Those were the ones to be envied.
The world as he knew it--as everyone knew it--was over and the worst was yet to come. Irene had been right all along. Why hadn't he listened?


Friday, December 12, 2014

Crows Without End (Not an image post, but image heavy)

Crows spend the day in South Portland and the night in Portland.

Which crows?



I've seen it before.  Not in a long time.  It's not announced.  It isn't advertised.  If you aren't at the origin or the destination you might miss it if you don't look up.

It happens twice a day.

It needs to.  Logically it must.

And yet... no one sees its beginning.  No one sees its end.

If you should cross its path you will never see it end, no matter how long you wait.  Just when you think it must be over it renews, stronger than ever.  Always.  It never, ever, stops.

And yet it must stop if it happens twice a day.

But they always keep flying.

That little paradox, the fact that it must end, yet never does, isn't the part that stands out.

Crows don't flock.

That's what stands out as they appear by the hundreds.  That's what stands out as they cross the sky.  If you're where they land, as I was today, you hear some caws as they land in a place with fewer branches than crows.  They fill one tree, then the next, then the next.  And they never stop coming.  The flow never slows down.

I think this is the first tree they populate.  It also happens to be a pretty low density for them.
It is in fact quite dark, by the way, but the camera compensates.
Unfortunately that also makes it blurry because I am not a tripod.
It sputters sometimes.  Occasionally you think it might have stopped, only for it to pick up again, strong as ever.  They just keep coming, and coming.  No crow ever flies the other way, none leave.  They all come to the same place.  They only take up multiple trees because one tree could never hold them all.

No crow is ever counted twice, because none circle back.

Some do circle, looking for space to land, but they're small circles.  Nothing that could possibly make you mistake them for one just arriving.

Amidst the building they seem to cover the dome of the sky.  Black wings against the dying twilight of firmament.

The problem with photographing the crows in flight is that if you zoom out enough to see even a fraction of them
you've zoomed out too far to see that they're crows.
And they keep flying.

They keep arriving.

A silent procession across the sky.

But crows don't flock.

On some level this is understood.  They don't flock.  The come in small, manageable, easy to count groups.

It's just hard to organize an entire murder.

One crow bad.  Two crows good.  My mother's aunt knew this.  Knew it so well that whenever she saw one crow she needed to look around to find a second.

I wonder if this is because of the same folklore the movie The Crow draws on.  If a crow brings your soul to the afterlife, then a solo crow might be there for your soul.  But if there are two of you, wouldn't that mean you're both going to die.  Surely if that were it then you'd divide by the number of people.

If there are exactly as many crows as there are people in the car then that would bode worse than if there were just one.  Right?

So that's probably not it.  But crows being small in number is something that's there.  No one hears "six crows [whatever]" and responds, "When the fuck have you seen just six crows?  Crows in single digits?  Preposterous!"

No.  Crows in single digits? Folklore!

Crows in single digits: Superstition.

Crows in single digits: Normal.

Crows in single digits: Augry and ὀρνιθόπαις.  Seriously:
One crow sorrow
Two crows joy
Three crows a letter
Four crows a boy
Five crows silver
Six crows gold
Seven crows a story
never to be told

But what about seven hundred?  What of so many you can't count or hope to count?  What of crows without end?

It's absurd.  Crows don't flock.

When was the last time you used the phrase "murder of crows"?

You don't say that.  Well, maybe you.  I don't know.  But people don't say that in general.  When someone says, "I witnessed a murder," you [impersonal you] don't say, "Oh, that's nice.  I saw a gaggle the other day."

This conversation:
Person One: I just saw a murder.
Person Two: Was it a nice one?
Person One: Nice? It was gruesome
Person Two: I think corvī can be annoying too, but don't you think that's a bit extreme?
Person One: No. I saw a person be killed.
Person Two: Ohhh. That kind of murder.
has happened all of never.  And yet what is a person more likely to see, someone being killed or a crow?  If crows flocked then murder would mean "group of crows" first and "unlawful killing of one human being by another human being" second because people would use "group of crows" in every day speech a lot more than the other type of murder.

But they don't flock.  It only takes seven crows before you get to secrets that are never spoken of.  We don't even have a concept to encompass the idea of eight crows, much less crows beyond counting.

Crows don't flock; grackles flock

When you see them you think your eyes are playing tricks on you and they're grackles.  Grackles and crows aren't closely related, they share an order but not a family or genus, but there is a visual similarity.

If you're near the destination then you see a lot of them that have landed (wings and tail in reduces the visual difference between birds) and you tend to get a much better look at those ones, stationary as they are, than the unending stream of flying ones.

But you don't think they might be grackles because the look like grackles.  They don't look like grackles.  They look like crows.  They're too big and too wide to be grackles (if you've never seen a grackle, imagine a crow that was a bit shorter and a lot thinner, and was iridescent all over.)

You think they might be grackles because there are too fucking many of them to be crows so your mind is looking for any possibility to explain that.

But eventually you know that they're not.  For one thing, so many of them are in flight.  Even if they are moving there's just so much of it that it's hard not to see the difference in shape.

But it might be proportion that hammers home that, yes, they really are crows.  Grackles look similar to crows, at first glance, but a longer view lets you tell them apart.

Or it might be when one of them opens its mouth and calls out with a voice that was made raw and ragged through smoke inhalation when crow brought fire from the sky.

That sound rings clear.  Always clear.  Sometimes imitated, but never copied.

Crow earned that call by bring fire so that life could survive the first winter.  So that it would be the first winter rather than the winter that lasted forever without ever abating.

I've tried, sometimes, to see the end.  To see the last crows landing and the point at which no more come.

I'm not sure why, maybe it's to see how many there really are when all is said and done.

But they never stop.  The embers of sunset die away, darkness takes the skies, and still they come.

I need warmth.  I need crow's fire.  I need to get back to hearth and home.  I need my furnace.  I need what crow sacrificed for.  But the crows stay outside.  Separate from the gift they gave.

Yesterday was a fairly miserable day.  Getting a cavity drilled is never fun and moreover I was outside walking for probably six hours.  (I didn't just have a dentist appointment.)  It would have been eight hours but my psychologist gave me a ride home.  I had to wait an hour and a half, but it was still quicker than walking.  The rain had left me soaked, shuddering and shivering with cold.

Six hours in the rain, a little time to warm up and dry out after the first four hours, and I was pretty well worn down.

The crows have never been inside in their lives.

They fly on undaunted.

They keep coming.

Elsa's power flurries from the air to the ground in frozen fractals (way better than yesterday's rain); the crows are not afraid.

The cold never bothered her anyway.
You notice them more in the winter, not just because there are more of them.  They stand out.  Black feathers on white snow.  They don't even try to hide.  Nothing really hunts them.  They rule undisputed.

And why shouldn't they?  They're the ones who drove back winter.  They melted the first snow.  They have nothing to fear.  Their scorched black feathers and smoke choked voice stand as a testament to the fact that snow cannot stand against them.

They don't kill the snow, the snow spirits have the right to live as well, but neither do they fear it.

And they keep on flying.  More keep arriving.

They pay no attention the the houses, they prefer the trees.

This place is their home, their birthright.  It's in their bones.  Their light-weight tiny bones.

They've lived here for longer than my people knew this place existed.

They have a history.  Not just fire.

Their entire family has a history.

Their cousin Raven advised Noah on the ark, showed Utnapishtim, on his ark, that the waters were receding-- hell, cousin Raven made his own damned raft for the flood too.  Then again, cousin Raven created the world.  Cousin Raven did a lot.

Cousin Raven's descendants,  Huginn and Muninn, advise Odin to this day.

One wonders how crows view Odin.  Huginn and Muninn must have told them about Odin, but how do they view that great god?  Bird brains are not human.  They don't think as we think.  Is it possible they view the god as ... silly?

Odin gave up an eye, a huge sacrifice, but think what they gave up.  They gave up their fingers.  They gave up their voice, the best singing voice in the world.  They gave up their looks, the greatest beauty in the world.  To them, perhaps, an eye is a small sacrifice.

And what was gained in return?  Odin gained wisdom, but he still needs to climb upon his nephew's back to fly, when crows gave up their fingers they may have lost the title of dinosaur, but they gained the power of flight.  They need no Sleipnir.  They rise above, the soar, no wisdom needed.

Not that they lack wisdom.  They're crafty and smart.  But they're not, "I gave up an eye for wisdom," wise.  They've kept both eyes.  (Mostly.  It's not like there's never a one eyed crow, and when you see them you know that the eye wasn't given up for free.)

They lost their voice and their beauty to save the world by bringing fire.

Ok, so technically those are lyrics from Loki's Song.
For a very nice, color, rendition of crow bringing fire, click here.
Prometheus brought fire to mortals.  It's the basis for all of our technes.  Every civilization that claims influence from Greece owes Prometheus a debt.  Even now we still haven't managed to find a way to run our civilization without fire.

And yet ... Prometheus brought fire to Greek mortals.  Greek mortals didn't exactly need fire that badly.  When Demeter mourned the loss of her daughter and couldn't be bothered to maintain the world it wasn't winter that threatened to end all life.  That was a Roman alteration of the tale because they had been to northern Europe and it was fucking cold there.

No, winter was the stormy rainy season in Greece.  Demeter's lack of upkeep threatened to kill all life via the dry warm season.  Drought was what would destroy them.  The rains of winter were welcome.

That's who Prometheus gave fire to.

Crow brought fire to New Jersey:

All I did was search Google for New Jersey winter.
I think crow wins.

Of course, I live north of there, but I don't know the local tales of crows.  I only know of crow bringing fire because Fred Clark has linked to the story in the past.


And through it all they keep on coming.

When you're away from buildings you get a different view of the procession of crows.  You can't see them landing, and seldom hear a sound, but you have a better understanding of what is going on.

Crows really, truly, do not flock.  Ever seen a murmuration?  The amazing patterns that appear from random motions and remind you of a school of fish?  Crows don't do that.  Ever have geese fly over your head, honking like they do, in a formation (as happened to me during the second two hour period of walking in the cold soaking rain yesterday)?  Crows don't do that.

They don't have any kind of group cohesion.  They just all move in about the same direction at about the same speed.

They pay no heed to the other crows --except, presumably, to make sure they don't fly into them-- and each one seems entirely indistinguishable from a crow flying individually.  Seagulls are more clearly part of a group, and they're usually just trying to get refuse before the other seagulls.

But, in spite of their stubborn refusal to act like part of a group even when they are part of a group, they're part of a group.  One, long, procession across the sky.  Amid the houses near the trees where they land, or any buildings really, it's impossible to see the shape of the group.  It seems to take up the whole of the sky.

Without obstructions it's clear that it's nowhere near as wide as the sky, but it does go on forever.  Your best view is generally from a bridge.  No buildings, no trees, nothing in your way.  They go from horizon to horizon.

And, as mentioned repeatedly, they never stop.

No one sees the beginning, or the end.  Only sometimes is someone graced with a view of some of the middle.  No matter how long you watch, it does not end.

It makes one think of a problem in some textbook.  If the migration between the two cities is without end, how can it happen twice a day?  But try to put it into the terms of the textbook problems one is used to and the crows will laugh at you.

Well, they'll caw.  But it will be a laughing kind of caw.

Assume a frictionless environment -- nope, they're going to fly, that means air resistance; break out the differential equations.

Given a perfectly spherical crow... have you seen their wings?  Do you think, maybe, if you measure a crow's wing the length of the outline will increase with any given increase in precision?

Note how the length of the edge gets longer with additional iterations.
Crows are clearly on a level beyond our own.

Sure, they act like they're just reasonably intelligent birds that feed on carrion and such, but they're just sitting there, in their tree-- well, trees since they don't all fit in one (there's a sleeping-in-one-place group in Oklahoma that's estimated to number 2 million), being above us.  Figuratively.  Literally too, but that goes without saying.

This might be a good time to point out that I want to, somehow, make "Figuratively" an intensifier on the level of "Literally."  Why?  Because.  That's why.

You can see where this would work:
He stabbed me in the back.That's not so bad, I mean in this business-Figuratively!Damn.

Anyway, they might occasionally get West Nile and have their population drop by 47% or fall out of their nests by the wood-shop, but that's just to keep us guessing, and also to poignantly write themselves into our stories.

I could not get a good shot of Brooks looking Jake in the eyes.
He does, but the scene is pretty dark, so it's not a good shot.
Thus, Brooks + Jake and then Andy looking Brooks int he eyes.
And remember, only one of the three characters above successfully managed to not have his intended ending filmed thus changing his story from tragedy to hopeful.  Here's a hint: it wasn't either of the humans.


And they keep coming.  For longer than you watch, no matter how long you watch.

It's cold, but not as bad as the day before when there was rain instead of snow.  As I walk I think of crows and gods.

I think of seasons too.  I would have said the day before that I hate the winter rains, but it isn't winter yet.  Late autumn.  

Winter is coming.  Less than ten days.

I decide to take a picture of the snow, the crows opposite, the one whose white creation left the crow scorched black.

I know that the camera has a very low battery, I try to photograph the snow without flash, hoping to catch it in a street light.

No good.  It totally fails to get how much snow is coming down.  I switch to flash.  It's too much for the remaining charge and the effort convinces the camera that it's time to shut down and wait to be plugged in.

Crows laugh at needing to plug in to recharge.  They recharge by eating road kill and then taking a nap.  Though, honestly, have you ever seen a sleeping crow?  They probably feign such mortal frailty in places where it's expected (captivity, monitored nests, the like) but that's likely for our benefit.  How low would we feel in comparison if we knew that in addition to soaring above our heads they never grew weary?

But one assumes that they must dream.  Would they really leave the realm of dreams outside their domain?  What if winter invaded there and no one had brought fire to hold it back?  They must venture into dreams.  Without them, we'd all be in Jotunheim in our sleep.

And so we circle back to winter.  Winter is coming.

Proof that it will end is already here.  Those who stop the snow from taking over, who safeguard life, are already standing watch.

Their ancestors, the dinosaurs, were merely lukewarm blooded.  They have fire in their veins.  And why not?  Crow did bring it, after all.



I was supposed to have a short, non-[stream of consciousness vaguely edited together] bit at the end.  It got away from me.  Thus:


This was mainly composed when walking home yesterday, (every instance of "today" and "yesterday" above is thus wrong) though I'm sure I thought of much more than I wrote.  I kind of figured that people would prefer things going on in my head regarding crows and snow more than, say, "Yesterday I was cold and wet.  It sucked.  I wish I could afford cold weather clothing, especially of the waterproof sort."

Crows roost here in winter.  Of course, crows live here all year round, but it's the winter roosting that I've always noticed.  Black birds on white snow are kind of hard to miss.

The way they gather here is easy to miss though.  Apparently where they like to hang out in South Portland during the day is out of the way and not frequented.  (Other people have seen them hanging out at the place they like, I have not.)  During the night it's dark.  So you generally only see the giant roosting group if you catch them flying from Portland to South Portland during the day, or flying back at night.  They do it mostly in silence so even if they pass directly overhead you might not notice.

So this isn't one of the places where you really notice, "Good fucking god, we're covered in crows," and thus when you do see the procession it's different.

My guess as to why the procession lasts so damn long is that they really don't seem to be flocking birds by nature.  So when they do flock they tend to do it in a very non-flockly way.  Based on how they arrive and that they seem to generally go at about a uniform speed they cannot possibly take off in groups.  They have to be doing it randomly with any groups a result of statistical grouping rather than intent.

The way that they move when they do find themselves in groups is entirely unlike birds accustomed to moving in groups.  They don't draft and they do not get close to each other.  Their movement implies that they don't know how to get close to each other as they exhibit none of the movement patterns that allow birds who fly close to keep from bumping in to each other.

Watching a murder of crows seems, and I don't know if this is true (hence "guess" above), to be watching a group of birds, none of whom know how to act in a flock, trying to be a flock.  And generally doing it in New England, "If I keep my eyes front and don't make noise maybe everyone will leave me alone," style.  (I know that many other places have the same style, I don't know which places they are.)

Regardless, now that I do know the story of rainbow crow, and the procession left me thinking about crows as I walked home in the snow, the life-long thoughts of "Crows really stand out in winter" sort of became, "Crows stand in defiance of winter."

Also the bone structure of bird wings (no fingers) what was lost to get there (velociraptor: I have to give you what if I want to fly?!), how that compares to losing an eye, flood myths, the possibility of a crow or raven standing on the branch of an ash tree above Líf and Lífþrasir post-Ragnarok, and so forth.

Trying to sort it into something vaguely coherent (which involved some cutting, some forgetting, and a fair degree of reorganization) produced this post.  Welcome to my brain.