September 30, 2012

Music for a Sunday morning

I adore Debussy. This is Reverie, played by F. J. Thiollier. Gorgeous.

Religion is good for the world. Uh-huh.

From this morning's NYT/AP headlines:
  • The Russian Orthodox Church is asking for clemency for three jailed members of the rock band Pussy Riot if they repent for their "punk prayer" for deliverance from President Vladimir Putin at Moscow's main cathedral.
  • Gunmen detonated a bomb Sunday near an Islamic boarding school in northern Nigeria and later exchanged gunfire with security forces, causing unknown casualties in the region's latest round of violence, officials said.
  • A group of Muslims suspected of ransacking a Hindu temple in southern Pakistan may be charged with blasphemy, police said Sunday. The case is a rare twist on the use of the country's harsh blasphemy laws, which are more often invoked against supposed offenses to Islam as opposed to minority faiths.
  • The acting police chief in Kenya's capital says an explosive device set off in a Sunday school class killed one child and seriously wounded three.
  • Thai police believe Islamist insurgents fired grenades at a fair in southern Thailand, injuring 30 people, in anger over government efforts to win over local Muslim religious leaders.
  • Thousands of Bangladeshi Muslims angry over an alleged derogatory photo of the Islamic holy book Quran on Facebook set fires in at least 10 Buddhist temples and 40 homes near the southern border with Myanmar, authorities said Sunday.
  • An Iranian official says Tehran plans to create its own search engine and e-mail service to replace Google and its Gmail e-mail service, even as it weights lifting a ban on Gmail enacted in response to an anti-Islam film.
So don't forget to go to church today. Because religion is a good thing. You can tell by the constant joy that it brings to the world.

September 29, 2012

Revealing religion headline at HuffPo

We learned this week that a statue stolen by the Nazis was carved from a meteorite. The Yahoo headline about this states, in sensible fashion:

Buddhist Statue Found by Nazis Made from Meteorite

(Never mind that the Nazis weren't, in fact, made from meteorites. That's another post.)

But the headline at HuffPo's Religion section says, as you see in the above screenshot:

Buddhist Statue Came from Outer Space, Scientists Say

A bit different, eh? And no, the scientists don't actually think the statue zoomed in from space. But HuffPo, in its religious guise, can't help but create a headline that appeals to ignorant religious folk. I swear, religious people make me sigh with exasperation. What a witless lot they are.

Note: I used the screenshot from HuffPo's main Religion page because if you click on the headline, the story page shows a new headline that sounds quite sane. They just used the original, misleading headline as a hook to draw in the most credulous of their readers. Jeez but HuffPo is slimy. Ugh.

Bad juju in Russia

No civilized society can have anti-blasphemy laws. The two cannot coexist. It's literally impossible. Russia doesn't seem to know this, or rather, is hell-bent on establishing a theocratic government to stifle all dissent. (Hat tip to Ed Brayton.)
Nilov said a proposed amendment would introduce criminal responsibility for offences against religious beliefs and feelings and impose a jail term of up to three years.

Putin, in recent comments on Pussy Riot, the global protests over the video “The Innocence of Muslims” and the killings of Islamic leaders in Russia, has said that extremists were trying to tear Russia apart and that the feelings of the faithful must be protected by the state.
Putin has always seen himself as a dictator. Now he's bringing this fantasy to life. I pity the Russians if this comes to pass.

Men's voices change as they age

Lately I've noticed that my voice is deeper. Seemed odd. I guess that's why this story in the NYT caught my eye this morning. It chronicles how a man's voice changes as he ages. And lo and behold, the voice is said to deepen between 50 and 68 years old. And then it gets higher. Horrors! This was described in the following way:
“What happens is that Grandma and Grandpa begin to sound more similar,” Dr. Hunter said.
Something to look forward to. If my voice gets higher I'll just stop talking. I've got a deep, gruff voice. Do you hear me?! Deep and gruff!

September 28, 2012

Another Christian leader hides child abuse

This time the news is out of Chattanooga. But it's the same old thing: a Christian in a position of power tried to hide an employee's child abuse.
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — The head of a Tennessee college has apologized for trying to suppress a student newspaper story about a professor arrested on child sex charges. 
Yup, that was the action taken by Bryan College President Stephen Livesay. Bryan College is, of course, a Christian school. When a Christian leader hears about an employee abusing children, he does what they all do: tries to sweep the issue under the rug. After all, it was only children who were harmed. But a student at Bryan College wouldn't go along with the president's edict.
Editor Alex Green decided to distribute the story himself, placing flyers across campus Monday. It reported the resignation of Biblical studies professor David Morgan after he was arrested during an FBI child molestation sting in Georgia.

Livesay said that in hindsight, killing the newspaper story "might have been a mistake." He said he had originally hoped to protect the professor's privacy. 
That's always the excuse. They were just trying to protect the adult predator because of "privacy" issues. Didn't work out too well for Livesay. His school is now the object of national derision. And that tepid excuse is all he can come up with, even now! That perhaps "in hindsight" it "might have been a mistake." He still doesn't know that he did something that was immoral. Sounds just like Christians to me.

Morality and Christianity have nothing in common. Morals exist out here in the world. You won't find them in some dusty old book.

All-male Vatican says "Jesus' wife" papyrus is fake

While scholars suspect the bit of papyrus is a fake, the Vatican has no doubts at all:
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) — An ancient papyrus fragment which a Harvard scholar says contains the first recorded mention that Jesus may have had a wife is a fake, the Vatican said on Friday.  
Christian tradition has long held that Jesus was not married and the Catholic Church, by far the largest in Christendom, says women cannot become priests because Christ chose only men as his apostles
So the experts suspect a fake but the Vatican is convinced it's a fake. One wonders if all-male infallibility entered into this assessment. It must be faaabulous to be able to speak unassailable truth any time you want to. This sort of thing comes in handy when your whole, dilapidated, men-only, rapist-assisting establishment is talk of Jesus respecting a woman and alluding to her as a disciple. That is abhorrent! Women are mere chattel, unfit for anything but reproducing. The papyrus must be the work of Satan!

September 27, 2012

Llama story in today's news

A mean llama?
"The report says the 74-year-old Lenahan called for help Tuesday after a llama named Baby Doll slipped on wet grass while running to greet her and knocked her down, causing her to hit her head on concrete. It says there's no evidence the llama was acting maliciously."

Have they ever seen a llama? I mean, look at that face. And they all look like that. Malicious indeed. Then again, Wikipedia tells me:
They are extremely curious and most will approach people easily. However, llamas that are bottle-fed or over-socialized and over-handled as youngsters will become extremely difficult to handle when mature, when they will begin to treat humans as they treat each other, which is characterized by bouts of spitting, kicking and neck wrestling. Anyone having to bottle-feed a cria should keep contact to a minimum and stop as soon as possible.
Now, if the story had said right-off-the-bat that this was a spoiled, bottle-fed llama, I wouldn't be criticizing them. Just kidding. I know nothing about llamas. (Cria?) But they're adorable and I was looking for an excuse to post a picture of one. Awwww. It's so cute! I think I need one. "Dear Santa..."

AP's lax ways

These are two actual AP headlines that are on their web site right now:

"Netanyathu Says Word Fears About Iran to UN"


"Suspect in Killings Was Actor Sons of Anarchy Actor"

These headlines have been there for hours. Yoo hoo, AP. Anybody home?

A Mac thing

I just noticed that I can dictate in Scrivener, now that I've upgraded to Mountain Lion. This is very cool. (BTW, Scrivener is my writing program.)

It's surprising how well it works. If you're on a Mac and using Mountain Lion, just click Edit and choose Start Dictation (in any application that supports it). In my first try, it transcribed my words perfectly. I doubt I'll dictate my next book but it's nice to know that I have this option.

On looking like a horror writer

I had some skin cancer removed from my face this week. Third time for me. Maybe I shouldn't have lived on the beach all those years, huh? I swear, I was there at dawn and left at dusk. I was a very tan guy. But that's ancient history. Now, I'm a guy who gets skin cancer on his face every few years.

But there's a silver lining. The surgeon left a three-inch slash on my face. It's very cool! I hope it leaves a big scar in its wake. Horror writers should have a scarred face, don't you think? So anyway, I'm healing and hoping (for a big scar).

I'd post a photo but I know you people have weak stomachs. Weak as water, weak as water!

September 26, 2012

Willard cracks me up

Slipping in states that could sink his presidential bid, Republican Mitt Romney declared Wednesday that "I care about the people of America"
It's kinda like when that witch lady had to say, "I'm not a witch." This is fun.

Funny nonsense

I liked this headline today: "Councilman Vacca Urges Probe of Gassy Donald Trump Golf Course in Bronx". Okay, so I changed it a little.

Misplaced modifiers continue to irk me. Here's the lede to a story:
"Cops shot and killed a knife-wielding Baruch College student inside a Manhattan apartment building Tuesday night after he attacked two officers in his underwear, police said." 
What I want to know is: what were those police officers doing in his underwear?

(Levity aside, you'll find a sad story at the above link. It's another instance of someone calling the police for help with a mentally unstable family member, only to see the police shoot the family member dead. This type of thing is happening all too often in the NY area. It needs to stop.)

German Roman Catholic church acts like mafia

The best part about this is that the pope approved it. As I always say, that's quite a church they've got there. How can anyone remain Catholic?

September 25, 2012

Morsi is a bit confused

Egypt doesn't seem to understand this whole democracy thing. The following lead paragraphs are from two different stories in the news this evening:
Egyptian prosecutors referred to trial Tuesday a well-known radical Islamist who tore up an English copy of the Bible during a protest outside the U.S. Embassy in Cairo against an anti-Islam film produced in the United States.
Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi said freedom of expression must be used responsibly in a speech Tuesday to the Clinton Global Initiative in New York that hinted at looming tensions in the newly-democratic nation.
Yup, they're going to have to learn how to drive this bus. Mind you, I like Morsi. He's not a dunce and he's made some smart statements along the way. Besides, he's new at his job. I'm willing to cut him some slack. Who knows, with a little practice he might figure it out. But for the moment, the poor man's not even in the ballpark.

Blasphemy laws are really muddying the democratic waters in Egypt and other Middle east nations. Such laws cannot co-exist with democracy -- but the Egyptian people don't know this yet. I feel empathy for them, especially since so many Americans are slavering for an opportunity to establish a Christian theocracy here. If this ever happened, we'd have blasphemy laws within minutes.

The answer is always the same. Religion has to go if the world is ever to know peace.

So they throw arsenic at weddings?

Rice paddy. (Kashfia Rahman, SXC.)
I wasn't thrilled last week when the news came out about arsenic in rice. (Here's a link to a story about which brands are the worst.)

The reason I was freaked out is that I live on long-grain brown rice -- the type they said is the worst. When you're a vegetarian, you eat rice. And since I'm not only a vegetarian but someone who is skittish about eating all sorts of things, I eat long-grained brown rice at least twice a day. Kinda creepy, now that I know it's laced with arsenic. (At least Uncle Ben's, the brand I use, wasn't on the worst-of-the-worst list.)

The authors of the arsenic/rice study said we should wash our rice before cooking it because this removes some of the arsenic. Luckily, I've been washing my rice for decades. One of my closest friends is from Iran and she once told me "It's disgusting that Americans don't wash their rice -- it's filthy." I figured she knew more than me about what goes on in those rice paddies, so I started washing my rice that very day.

I'm still eating it because I don't know what else to eat. It's creepy that our country doesn't check for arsenic in food. Arsenic isn't on the FDA's check list? Doesn't that seem incredibly strange? I don't know about you but I usually think of our food supply as relatively safe. This incident has shaken that belief. If they don't check for arsenic, what do they check for?

September 24, 2012

The Science Guy takes aim at American ignorance

You remember Bill Nye, the Science Guy, don't you? He's been in the news lately.
"The Earth is not 6,000 or 10,000 years old," Nye said in an interview with The Associated Press. "It's not. And if that conflicts with your beliefs, I strongly feel you should question your beliefs."

Millions of Americans do hold those beliefs, according to a June Gallup poll that found 46 percent of Americans believe God created humans in their present form about 10,000 years ago.
It's hard to believe that nearly half of all Americans are ignorant twits. Sadly, they live in a religious bubble and will never see the real world. I'm appalled by their lack of diligence. They've never even tried to put their minds to work. These lackluster Americans have a name for their ignorance: faith. It's anything but admirable.

September 23, 2012

Amusing politics, starring Todd Akin

Remember Todd "I say stupid things about rape" Akin, the man who obliterated his campaign by revealing his sickening beliefs about women's bodies? So is Akin butting out of the race, as most Republicans want him to? Of course not. He's doubling-down because that's what they do.
Instead, Akin plans to ramp up his campaign. He's holding a fundraiser Monday with former Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich. He's addressing a potentially influential group of pastors Tuesday morning. Then as the drop-out clock ticks down, he's kicking off a statewide bus tour for his Senate bid that will include venerable conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly.
I roared laughing when I read that. Had to share it.

Bluegrass cover of Billie Jean by some guys

I love this.

Gio gets his 20th win

Gio Gonzalez.
What did I tell you guys early in the season? I said Gio Gonzalez is the man. Well, yesterday he got his 20th win for the Nats. He's the first pitcher to do this in 2012, in either league. I'm so happy for him.

It was also a big day for my other favorite pitcher, R.A. Dickey, who logged his 19th win for the Mets. He's fun to watch, especially when you knew him from his pre-knuckleball days. The guy wasn't very good and everyone thought he was washed up. And now, he might get the Cy Young. I love reversals of fortune. These two pitchers made this an exciting season for fans like me.

As for the players, Bryce Harper, the Nats' outfielder is my favorite. The kid's great to watch. He's baseball personified and I have no doubt he'll end up in the Hall of Fame. It may seem dumb to say this about someone who's only 19, but even the pro's seem to feel this way about him. They're fired up each time they watch him play. The kid is Mr. Baseball, despite his age. There's no doubt about this.

Aaaargh. The season's almost over. I'm glad that I finished writing Xmas Carol so I can devote myself to the post-season games. I will watch every single game. (And then I will quietly slip into my usual post-season depression. But it was grand while it lasted.)

September 22, 2012

I welcome corrections from readers

One of the great things about publishing in digital format is that you can change the book all you want. This is a real boon to writers.

Can you imagine if you published a book in print format and they printed 350,000 books -- and then you noticed that your plot has a fatal flaw? That would be a nightmare. But if the book is published in digital format, you can easily fix the problem. You just upload a new version of the book. Sweet.

I encourage all readers of Xmas Carol to let me know if they see something wrong: a typo, a date flaw, whatever. I'll fix the problem and you, the reader who reported it, will be able to download a new version of the book that has a fix for the problem you pointed out. I think that's rather nice.

So don't hesitate to tell me about flaws in the book. I won't be upset. In fact, I'd appreciate it very much. Now, go read the book.

Let's install a ramp

There was a story this week about a man in China who killed three children with an ax and wounded 13 other kids. An update says he was contemplating suicide before the attack.

And then we have the guy who just tried to kill himself by jumping off a monorail into the tiger's den at the Bronx Zoo.

The second guy had the right idea: kill yourself, not others. Why don't we put up a ramp that leads directly into the tiger's den (or trash compacter, etc.) with a sign over it that says "Suicides Welcome"?

You want to kill yourself? Fine. Just don't take other people along for the ride. You don't have that right. This is a coward's way to commit suicide. These fools literally get their nerve up by killing innocent people. It's about the lowest thing a human being can do. I say cheers for the tiger guy -- and I hope he gets the help he needs to get better. I know this sounds harsh, but killing children is not a simple, innocent activity.

Pattern-matching is the new frontier

I've been saying this for years. There are patterns all around us, often taking place in disparate arenas, that describe the same information (arcs, trends, distribution, etc.). Here's an excerpt from a new one that's just been found in sports.
Rankings are a direct measure of a player or a team's performance and come in different forms. Some sports are ranked using a points system, while others are ranked using earnings. By statistically analyzing the rankings and plotting them onto graphs, the researchers found that the distributions for each sport were almost identical.

In the past, research has shown that the frequency of words in different texts, the size of cities and people's income all abide by the same power law.

In all of the sports analyzed, 20 per cent of the players possessed 80 per cent of the total scores of the whole system.
These patterns surround us in our daily lives but we don't see them. As more and more are identified, the relationships between all sorts of seemingly unconnected things will become clear, and this will point the way to yet more powerful "power laws". A giant leap in understanding will come our way when tie these links together. It's the final frontier.

Patterns, patterns everywhere. This means something, kids.

September 21, 2012

Well-written editorial in NYT

I'm almost copying the whole thing but I don't think the NYT will mind, since I'm praising it. As a rule, you don't see writing like this in editorials. It's about fog, of all things. There's no byline; it just says "editorial". An excerpt from "Season of Mists, if Not in Manhattan":
What’s missing in Manhattan is a seasonal fog, the kind that foretells autumn. This is the time of year when cool air begins to run downhill, gathering in the hollows and turning to ground fog. At dusk and just after, it drifts in narrow banners, head-high, across the low spots in the country north of the city. It comes out of the cattails and emanates from the hemlocks. Wherever it crosses the highway, it looks solid in the headlights — a dense silver stream — and then it turns insubstantial. Now and then it turns out not to be fog at all, but a low slip of wood-smoke from an early stove.

Surely there were ground fogs in Manhattan once, when everything north of Canal Street was still woods and meadows, when the island still kept its natural contours, the rise and fall of a rocky island. And surely there would have been wood-smoke mingling with those fogs until the breeze blew them out over the water. Sometimes, still, you can find tree-clinging fogs in Central Park. But it would be pleasant, even now, to step outdoors and see a low mist crossing Broadway or wandering down Lexington Avenue like ghostly pedestrians just before dawn, announcing the coming of autumn. 
Amazing, no?

Baseball thing

I wonder if the Red Sox will purposely fall to the Orioles this weekend. The Orioles are neck-and-neck with the Yankees right now. If I was a Sox player, let's just say I wouldn't play real hard this weekend. Then again, they play so badly it probably won't make a difference either way. I hope the Orioles sweep them. Boo, Yankees! How I detest that team.

Meanwhile, my Nats "clinched a playoff berth", as they say. They're in. It's just a baby step on the road to the division championship, but they've done it. The NLDS is the win that matters to me. Baseball's over before the WS starts. That's all I have to say. Over and out. (Which I'm told is repetitious. Really, you just say "Out". There is no "over". Who knew? See what movies do to your brain?)

Funny thing

I love this situation, as reported by Der Spiegel:
Search engines attempt to guess what users are looking for and offer them suggested words. But can these terms constitute defamation? Former German first lady Bettina Wulff says they do, and is suing Google over searches that pair her name with terms like "prostitute."
Just saying. It's fun. You really should read Spiegel Online, which is what Der Spiegel calls its online English publication. It's honest and clear about so many things that are hidden by American media.

And hey, straight guys, they show boobs! That'll get you over there, right? And as I mentioned recently, they also show naked guys. You'd think this alone would guarantee an American audience. And maybe they'd get educated, by accident.

Why do religious people lack morals?

You see it all the time.
TULSA, Okla. (AP) — A 17,000-member megachurch deep in Oklahoma's Bible Belt has been rattled by allegations that five employees waited two weeks to report the rape of a 13-year-old girl in a campus stairwell, allegedly by a church worker. 
They can't tell right from wrong. They have no clue about this. None. Why does this happen? Why do religious people have no moral center?

It's simple. When you make a fairytale the centerpiece of your life, you lose contact with reality. Up becomes down; wrong becomes right. You're lost in the wilderness.

You don't have to consult a dusty book or talk to someone who isn't there, to know right from wrong. You just have to be able to see reality. Religion prevents that.

Religion is the scourge of mankind. This is not an exaggeration. 

September 19, 2012

Jesus and Edna appeared to me last night

Edna and Jesus Christ
I couldn't believe it. Jesus and Edna Christ were standing in the middle of my living room. It was a miracle!

Edna did most of the talking. Here's the headline: Jesus never returned to Earth or answered our prayers because he wasn't the one with the magic powers. That's Edna's bailiwick.

But now she's back! The snafu that kept her from us all these years is one of those inexplicable god rules: Edna couldn't appear on Earth until someone knew she existed. This weekend, when that Christian lady announced the discovery of the papyrus that mentions Jesus' wife, the magic stay was lifted.

So now Edna is available to answer our prayers. From now on, as long as we pray to Edna, babies won't get fatal diseases; children won't be buried alive in earthquakes; and no one will suffer endless pain! Praise Edna!

She's ba-ack and she's ready to respond to your prayers. Hallelujah!

PS: Toward the end of the visitation, Edna took me into the bathroom so Jesus wouldn't hear her words. Once the door was closed (and locked), she leaned close and whispered in my ear. (Her breath smelled like cookies, BTW). She said unto me, "Your book, Xmas Carol, will be the most popular novel ever written. You've done a fine thing, my son." And then she said something so marvelous: "Your entry to heaven is guaranteed." Wow!

Priest says something sensible

I don't know where they found this guy, but he's great. Remember last week when I wrote about the lunacy of involving religious representatives in plans for a starship voyage 100 years from now? Well, guess who thinks this is a bad idea (other than me):
"The only way humanity can survive is if they leave behind the Earth-based religions," charged Rev. Alvin Carpenter, pastor at First Southern Baptist Church West Sacramento. "If there's any way to make this fail, bring Earth-bound religions."

Religions, he argued, breed aggression and conflict, citing the violent history of his own faith, Christianity, in episodes such as the Inquisition and the Crusades. Many religions' negative stance on homosexuality has driven young gay people to commit suicide, he said.

"When you bring a religion on a starship, you bring the toxicity that we have seen on Earth," Carpenter argued. "This is something that we do not wish to export to the stars."

"All it takes is one charismatic fundamentalist, with a Bible or a Koran in his or her hand," to spark conflict aboard a starship, he added. (snip)
"I think space-born religion is going to be based on science," he said.
It's refreshing to hear a "reverend" speak this way. So how do we get rid of Earth's religions? They have the same poisonous effect down here that they'd have in space. Religion is the scourge of humanity. It has to go.

September 18, 2012

Big Brother in the sky

NYT: Difficult to resolve safety and security obstacles may prevent the Federal Aviation Administration from meeting a deadline to allow civilian drones routine access to U.S. skies within three years, according to a report released Tuesday by a government watchdog.

Industry forecasts have pegged the potential worldwide market for commercial and military drones at nearly $90 billion over the next decade, more than half of that in the U.S.
Let's all sing it together:

The Gospel of Jesus' Wife, Edna

Okay, I made up the "Edna" part. But according to HuffPo (so you really can't believe it), they've found a bit of papyrus from Jesus' day. And on the fragment, as clear as day, Jesus refers to his "wife". Appropriately, they're calling this "The Gospel of Jesus' Wife".

Isn't this a hoot? The pope must be apoplectic. First his cute butler turns on him, and now this. What's a pope to do? This is the extra-special fun part:
The idea that Jesus was unmarried and chaste is largely accepted by Christian denominations and forms the backbone of the practice of celibacy among Roman Catholic priests.
At the Vatican, I imagine they're hearing the immortal, "Dum Te Dum-Dum". Which either means they need an antacid fast, or their whole Jesus story is about to crash to Earth. Seriously: fun times at the Vatican. I wish I could listen in.

Image of papyrus fragment: Metropolitan Museum

Update: I see it's at the NY Times, too. Welcome, Edna! 

A writer's life: rewrites

I'm reading a draft of a book I wrote. The Worlds is the first volume of a sci-fi trilogy, of which I've written the first two books. My job this year is get the book into shape so I can publish it. Okay, that's the background.

As I read The Worlds, I'm surprised to see a radical difference between the main body of the book, which I wrote three years ago, and sections that I wrote last year. The new sections are way better than the original draft. It seems I'll have to rewrite most of the book. That's fine because after so many months of editing Xmas Carol, I have a hunger to write new things. Let me at it.

It's stormy today in New York. You know what that means: perfect reading weather. I know what I'll be doing for the rest of the day.

September 17, 2012

Climate change is quickening

The latest news about climate change is alarming. It's happening much more swiftly than predicted. Today's Albany-Democrat Herald has an article about losing the Arctic ice -- and what that means for our future. Read it and weep. Earth's climate is about to become a huge problem. And never forget that we could have stopped this, if only we tried.

The "God is Dead" guy is dead

I came across an obituary this morning:
Theologian William Hamilton, a member of the Death of God movement of the 1960s that reached its peak with a Time Magazine cover story, has died in Portland, Ore. He was 87.
I remember that Time Magazine cover. The issue came out when I was a senior at the odious Archbishop Molloy High School in brain-dead Queens. That very morning, the Marist Brothers who taught us rushed into our classrooms, holding the issue up and pointing at it as if it was a picture of the devil himself.

They had a stern message for the students: "Tell your parent to cancel their subscriptions to Time magazine immediately!" It was an ultimatum, not an option. We were compelled by the lord jeebus to do this.

I was 15 or 16 at the time and I remember thinking, "What dimwits! Like people can't say things in magazines unless they comport with your illusions." I was already an outspoken atheist (including in religion class, much to the Brothers' consternation). I guess this was the first wingnut thing I observed up close: the inability of these clerics to read something without blowing up. Apparently the whole world had to cowtow to Roman Catholics. Sounds like today's Muslims, doesn't it? I mean, okay, they didn't incite us to riot. But there was no room for non-Catholic opinions in the world. This was made clear to us.

It was a seminal moment for me. I always thought the school was run by nitwits, but now I had confirmation. Thanks, Marist Brothers, for helping me to see Catholicism as the authoritarian, narrow-minded cult that it really is.

September 16, 2012

I grok this cartoon

Artist: Tom Toro
I found it at Fiction Writers Review

Birds of a feather

Does this sound familiar?
Over two decades, the Boy Scouts of America failed to report hundreds of alleged child molesters to police and often hid the allegations from parents and the public.
A Los Angeles Times review of 1,600 confidential files dating from 1970 to 1991 has found that Scouting officials frequently urged admitted offenders to quietly resign — and helped many cover their tracks.
"Bessie! Get my glasses! I think this is the same thing those filthy Roman Catholic priests did!"

Now, isn't that amazing? Both of the most virulently anti-gay organizations on the planet did exactly the same thing when confronted with child rapists in their organizations -- and then continued to lash out against gay people for no rational reason.

Could it be that morality is not something you can learn from a dusty 2,000-year-old book? In fact, could the opposite be true? Could morality be totally lost when you rely upon such a faulty source for your moral sense? Gee, I wonder.

Clerics in space. Ugh.

In an article about the need for humanity to travel to the stars, I found this gem:
The 100 Year Starship project was founded with seed money from the Defense Advanced Research Projects agency (DARPA), and is now being run by Jemison's Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence. The program's leaders aim to recruit not just scientists and engineers, but psychologists, sociologists, religious leaders and philosophers to help solve the problems posed by interstellar travel.
Indeed. And let's make it a priority of the first mission to the stars that they found a Vatican outpost or a large mosque the instant they arrive on a planet's surface. We must bring religion to those heathen aliens! It's the prime directive.

Ooo, ooo, ooo! And we absolutely need a church on the starship. It needn't occupy more than, say, 35% of the vessel's space. That should suffice.

It sure is good to see big thinkers including religion in plans for space voyages that will take place 100 years from now. But why not include astrologers? I hear they know everything about planets. And they could provide daily horoscopes for the crew. What a boon that would be!

September 15, 2012

A suggestion for movie-makers

Now that it's become accepted that dinosaurs had feathers, I wonder if they'll do a remake of "Jurassic Park". Colorful feathers could make a shocking difference in the look of the movie. And heck, they do retreads of just about everything else these days (because creativity no longer exists in America). So why not this? Plus, feathered dinosaurs would be scarier than bald ones. They would seem that much more alien since we're not used to the look. I bet this will happen.

PS: I don't know who to credit for the image. It's everywhere.

Irony no one seems to notice

The headline of a NY TImes piece today is "Benedict Takes Message of Tolerance to Lebanon". I burst out laughing when I saw it. The man who fosters anti-gay hatred in every country on Earth is taking time out of his busy schedule to bring his extra-special message of "tolerance" to Lebanon. Indeed. These are times of high irony.

September 14, 2012

Next up: "The Worlds"

For the past few days, I've been reading a draft of a sci-fi novel I wrote a few years ago. It's called The Worlds -- which is also the name of this blog. The idea behind The Worlds is so far-reaching, it's startling. My aim is to publish the book in 2013 and publish the second book in the trilogy the year after that. (Like The Worlds, it already exists in draft form.) And then I'll write the final book in the series. Xmas Carol is a lot of fun; make no mistake about that. But The Worlds is the joint.

I've got my work cut out for me. The Worlds was my first attempt at writing a novel and I didn't know any of the tricks yet. To my now-seasoned eyes, it sounds clunky -- but I can fix it. I learned so much while writing Xmas Carol. My task now is to apply those lessons to this book. It should be fun because I love the story. It is so wild and appealing!

So next up: The Worlds.

I'd starve in today's schools

So they're pushing "healthy" lunches on kids. The problem with this is that someone else gets to decide what's healthy. I do not agree that a plate full of mulch is a good thing. To put it succinctly, I don't eat fruit and I hardly eat vegetables. All you have to do is take a vitamin and drink psyllium husks. There's no need for this kind of "food". (I don't consider fruit and vegetables to be food.)
Mohonasen students selecting pizza sticks this week also had to choose something from the lunch line's cornucopia of apples, bananas, fresh spinach and grape tomatoes, under the standards.
Whatever. I'd toss everything but the pizza sticks in the garbage. And it seems I'm not alone in this sentiment.
Kim Gagnon, food service director in the Mohonasen district, said while students generally have been receptive to the fruits and vegetables, "we have noticed that kids are throwing it out or giving it to friends, leaving it on counters..."
Right on, kids. Toss that stuff. Food is fish, meat, eggs, cheese, nuts, beans, macaroni, milk and bread. The other stuff is fake and won't make your body happy. I'll end with a comment from the real world:
"The fruits and vegetables are good at first but once they wear off, I get hungry," she said. "It's just not enough to get me through the day."

September 13, 2012

I love this monkey

You've probably seen the photo of the new species of monkey found in the Democratic Republic of Congo. (Larger image at the link.) It seems odd that a new animal would be discovered in 2012. You'd think we'd have them all toted up and categorized by now.

Isn't he gorgeous? The eyes make him look almost human. Have you ever seen such an intelligent look on a non-human face? I could easily imagine landing on another world and seeing this creature walk up to me. And then he'd talk.

Amazon's "Look Inside"

Amazon activated the "Look Inside" feature on my horror novel, Xmas Carol. It's a helpful add-on but I'm disappointed with the result. They let readers see almost two full chapters but the free peek ends just before the hook! A few more paragraphs and the reader would have to buy the book. Instead, it cuts off in the middle of a scene.

On the other hand, the only way I've ever used the Look Inside feature at Amazon is to check whether the author can write. It's pretty obvious from a gander at the first page. I'd never read nearly two chapters online.

Still, I wish they didn't cut the "Look" at that point. For those who've read the book, it ends just before Baylor appears on the Della Rhodia Show to make his big announcement. What a lousy time for the screen to go dark!

September 12, 2012

And now for some music

I heard this song a few days ago when I found it on Joe Jervis' blog (Joe.My.God). I love it. In fact, I bought the album (and also bought Dylan's new album) yesterday. Here's the song:

The willful blindness of the Vatican

After the violence (see post below), the pope's spokesperson actually said the following.  Apparently, irony is unknown at the Vatican.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, issued a statement on Wednesday saying that "unjustified offense and provocations" against Muslims have "sometimes tragic results" that "nourish tension and hatred" and unleash "unacceptable violence."
This statement is outrageous since it comes from a church that has been persecuting gay people all around the world for as long as I can remember. This, too, qualifies as "unjustified offense and provocations" that have "tragic results" that "nourish tension and hatred" and unleash "unacceptable violence".

It seems they don't have any mirrors in the Vatican.

On the dreamy peacefulness of religion

I was amused to see this today:
Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Representatives of some of the world's major religions have concluded a three-day interfaith meeting in Sarajevo by calling for peace around the world.
These people are living in a dream world. Almost all the atrocities in the world are committed by religious zealots for religious reasons. But religion is peaceful, doncha know. Uh-huh.

From today's news:
A movie attacking Islam's prophet Muhammad sparked assaults on U.S. diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt on Tuesday. A Libyan security official reported an American was shot to death as protesters burned the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, and in Cairo, protesters scaled the walls of the U.S. embassy walls and replaced an American flag with an Islamic banner.
And as you know, it never ends. Yet they blindly insist that religion is a good thing. Like hell it is.

September 11, 2012

Remembering 9/11

This is the first anniversary of 9/11 that seems bearable. The pain has lessened over the years. I'm a New Yorker and I see this not only in myself but in others. It's finally something in the past; there is a protective buffer of time between us and that awful day.

But the event is still huge and horrific. Al Stefanelli at A Voice of Reason listed the names of everyone who was killed on that sunny Tuesday morning. It's amazing just to scroll through the list. There are so many names. Though we may feel less pain this year than last, it remains the greatest tragedy of our era.

A baseball thing

Catfish Hunter
I like to trot around the internet and read about the old days of baseball. Yesterday I encountered this information in Wikipedia about Jim "Catfish" Hunter:
Charles O. Finley, owner of the Kansas City A's, gave Hunter the nickname "Catfish" in 1965 for no reason other than that he thought his new pitcher needed a flashy nickname.
Duh. The man looks like a catfish. Check out that mugshot. "No reason"?

September 10, 2012

Book stuff

I set up an author's page at Amazon and then had to create one at the Amazon stores in other countries. It was fun and a bit weird because I had to make my way through screens of questions written in other languages. But it wasn't that hard because they were replicas of the original English page. I could tell what to click on. As a result, my author's page is up in France, Germany and the UK stores. I think I did another country too, but I'm not sure which. Greece? Japan's site wouldn't let me in at all. It just didn't like me. I get that sometimes. And the links Amazon provided for authors' pages at its stores in Spain and Italy were incorrect. I never got there. (Yes, I can look up the stores' URLs. But just try to find the author's page at one of those sites when you don't speak the language.)

Yup, this is what it's like to be a self-published author: you have to do everything yourself. They don't even provide maids or masseurs. You're totally on your own. Still, it's kind of fun. Xmas Carol is out there. And if I'm not mistaken, Christmas is coming. And this won't be just any old Christmas. It will be the Christmas of Xmas Carol. I like the sound of that.

September 9, 2012

A word from the artist

Casey Shain, the person who did the bang-up cover for Xmas Carol, wrote a post at his blog about how he came up with the image.

Casey is one of the nicest people in the world. I can't imagine a more creative, helpful image-maker. And he works with color like no one else. (In fact, I think he sees more colors than mortals do.)

If you want to go down in history as a true Xmas Carol bibliophile, you must read his post. Thanks, Casey!

Sunday meditation

Go read Vikings player Chris Kluwe's great response to an extremely stupid, anti-gay politician.

People, you have to stop electing these dimwits.

September 8, 2012

Science for dummies

Why must they always gear science shows toward nitwits? What about the rest of us, the ones who can think?

I just tried to watch an episode of "How the Universe Was Made" on the Science channel. Oy. The narrator might as well have been Mr. Rogers. He spoke s-l-o-w-l-y. Very s-l-o-w-l-y. And as usual, everything was illustrated with simpleton video, like cars crashing. Because no one can understand about asteroids in the Kuiper Belt hitting each other unless they see cars crashing.

It drives me crazy. Please make some science shows for people with brains. We'd love to watch stuff like that -- but there isn't any. Morgan Freeman's show, "Through the Wormhole" is the closest thing to an intelligent science show. But there, the problem is that he presents authentic geniuses and wingnuts, without telling you who's who. Plus the show tries really hard to present everything as strange. It's the way reality is. It's not strange at all. But they do present things with impact and style, so I guess I have to admit someone's at least opened the door to decent TV science shows. (And yes, NOVA is a Mr. Rogers show. It doesn't get my vote.)

Anyone out there agree (or disagree)? The Mr. Rogers approach drives me nuts.

The beat goes on

When I read this, I wasn't surprised.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Calls for Bishop Robert Finn's resignation intensified a day after he became the highest-ranking U.S. church official to be convicted of a crime related to the child sexual abuse scandal. 


Through the decades-long abuse scandal, only one U.S. bishop has stepped down over his failures to stop abusive clergy: Cardinal Bernard Law, who in 2002 resigned as head of the Archdiocese of Boston [and was sent to prison for decades and was promoted to a cushy job at the Vatican for his efforts].
So, was Bishop Finn sent to the hoosegow for his transgressions? Of course not.
Jackson County Judge John M. Torrence sentenced Finn to two years of supervised probation. If the bishop abides by a set of stipulations from the judge, the conviction will be wiped from his record in 2014
They never suffer real repercussions -- and the beat goes on.

(Much better version of this story at the Times this morning.)

September 7, 2012

Light posting for a few days

Getting the book out was exhausting. When my energy returns I'll start posting again -- probably at a furious pace. Anyway, you should be reading Xmas Carol right now. Who needs blog posts when you've got a great book to read?

September 5, 2012

More formats for Xmas Carol

As I said yesterday, Xmas Carol is available at the Kindle Store. And as of this morning, it's available in various non-Kindle formats at Smashwords. They're an online indie bookstore that sells books and funnels them to the biggies in the book biz, like Barnes & Noble and the Apple bookstore. (I think it's kind of nice to buy directly from them.)

So now you have no excuse. Go get your copy of Xmas Carol today. It'll be the best three bucks you ever spent.

September 4, 2012

Xmas Carol is available at Amazon

The Kindle version of Xmas Carol, my horror novel, is available at the Amazon Kindle Store. Here's a link

It's already September, which means the Xmas rush will soon be upon us. So...what are you waiting for? Go read the book! And when you're done, come back here and share your reaction with the rest of us.

The book is out. Woot!

Nonsense creatures aren't scary

On the eve of Xmas Carol's publication, I'd like to re-post something I wrote last year. It's about the origin of the book.

I've always loved horror novels. I spent my entire life with my nose buried in a book (including during school hours) and half the time it was a horror novel. So when it came time to write one, I was certainly well-versed. Should be easy, right?

But then the obvious problem hit me: I've grown up and picked up some knowledge along the way. There are no witches, goblins, ghosts, gods or any other sorts of supernatural creatures. People don't come back from the dead, flesh-eating zombies are absurd, and not one single person on Earth needs an exorcism. I can't be frightened by nonsense. I'm all growed up.  If I included a monster in a book, it would have to be a real one.

To me, horror has to seem real to be frightening. The reader must accept the premise of the story for it to be effective. And while sizable American audiences seem happy to immerse themselves in any ludicrous idea at all, that's not the road I want to travel as a writer. No wizards, spells, demons or gods will find their way into my books.

In truth, even after these considerations, a large part of me wanted to write a ghost story. I'd been raised on them; they called to me. I even considered suspending my judgment, holding my nose and writing one for posterity. That salty, ramshackle beachfront mansion wanted me to write about it. It was so hard to resist. Couldn't I please write one? Please!? 

But I couldn't because there's no there there and that's an insurmountable problem. Still, I couldn't let go. But how could I possibly write a ghost story if ghosts don't exist? I refused to relinquish the idea; I gnawed at it for weeks. There must be a way, I thought.

Finally, I asked myself a question: What is like a ghost?  And therein lies the tale of Xmas Carol.

September 3, 2012

Next step: publishing

The book is finished. Soon, very soon, everyone will be able to read Xmas Carol. I'm not sure how long it will take before it appears in the Kindle bookstore. I'm working on that now. Once the Kindle version is out, I'll figure out how to publish the other versions. It's like the PC/Mac divide -- there are different e-reader platforms with different rules.

I spent the morning wrangling with formatting. Professionals want a lot of money to format your ebook. Not gonna happen. If the book is successful, I'll return to the formatting issue one day. But for now I'm just going to put out a clean-looking, basic book (with a fabulous cover).

As for the blurb, I think I've got one that works. I looked at the blurbs on current ebooks and didn't like them at all. Everything is written in the present tense, like this:
When Ginger realizes that Bubba intends to kill her, she pulls out all the stops and tries to kill him first.
The present-tense seems clunky to me. Mine will be different. That's all I'll say for now.

I'm a bit worried about the length of the book. People don't seem willing to read a "long" book these days. It might hurt their head, I guess. Current fiction is quite brief. The books are more like novellas than novels. My book is more than double the length of most horror novels out there. But I swear it's a quick read. Readers just fall into the book and tumble out the other end. Xmas Carol goes down like candy. I really can't see anyone (except religious wingnuts) wanting it to end until the final page. Even then, they'll want more. So I'm going to toss my worries aside and release a 200,000-word novel to an 80,000-word public. We'll see how it goes.

I'll report back when I reach the next stage. But hey, the book is done!

September 2, 2012

The insanity of blasphemy laws

So, Pakistan, how's that blasphemy law working out for you?
ISLAMABAD (AP) — A Muslim cleric is accused of stashing pages of a Quran in a Christian girl's bag to make it seem like she burned the Islamic holy book, a surprising twist in a case that caused an international outcry over the country's strict blasphemy laws. 
This is what happens when you pass a law that glorifies nonsense. Your society falls down the rabbit hole.

What could have been

Apparently, before the Roman Catholic church made the ghastly mistake of appointing Ratzinger as pope, they were moving in a different direction.
ROME (Reuters) — The former archbishop of Milan and papal candidate Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini said the Roman Catholic Church was “200 years out of date” in his final interview before his death, published Saturday. 

“Our culture has aged, our churches are big and empty and the church bureaucracy rises up; our rituals and our cassocks are pompous,” Cardinal Martini said in the interview published in Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera.

“The church must admit its mistakes and begin a radical change, starting from the pope and the bishops,” he said in the interview. “The pedophilia scandals oblige us to take a journey of transformation.” 
Amazing, isn't it? He was even open to gay relationships -- didn't think they were odd, at all. What a difference from this blind pope. But of course, the cardinals chose hatred over love, and went with Ratzi. It's the Christian way.

September 1, 2012