Wednesday, November 18, 2009

It's Been a While, Hasn't It?

Another of my friends recently posted after a long absence, and it made me think about this blog and that I haven't said anything here in a long while. Nine months. Heh. I could have had a kid in that time.

Well, not had one, per sé, but...well, you get my point. Nine months is a long time.

So, golly. What has changed?

Well, I've got two cats again. Both of my maternal grandparents died last year. Nanny in March and Granddaddy in December. I promised Granddaddy that I would look after his cats. Now, what he meant by this and what I meant by this may not have entirely matched up, but...lemme 'splain.

Nanny and Granddaddy had three cats: Tiny, Lucy, and Matt. Tiny was an ornery beast who liked Granddaddy and only Granddaddy. His idea of "affection" was to reach up and poke his claws through your skin to get your attention, then demand food.

Lucy was Nanny's cat, for the most part. She only has three legs after she lost an argument many years back with either a car or a dog; I don't remember which.

Matt was the odd man out. He's a gigantic orange beast with vision and hearing problems. At least we think this is true. He could just be ignoring us. Like a teenager, only with fur and claws and fangs. Bad metaphor similie, but I went with it anyway.

After Nanny became wheelchair-bound, Lucy became sort of neglected, and she and Matt were mostly just there. They came in for food and stayed outside for most of the rest of the time.

When I promised Granddaddy I'd take care of his cats, I meant Lucy and Matt, not Tiny. Tiny was a fairly loathesome little beast. We did eventually find someone who was willing to take him, but he unfortunately died before that could happen.

Then, on the weekend of July 4th, I brought home Matt and Lucy.

I won Lucy over very quickly. It took her a couple of days to come out from under the chair she found immediately upon entering my house, but when she did, I caught her, picked her up, ignored the growls and the claws, and gave the right side of her head and neck a thorough scratching.

It's her right hind leg that's missing. And she can't scratch over there. After about two head-scratching sessions, she was mine. :)

Matt...well, he's been a bit harder to win over. He doesn't like change, you see. Like, you know...people coming into my house. Or me moving furniture around. Or noises that might mean people might be thinking about possibly coming into my house, at some point. You get the idea.

We'll see how it pans out. They're both 16, and resistant to change.

What else?

Oh, yes. Atlanta had a torrential downpour of nearly biblical proportions in mid-September. It was bad enough that it leaked into my house in five places, causing ceiling damage.

I dealt with insurance and a roofing company and all that's been fixed, now. And simultaneously with the roof repairs, I've been refinancing my mortgage. The rates dropped into the 4.5% range, and I couldn't pass that up. I'm waiting on a fax now that will be one of the last three steps toward finalizing that. Closing day is December 3rd.

Hmmm. Oh, yeah. One of my friends who is one of those people who can just "do things" offered to help me with some tasks that needed doing around my house. Like installing new garage-door openers and finally getting that home theater set up in my living room. (Hey, it's only been 8 years!) It's been over a year since I could park my car in my garage. I'd almost forgotten how to maneuver my Element through the opening. :)

Oooh! And I got a new laptop! I decided at some point that I needed a machine I could use to write on that had a battery that wouldn't die in less than two hours. I have some friends who are Mac people...and one of my other friends who was a die-hard Windows person got a Mac...and it pushed me over the edge. I got a Macbook Pro. A 17", glossy-screened one.

And I bought Scrivener, which is lovely software for writers.

Speaking of writing, I've been writing a lot. Some time back in the summer, I was frustrated with the story I was writing. Sometimes, what you need to do when you're stuck is just change what you're writing. So I started to do a little something I call "The First Sentence Exercise." You come up with first sentences to stories you may or may not write. The goal of the exercise is to grease the wheels of creativity. I used to do it daily, but I stopped.

I wrote down: The fire had burned with an unnatural speed and intensity. Looking at it, I thought, "Hey, I kind of like that." I tried a second sentence: It was a mystery and <some name> lived for mysteries." I then heard someone say "...die in a fire..." and the plot popped into my head.

I kept writing. And writing. And then I realized that the protagonist of the story was a character I'd already developed for another story into which he didn't fit. But he fit into this one. So I changed <some name> into Nick Damon.

Somewhere in my head, a bell rang.

I've now written some 31,000 words on that story, which started out as Necromancer and then became Perdition's Flames. And it's no longer a story but a novel.

It's also a murder mystery that I started writing not knowing who the killer was or why he was killing people. Nuts? Why yes, I believe I will have some. Oh. You meant me. Oh.

My Tuesday Night Writing Group seems to be enjoying it, and they are helping me tweak it to get some of the details more...detail-y.

Then November was approaching and I needed a project for National Novel-Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, as we call it. I "won" last year (which means I wrote 50,000+ words in 30 days), so I wanted to see if I could do it again. But...what to write? I was already 31,000 words into Perdition's Flames.

I could continue the novel I started last year. I had lots of ideas, but nothing would gel.

Or...or I could write the second novel that comes after Perdition's Flames. The ideas flowed easily, and before I knew it, I was penning the first scene of Death Scene.

By midnight, tonight, I will be approximately 30,000 words into it. This means I will have written two novels approximately halfway through. Simultaneously. Bananas? Sure, I like--wait a minute. I'm onto you, now.

It would seem I might have found my genre. I've tried sci-fi, epic fantasy, horror, humor, and dark fantasy. But these two are both "urban fantasy."

Like Jim Butcher, only, like totally different. His series takes place in an alternate Chicago where magic is real. Mine, on the other hand, takes place in an alternate Atlanta where magic is real.

Totally different, I assure you. Totally.

And that's really about it. I haven't updated the blog in a while because I didn't have anything all that important to say. And I still don't. But I hate to see abandoned blogs. :)

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Vaccines and Autism: A Rational Discussion

As a non-parent, I can't say that I know the helpless feeling of watching a child suffer with some horrible disease like measels or polio or rotavirus. Nor do I know the anguish of having a child with autism. My heart goes out to those families.

And I'm sure it must be powerfully convincing evidence that something must be wrong with vaccinations when these parents take their children to the doctor to be vaccinated, and soon after that, they are diagnosed with autism.

It is entirely rational to look for a link between the two. And it's understandable that parents want something to point to and say "This caused the horrible thing that happened to my child."

However, every study has consistently shown that there is no causal relationship between vaccinations and autism. None. But both sides are yelling and calling the other side stupid and often refusing to sit down and just talk.

Scientists have listened to parents' concerns. In fact, they spent millions of dollars doing study after study after study looking for some causal relationship, just in case there was something there to be found. It's just that scientist-types find it so very difficult to talk to people instead of over their heads, so their calm message of "there's no way vaccines cause autism" fall on deaf ears when emotional parents know what they saw.

Enter Dr. Ginger Campbell. She has a podcast called Books and Ideas. This month's episode features an interview with Dr. Paul A. Offit, author of "Autism's False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure." Dr. Campbell interviews him about the issues surrounding this "controversy." You'll learn that eating tuna will put more mercury in your system than a vaccine, even before they removed the thimerosal. You'll learn why mercury-bearing thimerosal was removed from vaccines in the early 2000's, and why it was there in the first place. But mostly, you'll learn how very dangerous it is for children today to remain unvaccinated.

If you have any curiosity about the issue or just wonder what all the brouhaha is about, I urge you to listen to this episode with an open mind.

Please. It's just one hour out of your busy schedule. You'll probably learn something. I know I did.

Just click on the title of this post and it'll take you to the podcast, and you can listen to it right there at the website.

Monday, January 26, 2009

People Are People, Unfortunately

Back in November, after more than two years of being in a Yahoo group that I participated in off and on, I removed myself from their membership.

The group was the Atlanta Freethought Society, of which I'm still a paying member until March, and at which point I will not renew.

The list is populated mostly by snarky, older, left- or central-leaning atheists and agnostics who used the list to comment on news stories and such, usually having to do with the clash between the religious and the non-religious or anti-religious, but also including "woo" topics like Bigfoot or alien abduction.

And I'm okay with that. These are my peeps when it comes to that. Who better to appreciate stories of ignorant people in some backward, podunk town expelling a teenage girl from high school on the grounds that she's a witch? The list abounded with stuff like this, day in and day out, for most of the time I was on it.

Last summer, I went to one in-person meeting of the group and was not impressed, but still remained on the email list.

And then, the Troll occurred.

The group acquired a troll back sometime during the summer. He was from Indianapolis, which was clearly stated in his Yahoo bio. Yeah, we're the Atlanta Freethought Society, but there's nothing in the charter (I checked) that said only people from the Atlanta environs could join and participate. In fact, there is nothing anywhere that states that a person has to believe, not believe, think, or not think anything in order to participate. I want to say this up front because it becomes important later.

So, this guy whom I'll call "Jim" starts posting to our group. It becomes readily apparent from the get-go that Jim is a Christian, because he takes every opportunity to make sure that we knew this. Not in what I'd call an obnoxious way, at all, but simply stated as part of his responses.

Now, when you have a list of people who all believe in X and you introduce someone who believes in !X, it will inevitably cause some conflict. The sane response for the X people is to ignore the !X person, and eventually the !X person will get bored and go away.


Well, actually, no one has ever tested this hypothesis, nor are they ever likely to. Because, like the question of how many licks it takes to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop, no one has ever gotten past three. :) People are constitutionally unable to ignore a troll. Trolls, knowing this, gleefully stay where they are clearly not wanted, because their sole purpose in life is to stir up trouble. But I digress.

People in the Atlanta Freethought Society—and I stress this to point out the absurdity of what you're about to learn—attacked. Mercilessly. Because he didn't agree with their point of view. "Hey, idiot, this is an atheist group, and so all your preaching isn't appreciated!" was the general tone of most of it. A few people popped up at this point and said, "Actually, you know, it's a free-thought group, and I'm {an agnostic|a deist|a theist|whatever}," but these people were ignored or shouted down.

Jim stated on several occasions that he was there to learn and be exposed to other points of view. He stated that although he was a Christian, he had no truck with organized religion, hated the Catholic church1, was in complete favor of church-state separation, etc. The only substantial way that he differed from the majority of our group was that he was not an avowed atheist or agnostic.

As soon as people started snarking off at him, he started snarking back. And so the snark got snarkier and snarkier until it was barely concealed (or just plain raw) contempt.

Where I got involved was when someone just out of the blue asked Jim if he was a "reformed" homosexual. In other words, a gay man whose Christian values have convinced him to deny his nature and proclaim he's "cured" of homosexuality.

Whoa. Where did that come from? So I jumped in. "What does Jim's sexual orientation have to do with anything?" I asked. "We were talking about <whatever>."

"Well, he just sounds like he's one of those guys. He has all the hallmarks," came the reply.

"But why does that matter? What does whether he's straight, gay, bisexual, transsexual, or something else have to do with the issue you're arguing with him about?"

"He's a troll! And I have to make him admit he's gay! Because he's gay! And until he admits he's gay, he's dishonest!" (I wish I were making this up. This is not a direct transliteration, obviously, but it captures the spirit of what was said.)

It went on like this for several more exchanges. People were getting downright nasty. And then a couple of the gay people on the list got involved, and were actually supporting this nonsense, calling for Jim to admit to his homosexuality. Which he did, openly. He claimed that, like me, he just had no clue why it was such an issue, and didn't answer because it was not relevant. But eventually, he said, "Yeah, I'm gay. I'm proudly gay, out, and have been for 30 years. Now what?"

So they they started in with the "Aha! I thought so!" nonsense, even though they didn't seem to remember that the entire brunt of their argument had been that he was trying to hide something. They then quoted all the parts of the bible back to him that have been used on a bunch of religious sites to condemn homosexuality.

Do you see it? Right there. They became the very people they claim to be fighting against. Here were a bunch of avowed atheists and agnostics using the Bible to try to catch a gay Christian man in a contradiction.

What the hell is wrong with people? I mean it. There has to be something just wrong in our heads to make us do this kind of crap.

It reminded me all too much of scenes in Frankenstein movies where the villagers have pitchforks and torches and they're all yelling at once and waving their weapons at the poor monster.

That really opened my eyes. I started to pay more attention to not only what was being said but who was saying it and how it was being said. I never did get back into participating at my usual level. I started looking at what was really being said behind the posts, and I decided it wasn't my kind of message. But that was later. Back to the summer.

One other person joined me in a call for civility (for which, incidentally, I was given grief), and for a couple of weeks, most people (there are always a few who just can't keep anything civil) treated Jim as a visitor, took him at his word that he was there to share ideas and learn different points of view, and basically engaged in a conversation instead of a verbal fist-fight.

It didn't last long, though, and soon, the gloves were back on and the moderator (who, although he didn't participate in the flame war, took no steps to try to end it, either) ended up banning Jim from the group. I state again that Jim did nothing wrong, because there is nothing in the charter that said his beliefs--or lack thereof--had to be in lockstep with the rest of the group in order to participate.

But it really showed what these people are made of. At the very first hint of an opinion that didn't match their own, they started shouting "Faggot!" and throwing figurative stones. And one of the very people shouting "faggot" the loudest was a self-avowed lesbian in a long-term relationship. It boggles the mind, really. I stress again that these are self-proclaimed free-thinkers, who are supposed to welcome discourse on a variety of topics and from a wide range of points of view.

I mean, isn't that what free-thought is all about?

Instead, this group turns out to be nothing but a cabal of back-patting, self-congratulatory jerks who just want a captive forum where they can bash religion and right-wingers—well, basically anyone who disagrees with them—at will.

  1. This seems to be a common misunderstanding of non-believers by believers. They believe that all of us hate the church. Yes, there are some non-believers who fall into the "anti-theist" category who believe that all religion should be abolished. There are others, like myself, who don't care what religion you are as long as you don't proselytize us.