Adult Onset Atheist

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

End of days with mayonaise

There is a little disagreement over the possibility that the world will end tomorrow. I know “End” is such a final sounding word, isn’t it? So let us just call it a massive extinction event that calls all the chosen, noble, and great people back to the heavenly father. If I made up some end-times prophesy I would try and make it less patronizing and melodramatic. “Today is the first day of the rest of your life” would work for me, but it is a little cliché.

Should the world not end tomorrow it is supposed to definitely end by Monday. I don’t think this is suggesting that the prophesy states that making it to Thursday ensures an unencumbered weekend, but I’m not sure.

The prophesy is centered around counting to seven and an encounter with God himself by a temporarily dead woman by the name of Julie Rowe. The seven is important because it has been 14 years since terrorists flew planes into the World trade center, the pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania; 14 is 2X7. Julie is important because God spoke to her directly, and dropped several not-so-subtle hints that the world was going to end real soon.

Julie is a member in good standing of a religion called “The Church of Jesus Christ of Later-Day Saints”. The “Later-Day” part of the title is all about the end of the world, or, more precisely, the massive extinction event that calls all the chosen, noble, and great people back to the heavenly father. Tens of thousands of –mostly Mormon- people have bought Sister Rowe’s book(s), and she is a popular speaker at spiritual gatherings. Nonetheless, it is usually bad form to actually produce evidence of the actual end of the world, and this particular world-ending prophesy is no exception. The LDS church has issues the following official statement:

Although Sister Rowe is an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, her book is not endorsed by the Church and should not be recommended to students or used as a resource in teaching them. The experiences she shares are her own personal experiences and do not necessarily reflect Church doctrine or they may distort Church doctrine.

It has also been pointed out that the late Mormon authority Boyd K. Packer (who was famous for his opinions on masturbation and the way women should dress) stated in 2011 that people may even live to see their great grandchildren before the world ended; no need to stop tithing now I suppose.

Tomorrow (Wednesday September 23rd) is the obvious day for the world to end. It is the autumnal equinox, and ending the world in conjunction with some celestial event is much more elegant than just pulling any old date out of the hat. Unfortunately Monday (28th of September) appears to be the more agreed upon date. Does this mean that some people will be able to get to work, have those Monday thoughts where the world is just a huge bag of s**t, and then “poof” it’s all gone? Other people who sleep in may then get the last laugh if the end comes slow enough to get in a laugh.

Actually the end is supposed to be fairly pedestrian (someone once teased me for using that word too often) as ends-of-worlds go.  A giant earthquake-thing will hit somewhere near or around Utah (in other words near the absolute center of the universe). This will cause widespread panic, and be followed by other bad things that will harm people to death and beyond. Because mayhem, panic, and uncomfortably nasty things are forecast the citizens of Utah are stocking up on stuff; stuff like mayonnaise, ammunition, and potato flakes. Sales at some Utah “prepper” stores have been up over 500% of normal for quite a little while.

All this raises many questions; many of which will be answered in time. I for one am not looking forward to the answer to all of the questions. Especially: “What do you do with gallons of expiring mayonnaise?”

Monday, August 24, 2015

No Wins Hugo

This post puts a final nail in the SNARL-Hugo series of posts.  I must admit to being completely put off by the quality of this year's short fiction nominees.  I am afraid we will see this problem again if there is not a revamping of the nomination process. 

This last weekend the Hugo award winners were announced, and the big winner was:


  1.       "No" won handily in five categories (Novella, Short Story, Best Related Work, Editor Short Form, Editor Long Form). 
  2.        "No" came in second in four categories ( Novelette, Professional Artist, Fanzine, Fan Writer), and picked up a prestigious second place John Campbell award for best new writer.
  3.        "No" came in third in two categories (Novel, Fancast)
  4.        "No" came in fourth in one category (Semiprozine)
  5.        "No" came in fifth, beating only one nominee, in only one category (Best Graphic Story)

"No" only failed to place in a couple categories.  Interestingly "No" was shut out in both the dramatic presentations categories; the only categories it had ever won in the past. 

"No" was my personal favorite in the short fiction categories.  I had almost hoped that Kary English's story "Totaled" would have won, but if it had I would have been left thinking that it might have lost to worthy competitors.  I don't think "No" would have beat Kary if there were any other reasonable short stories to judge hers against.  Interestingly the winner of the Novelette category was the only nominated short fiction I have not read.  I will probably not read it as I am just sick of whatever this stuff is that they call short fiction in 2015. 

The thing is that the rabid-sad puppies filled the nominations with work -especially in the short fiction- that was awful.  I should have kept track of the descriptors used to explain how bad people thought the Rabid-Sad puppies work was.  It would have been nice to know if "%!!?# **%$!! That **&p;%;#$!! Was &;*(^)!;$%?" beat out "Can I have my hour back?", or if something more vanilla like "Please get me a plastic spoon so I can scrape the residue left by reading that crap out of my brain!" could chalk up a win. 

The slate-filling is something that is done in reduction down-select voting processes.  In Utah this is the reason behind maintaining a costly caucus-primary system.  Since only two candidates make it from the closed caucus to the public primary it is possible to slate dummy candidates to force out candidates that might win in the primary if the public was given a chance to vote for them.  Since I have been in Utah the slating in caucus has been used to elect Senator Mike Lee, and allowed John Huntsman to be elected governor when the incumbent had something like an 85% approval rating.    It almost worked against Senator Orin Hatch in the last election cycle; hatch went on to win the public primary by a nearly two-to-one margin. The idea to slate out popular candidates in order to control an election is a Utah idea.  Interestingly the two main "sads" in the rabid-sad puppy group are Utahians.  They took what they thought was a winning political strategy from the rooms of the Utah GOP caucus, and applied it to a literary award.

"Our execution wasn't flawless. I made two mistakes, one which was fortuitous as it permitted Three Body Problem to make the shortlist and win, and one which was stupid as it cost us a 6th category in novelette. Our discipline could also have been better, although I don't see that it would have made any difference at all with regards to either the nominations or the awards. But I trust the moderate approach is now sufficiently discredited in everyone's eyes."  -- Vox Day on Vox Popoli 23 August 2015

"From Communists to Muslims to SJWs, various philosophies and religions have been more than happy to attempt to coopt Jesus Christ, because they believe he is dead. What they cannot countenance are the servants of the Living God"  -- Vox Day on Vox Popoli 24 August 2015

In any sacrificial slating there are dummy candidates.  Tim Bridgewater was the dummy GOP candidate for Mike Lee.  Nolan Karras was the dummy GOP candidate for John Huntsman.  In the case of this year's Hugo awards it looked like most of the dummy candidates were just one guy: John C. Wright.  JCW was nominated into so many slots that I would be surprised if it were not some sort of a record.    And all of the work used to nominate him was craptacular.  It was some of the worst written fiction of any length I have ever read in any genre.  The fact that so many of what I hope are JCW's worst works received Hugo nominations does permanent damage to the genre of science fiction.  Already collections that include these turds of stories are being offered for sale with the announcement that they contain "Hugo Nominated" works.  There will be nobody around to say "This story may have been nominated, but it lost to No Award it was so bad".

Reading the Hugo-nominated works of John C. Wright is not just a waste of time it is a waste of interest.  The Hugo process may have finally figured out how to nominate dramatic presentations, but it has failed the written word.  There is a steady stream of ways to be influenced over what TV show to watch; there may be one less way to get reasonable recommendations about what written work is worth reading.  The Hugos does not provide an important voice in the selection of TV shows, but it was (is?) one of only a few for short science fiction works.

"I should mention that during the last few months of the Sad Puppies kerfluffle, I once upon a time accurately described him, Mr. Moshe Feder, and Mrs Irene Gallo of Tor Books as ‘Christ Haters.’ The support of abortion, sodomy, and euthanasia rather unambiguously put a soul into the position of open rebellion against Christian teachings. In addition, any man who bears false witness against his neighbor, delights in poison-tongued gossip, and destroys writing careers of anyone who does not support his politics not only disobeys Christ, but violates the ordinary decency of ordinary men of good will of any faith."  -- John C. Wright on his blog 23 August 2015

There are several conservative commentators who decry the strong showing of "No" at the 2015 Hugos as a petulant attack on the civility and social order.  Most people just don't care, which is actually worse.   Science fiction has actively imagined the downfall of civilization fairly often, but unless people trust the Hugo process to identify the best of science fiction the Hugos awards are literally worthless; there is in fact no other significant purpose for the Hugos.       

"The social justice tendency, here as elsewhere, is driven by anxious white middle-class bloggers and authors who turn their noses up at the tastes of the proletariat. They'd rather celebrate books about coming to terms with the disabled transgender experience than a good story about aliens and ray guns."  -- Milo Yiannopoulos on Breitbart 23 August 2015

If the rabid-sad puppies are successful in pushing the Hugo awards down the path of triviality again next year I will probably join the vast majority of people who don't care about them already. 

The strong "No" showing may be the first step back from the brink for the Hugos.  However, the rabid-sad puppies vow to do the same thing to the Hugos next year.  Vox Day is even holding a special secret workshop for 2016 Hugo strategizing this Thursday (27 August 2015).

The only way to counter that threat is to get enough votes for good works.  But how do you find the really good works out of the seemingly endless morass of science fiction and fantasy?  Well... you could get people to recommend good works to other people who might together nominate them. If you read something worthwhile you need to tell other people about it, and explain why you liked it.  Put your opinion on the line like I did this year.  Help make reading the Hugo nominated works a pleasure in 2016.

Friday, August 14, 2015

How Not to Book a Trip

The following is a guest post by Doris Brody.  She wanted a place to put an HTML formatted story of a birding trip she recently took to Ecuador, and I eagerly offered to put it here.   I hope she does not expect me to edit anything much as my editing skills, as most of my readers know, extend to sometimes paying attention to the automatic spell checker.

Our tour leader is down on all fours and stuck in the mud. He cannot remove his boots until he takes his feet out. He is a mess. Now it is our turn to follow him across the huge mudslide blocking our path. One by one we struggle over getting extremely muddy but luckily avoiding the dangerous pits that lurk beneath the surface.


The mudslides that have plagued the Eastern slope of the Andes in Ecuador this year are an act of God: the Godzilla of all el Ninos. The decision to cross the mudslide is not.

On this birding trip to Ecuador, we have learned several important lessons about how not to book a trip.

  1.  Get a draft itinerary before you pay all your money down (we didn?t). If the itinerary says “lodging at my house” ask questions. (We did, after paying it all. This got us a hotel?more about that later). 
  2.  If the itinerary doesn't specifically say what meals are covered and which are not, ask. Also, if a meal is not covered, ask if the schedule allows time for it, ask where you eat and when (we didn't). We had two breakfasts and three “dinner-lunches” at the leader?s house (hamburgers and hot dogs for two and chicken for the third).
  3. --Ask questions about “little things” like laundry facilities (see picture) and transportation. We had a car and a pick-up truck. The luggage, covered with a tarp, only got a little wet in heavy rains.
  4.  If the activity level is higher than advertised, opt out.  From 10 to 2 there are few birds out, anyway. Mostly, they don?t justify wearing yourself out hiking up steep slopes in high altitude and noontime heat. Opt out. I did.

The morning of our mudslide experience we arrived just after midnight at our hotel in San Rafael, south of Quito. We had to carry our luggage by ourselves up a steep marble-tiled staircase (35 steps) to our room (one double bed, one ¾ bed and one single), which turned out to have only a trickle of ice cold water, and fell asleep (not hard to do after 17 hours of traveling). We got up at 5:30 AM to get ready to be picked up for breakfast. Breakfast, at our tour leader?s house, consisted of 2 small pancakes, syrup and a juice box. No coffee. The house was a mess (hint: apparently garbage collection is infrequent in San Rafael). We headed across the main pass from Quito to the Eastern Slope and out on a long walk up and down steep muddy trails at 9,000 feet and, finally, across the mudslide. Then it was time for lunch, which was supposed to be sandwiches which our leader had made at home. And forgotten them there.  We were offered, and ate, chips, Oreos and water while the two leaders debated whether to eat at a restaurant. 

Laundry "room"

Our final destination that day, Wild Sumaco, in a beautiful bird-filled setting, was everything a well-run comfortable eco-lodge should be. The meals (three a day) were excellent. We saw wonderful birds there. Four days later, we left Wild Sumaco and headed back to Quito (San Rafael) to the same hotel with the assurance that we would have better rooms and hot water. BUT it was Saturday night. The street was a never-ending traffic jam, the sidewalks were packed with people and the solid wall of discos and karaoke bars across the street were at top decibels. Three of us got Jacuzzi rooms on the first floor but two were sent to the top floor again, opened the door and found it inhabited by a soccer team. They got moved down and we all tried to sleep. Without success. The bars closed at 2:30 but the street didn't quiet down until well after 3:30. After that the real noise began to settle down but the car alarms continued to go off. We had no trouble being ready to leave at 5:30 because most of us were still awake. Breakfast was scrambled eggs, toast and a juice box at our leader's house. Still no coffee  Then we were off to 13,000 feet and a hike to a lake. Again, I opted out. I was happy because on the way we got good looks at a couple of Andean condors.

Our accommodations for the next five days were at a farm right next to the town of Mindo. Not all rooms had attached bathrooms and, though clean, the structures were closer to bunkhouse or shack than hotel. But we ate two excellent breakfasts in the main house.  Three breakfasts were take-away ham sandwiches. Only one other meal was included in our package "lunch-dinner" which we ate around 3PM (pizza two days, steak one day and a really nice restaurant one day).

Giant Earthworm

So was the trip a disaster? No. It was an adventure. The other people on the trip were wonderful to travel with and, in addition, they were very good birders. We saw many birds we would have missed if they, with their eagle eyes, had not found them. Our leader and co-leader took us to a restaurant when the sandwiches were left behind, found us another place to stay after the sleepless Saturday night, found a decent hotel in San Rafael after we had to cancel the proposed trip back to the Eastern Slope because the pass was closed, took us to a couple of decent, even good, restaurants for a couple of our dinner-lunches and gave us a delightful day in Quito when we couldn't go back east. And you could (and I did) opt out of the difficult steep up and down marches in the heat and high altitude. Most of all: WE SAW GOOD BIRDS!

The high point of the trip was our day at Refugio Paz de las Aves. On our last day in Mindo we had to be packed and ready to leave at 5:15 so we could reach the cock of the rock lek by dawn. A lek is a place where male birds come to jump around and make noise.  This activity is irresistible to females. Go figure. When we arrived, it was still almost completely dark on the trail to the lek. Our flashlights revealed a number of cows on the narrow path but they moved off and, as we slogged through the mud, it became obvious that not all of the squishy stuff was mud.  The lek was a leafy tree that was already alive with frog-like croaks and squeaks and shaking with jumping birds. As it became lighter the cocks; bright red birds the size of fat crows with black and white wings became visible. Every time a female (a sort of maroon colored bird) arrived the activity hit a frenzied peak and all the males flew off, chasing the female. Then they returned and began croaking, squeaking and jumping again.

Antpitta in the wild

Eventually, it was time for the antpitta feeding.  In 2004 birders discovered Angel Paz, a campesino who was feeding worms to antpittas. Antpittas are very secretive birds and very difficult to see. He had learned to get the birds to come to his whistle to be fed. Word spread and birders converged on Angel?s farm to see the birds. They paid him money. It became a lucrative  business for the Paz family who are now preserving large portions of their farm for birds. Angel's first antpitta, Maria, was a giant antpitta, a particularly rare bird. She is now gone but giant antpittas still come to a whistle, either by him or other members of the family who are now working in the business. We walked up and down steep muddy trails pursuing antpittas and saw four species of these rare birds. It was a magical day.

The last two days of the trip were spent in and around Quito because we could not get back over the pass to the Eastern Slope because of the mudslides. Quito was beautifully spruced up for the Pope's visit and lively with Sunday activity. We were quite happy to have this finale to the trip.

Even the cast of Dragon Ball Z was excited to see the Pope!

Would I go back to Ecuador? Yes.

Would I book another tour company? Yes.