February 24, 2013 · by xalieri · Posted in fiction  

I don’t know why I bother to reveal these secrets to you. You won’t have earned them until you discover them for yourself, nor will you actually understand them. Maybe having read the words will give you a little extra foundation for understanding my own point of view, which you will no doubt merely see as some kind of delusion at worst or psychotic irrelevance at best. But if curiosity pulls you at least this far, you may as well have it.

The world around you is filled with light. Even when your eyes are closed, even when the sun is down, you see reddish light filtered through the blood-filled tissues of your own eyelids. Hell, even when you lose consciousness due to exhaustion at the end of the day you dream of light, of substance, of objects. This is true even if you were born blind, though then the light is sourceless, simulated by touch and sound and the feel of how the air moves. This light is an echo of how the seeming enormity of the world fills your brain.

The secret begins to seep in when you look up at night and see the distant stars. Each tiny pinprick is a star, a giver of light like the sun, who is a middle-aged member of that host and a junior example — a middle-management clerk among celebrities and statesmen and giants. And just as there are billions of people more important that that clerk in the world, there are hundreds of billions of those tiny, yet more prominent, pinpricks in our own massive galaxy of stars. But ours is not the only galaxy there is.

The Milky Way has several smaller companions, but hurtling toward us is a monster of a galaxy, much larger than our own, dragging along its entire entourage, due to arrive in less than half the lifespan left of our own meager sun. Our local group of galaxies numbers at least 50. But groups of galaxies also travel in clusters. And clusters form superclusters. And so on. Call it something on the order of a hundred billion galaxies, and, as good a guess as any, a septillion brilliant stars.

The skies should be filled with blinding light day and night, edge to edge, if light is what the world we know is made of. The beginning of wisdom is to see the inescapable reality that this is not the case. The world that glows is not even one part in twenty of the world that exists. And the truth of that is revealed in that when we look at the sky at night, what we mostly see is blackness.

The whole of creation is more than 95 parts in 100 darkness — measured by mass even, not volume — and the darkness is growing. The brightest of us, so to speak, squeeze our eyes shut when the light of this knowledge starts to dawn and begins to make us feel tiny and ephemeral and insubstantial, and believe we have found wisdom. But true wisdom does not come until we accept that the overwhelming and ever-increasing blackness between the stars, inside the stars, even, squeezing them and pushing them away from one another at an ever-increasing rate, is the ultimate reality. That blackness has form, and beauty, and substance. That blackness has intelligence. That hateful sun-eating blackness is the destiny of all that lives and all that glows.

There is a further secret behind that, however, intangible until you push past your soul-crushing despair. And it is terrifying. The ultimate secret is this: The unimaginably massive universe-eating blackness has tendrils inside you and knows everything about you and loves you with the entirety of its incalculable being and wants to be your friend. But you are no good to it until you are dead dead dead.

* * * * *

What I love about California is that when you walk around a small coastal town upholstered in tattooed skin of brown leather — shock of white hair smushed under a backward baseball cap, eyelids and lips sewn shut, torso wrapped in a bright aloha shirt, sculpted ass companionably wrapped in khaki cargo shorts, feet stuffed into paper-thin yellow foam flip-flops — no one bats an eye when you buy a latte and take a seat by the big picture window at the front of the shop. Especially when you hold the door for the guy coming in the shop behind you, affably find your wad of cash in the third pocket you investigate, and stuff a five-dollar bill into the Lucite tip-box. My puppet does all of these things, even to the point of making faces at the Labrador puppy leashed to the bicycle rack panting through the window trying to make out the shadow of his mistress inside.

I make a mental note to try this horror of a dumbshow in some backwater Mississippi town someday when I have less business on my mind and am more in the mood to kick over anthills. I will try to work it into my timeweb at a later point, where the echoes would not surge out to muddy the causality of the current puddle I am splashing in. I am here to recruit a Buddhist. A true believer and adherent — someone who actually understands what he believes, not someone who merely adopts the philosophical clothing in the typical fashion of one who becomes disillusioned of the trappings of Western dogma and doesn’t wish to walk around religiously naked after those are discarded. It would be more effort than I would like, to have to teach a purer dharma to an incautious choice pre-mortem and next to impossible post-mortem.

I expand my awareness, retreating analogically to a higher vantage point above the local timeweb to scout for my target. This beach-facing village has maybe three candidates, but the outflowing ripples are definitely the most favorable for the one who will be approaching in five minutes with respect to the bobbing marker of my puppet — the brightly-colored float for my fishing line, to stretch the analogy to the breaking point. I have no idea why, in terms of causal logic, this choice is better than others. But it will reach the coffee shop soon.

I retreat puppetwards and devise the machinery of the interactions that should pull him/her/it into my wake. A him, I determine as he enters. Short dark hair and dressed in unassuming jeans and t-shirt combination, with dirty white canvas loafers and no socks. I have my puppet watch, in terms of body language, as he places his order and waits for it to be constructed. He swings a messenger bag around to his back when he takes his cup, and when he looks up to see which tables are clear, I have my puppet wave at him. He looks confused, but he comes to my puppet’s table at the window, slowing dramatically as he takes in the appearance of my puppet. He is invited to sit with a gesture.

For this meeting I will speak by vibrating the air around my puppet’s face and chest, like when I placed the order for my puppet’s latte. I choose a quiet voice, much like the one I used pre-mortem. Cheerful, unthreatening.

“I know you don’t know me. I’m Jim.” My puppet’s stitched-together lips broaden slightly. It gestures again to the chair opposite. My guest hangs his bag on the chair’s wooden back and sits.

“I’m Tom,” he replies, setting his cup down carefully. I read the full name off the surface of his boiling mind: Tomoyoshi Suzuki. He speaks slowly, weighing curiosity against animal fear. “Is there something I can do for you, Jim?”

He repeats my name at the end of his sentence to fix it in his head while staring at my puppet’s unforgettable face. A reflex. He has worked in sales, or, more likely, possibly he is a teacher, and uses the trick to learn the names of students.

He looks at my puppet’s latte. His face is carefully neutral. “Do you need scissors? Or a straw?”

Tom earns a genuine laugh, which I localize quietly as a chuckle into the air between himself and my puppet. “Oh, thank you, Tom, but no. This puppet is dead. This coffee, like the puppet, is for show. I bought it as table rent.” The puppet leans back a little in the chair and stretches out a leg. “People need the puppet to talk to, when I talk, to avoid the unfortunate misunderstandings that come up when a voice is sourceless or comes from something nonhuman. People freak out or think they’ve gone crazy. The puppet also provides an additional element of language I find useful. See? I’m saying to the rest of this shop, while I talk to you, that this walking horror is not a threat to anyone.”

Tom frowns appreciatively and nods. “Should I ask whose body it was before it became … your puppet? Or is it artificial? Some kind of Hollywood special-effects replica…” he trails off.

“Relax, Tom. This is my own corpus. I drove it from the inside for thirty-some-odd years, pre-mortem. I just failed to relinquish possession when I died. Can I use the word ‘possession’ there?” I pause for a moment to make the puppet pretend a sip of coffee. “It’d be accurate to say that I died in the process of preserving this corpse for future use. Or, in at least one important interpretation, spectacularly failed to die. The jury of opinion isn’t unanimous.”

Tom nods again. “Sokushinbutsu.”

If that is a name for what I am, it is a new one to me. The subtleties of his tone are of mixed horror and reverence rather than the purer notes of distaste for terms like zombie, mummy, revenant, or any of the other hosts of undead from the anthropologies I had studied or more recent popular media and culture. I am not used to being confused or surprised. And I like it. This is possibly part of what I am seeking.

“I’m unfamiliar with the term,” I say. “Japanese, right? … Tomoyoshi?”

Tom doesn’t react when I use the longer version of his name, but makes a wry face with respect to the topic at hand. ” ‘Believe it or not, some saints don’t rot. Their bodies don’t decay…,’ ” he sings. If my puppet’s jaw could hang open, I would have required it to happen. Tom continues. “An old Dead Milkmen song. My mother was Catholic, and much more fervent about it in the years before she died. They believe the power of God is demonstrated by the fact that some of the bodies of old saints are preserved against decay after death. The Buddhists have something similar, after a fashion, but it’s more deliberate. A shortcut to buddhahood. The ones who attempted it took a special diet for a thousand days, coincidentally one that poisoned their flesh against microbes and worms and such, then climbed into a stone box to die. Or to finish dying. Then a thousand days later the box was opened, if it had been successful, and a mummified enlightened one was removed and installed in a shrine to receive intercessory prayers.”

I make my puppet nod, elbows on the table, attentive.

“Folklore takes it a step further, saying not all of the sokushinbutsu attempts were successful. Most did achieve sainthood. But some went mad, stranding their minds beyond mortal comprehension. And some, who had the drive to achieve the transition to immortality but not the purity of heart, became tremendously powerful monsters, creating misery to achieve their own selfish ends. They required — or require, since there may be one or two left — exceptional effort from the devoted to contain or destroy.”

That is something to think about. I say, “What do you think?”

Tom takes a moment to consider, remembering he has coffee that he brought to the table and taking a sip. “As a Buddhist, I am a student. I’m no priest. Until today, I thought of it in terms of a parable, a story of how the highest intentions can be poisoned by the taint of an unacknowledged desire for personal glorification, and on a different level a literal example of the extremes to which the sacrifice of self can take somebody. It’s self-torture and suicide. As such, it removes a pair of hands that could be used to alleviate the suffering of others here feeding hungry people or taking care of the sick. Maybe the sect that created such processes thought there was a shortage of saints to assist Buddha in receiving and processing prayers, or that examples needed to be set from time to time to show people the range of things that could be done in the name of self-sacrifice. If my opinion on the subject is worth anything, I tend to think there are probably enough gods and saints to pray to without adding any more.”

I want to step outside of time to process this, but that would upset the flow of events. I will have to wing it. “Until today?” I ask.

By way of answer Tom cocks an eyebrow and makes a small gesture toward my puppet.

“My process was violent,” I admit. “I prepared myself with drugs and stimulants and anesthetics. I eviscerated myself with surgical tools and clamps to slow the bleeding and stripped off my skin — with preparatory cuts and hooks and ropes and falling weights — before I finished dying. It was much faster, the work of a single evening, and uninformed by any desire other than selfish ends. I wanted power and I got it.”

Tom is frozen in his chair. I take a break for my puppet to pretend another sip of latte. “I was naive and stupid, but very, very lucky. There are many things about the afterlife that it’s impossible to know without stripping off the flesh and jumping in with both feet, as it were. It’s quite an education.” I admit more than I had intended, but Tomoyoshi seems to deserve it. He is tense and flushed, but my confession includes humility uncharacteristic of the sort of monster he fears.

Even so, it is clear that Tom is terrified. His voice is calm and even, however. He is a trooper. “It sounds like quite a feat. Congratulations.” There is no hint of contempt or sarcasm or judgment. “My ambitions are …” he trails off again. “I’m content to bother myself with worldly things while I’m still alive. I’ll worry about what comes after I die when I get there.”

My puppet sets down its cup but continues to hold the handle. I stretch the stitched-together lips of my puppet into a broad smile and gesture toward him impertinently with my puppet’s spare hand. “About that.” I reply.


February 19, 2013 · by xalieri · Posted in Everything Else  

A couple of words for you gun owners out there. First of all congratulations on your recent major accomplishment. Here’s what you did.

1) Raise unfounded panic that the President is out to take away your precious guns — because a legal gun owner let her precious guns slip out of her protection and get used by her disturbed son to massacre a bunch of elementary school children and their teachers.

2) Take this panic to all of the social media outlets and spark the hugest boom in gun and ammo sales in modern history so that anyone who can afford several hundred dollars of hardware can now protect themselves from the criminals and assassins — who I can only assume are their own disturbed children, considering the recent event that triggered the cascade.

3) Ammunition sells out everywhere, meaning that cops — you remember cops? Those friends, relatives, and neighbors of yours who protect your OTHER friends, relatives, and neighbors who are too young or too old or too poor to buy their own guns and stockpile their own ammo? Those guys? — COPS can’t buy any ammo for their own guns, either to carry on the street or to practice with down at the range.

Congratulations. Your selfish fake-fear-driven panic — triggered by a failure of legal gun ownership to require the discipline that responsible ownership of weapons requires, I might add — has screwed the only people ever given any training to deal with the use of deadly weapons in a civilian arena and ensured that the predators we have to live with constantly will further narrow their targets to the poor, the sick, and the elderly. Because #^@& them, right? Maybe some cowboy-wannabe in the neighborhood will put in a good bullet in their defense, if they just happen to be in the wrong neighborhood at the wrong time and feel like putting their own ass on the line for the kind of people who have to live in the crappier areas of town.

You #^@&head cowards. You gullible chumps. You stupid, simpering, parrot-mouthed tools of the fascist, bigoted, hate-fueled corporate greed-machine. You are the loving broomhandle used to caress the underprivileged into submission in the dark corners of the world you keep yourselves blind to.

I’m sick of how easy you make it to stampede you off any convenient cliff. You sign up for it. You volunteer.

You want to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, gun owners? Obviously, seeing as manufacturers and retailers only sell them to the law-abiding, the answer is that you guys have to STOP #^@&ING TURNING INTO CRIMINALS. Right? That’s the only logical answer, right? YOU have to stop being criminals, or giving guns to criminals, or selling guns under the table to criminals, or letting criminals break into your exceptionally well-defended houses and apartments and cars and handbags and stealing your precious guns. YOU are the #^@&ing weak link, here. YOU buy guns. YOU give your guns up to criminals. And then you whine because you’re afraid things will change so that you can’t buy more guns to hand over to criminals. You’re afraid someone will take away your remaining guns BECAUSE YOU KNOW IT’S BEEN YOUR #^@&ING FAULT ALL ALONG.

Alternately — and understand this is a bit of a wishful-thinking stretch — you can STOP MANUFACTURING CRIMINALS with your bigotry and hate and fears and slapping all the opportunities to make a legal success of oneself out of the hands of strangers so your ungrateful and undeserving children can have the first overprivileged chance to screw it up to spite you. Let’s see you build new and better schools out of your stockpiled boxes of ammo, rural OR urban. Let’s see you build the after-school enrichment programs that encourage entrepreneurial thinking and invention with your marksmanship. You’re so afraid someone who isn’t white will get a leg up, someone who isn’t straight, someone who isn’t your religion, maybe even some uppity woman, that you’ll deny the best opportunities to your own children, making it just that tiny bit more likely that even they will have to cheat and steal in order to compete or even survive.

Anyway, there’s your answer. And, as you’ve been saying forever, it has nothing to do with guns themselves, but everything to do with gun owners. To recap:

1) Stop being criminals.

2) Stop putting your guns in the hands of criminals.

3) Stop manufacturing criminals by spreading hate and poverty and oppression.

Tell me I’m wrong. I #^@&ing dare you.


November 25, 2012 · by xalieri · Posted in fiction  

Words like beads of dew on a curved flat blade of tall grass, each holographically containing a fisheyed inversion of the scenery behind — cloud-fluffed blue sky below, downward-pointed green spikes above — every word the same and meaningless and yet forming a picture, though distorted and infuriatingly linear and traveling in the direction the blade takes regardless of where you want it to go. Fortunately, here is another dewed blade. And another. Another. Another. The blades, like the strung droplets, gruelingly the same, but just enough different that the whole of the sopping meadow contains the whole of sky, rotated upside down.

Here is a sentence of strung words. Here is another. And another. Another. Descending toward meaninglessness.

So here is another. And another. Don’t worry. There are tens of thousands more.

Remember, these words are upside down.

* * * * *

My puppet lays on its back on the dewed grass, eyes sewn shut — one emptied socket half full of petulant pointy-legged skritching and the other always quiet unless my puppet is in motion — and cold enough to collect dew itself. Its brown weather-leathered chest is bare, as is its head (except for a shock of sunbleached hair), and arms, and legs, and feet. From waist to mid-thigh it wears beach-appropriate flower-printed shorts, too heavy to be trunks for swimming but of a sort that is often used as such regardless. Perhaps because it is sometimes convenient to have a number of pockets to fill with the trifles one finds below the waves.

Pockets are useful things. One of the reasons I maintain a puppet is so that it can wear pockets and carry useful trifles. It is a crutch, but a familiar one, and comfortable.

The puppet is inert, having been dead (and taxidermied) for years and years. I am waiting for the sun to burn off the dew. I confine my awareness to the beach-adjacent meadow that contains it, embedding my self in linear time as an exercise for the string of connected moments that must follow, one after another, slow and awkward like a flying bird, head bobbing, walking the migration routes on foot. I spread myself thin over the expanse of the meadow and watch ten million tiny air-sullied drops of water encourage the outermost surfaces to hand molecules of water to the larger molecules of diatomic nitrogen and oxygen for them to carry it away, reversing the process that deposited it last night. The water molecules are even shaped like birds, winging away to join the flocks in the sky.

I feel the ripples of time like the grass feels the microcurrents of wind that buffer it from the onshore breeze. I cannot resist. I peek above the time-ripples and roll a portion of my awareness back to a ruddy sunrise, the nearest one to the arbitrary here/now of the meadow containing my warming puppet, not much more than an hour distant. I drop back into the grass with the rest of me before I lose my will to follow linearity. Or worse, shear into multiples.

It is tedious. I feel an enormous temptation to shout the entire meadow dry, startling the water into the air like a gunshot sends a flock of starlings aloft. But the sudden fog might draw attention. And the entire point of this exercise is to relearn patience.

A quarter of an hour is an unendurable eternity. Twenty minutes. Another five or ten. I sit my puppet upright. Draw its feet under it, or him, as it used to be many years ago, and compel it to stand.

Its mouth was sewn shut around a cloth bag of various odds and ends ages ago as well, so the pantomimed yawn (covering its mouth with the back of the left hand) and skyward stretch of the right is comedy gold. But there might be spectators watching, morning joggers and others for whom this distant verisimilitude would be useful for not setting off otherness alarms. It looks natural. It feels natural. After all, once upon a time, embedded in time, I used to steer this puppet from the inside. Call it sentimentality, but I have a small preference for not having my handiwork, and my one-time home, shredded by a panicked mob.



November 7, 2012 · by xalieri · Posted in Everything Else  
2012 US Presidential Election, State by State, Nate Silver, FiveThirtyEight.nytimes.com

2012 US Presidential Election, State by State, Nate Silver, http://FiveThirtyEight.NYTimes.com

So the 2012 Us Presidential Election is over and went exactly as predicted by Nate Silver at his FiveThirtyEight blog at the New York Times website. This is unsurprising to me, as Silver has had many years of practice at collecting this kind of data and analyzing its worth based on the sources involved and is a competent mathematician.

Still, a huge number of people are surprised. And angry. And crying foul. Because these facts — the measurement of the universe in its current state — are not consistent with what they knew in their hearts to be true.

I blame a combination of things, the chiefest of which are sadistic manipulators who set out to lie to these people deliberately so as to milk their wallets to back a lame mule in a horse race (said sadists being under a separate delusion that the world is cynical enough that a tarted up mule with the best press money can buy can win a horse race). Also I blame Walt Disney.

Stern denial of a fact one does not like, whether one’s heart is filled with bitter hatred or sorrow or the strong emotion of one’s choice or not, will not alter that fact. Ask anyone who has ever watched a loved one die. Neither will wishing really, really hard. (I’m looking at you, Disney.) Facts aren’t poisoned fairies that one can cure with child-like (read: naive) belief and clapping one’s hands.

Nor can one simply apply money and go shopping for facts one likes better, or have them manufactured to order in “fact”-mills. Because people are predictable, they will take your money and give your something in return, but the thing they give you will be something known in common parlance as a “lie”.

And paying huge wads of money to distribute these lies to the largest number of people possible and having them all clap their hands and believe really hard (paying attention, Disney?) will never make your lies true. All it does is leave a large number of people angry, with hands sore from clapping, soaking in the lovely feeling of what it’s like to be bilked for a chump.

Some national cultures have quaint traditions for ridding themselves of this chumpy feeling, frequently expressed in terms of taking to the streets and smashing up stuff and setting huge stacks of tires on fire — when they can’t get their hands on the bilkers and include them in the festivities. These celebrations are too huge and colorful to be fully described with such a tiny word as “riot”, but we’ll make do.

Facts are the way things are. If it helps, you can think of facts as the expressed will of the god of your choice. Many do, and those are typically happier people, and less bilkable. Also, if it helps, you can think of faith as sticking to your guns in the face of inevitable unfavorable outcomes — again, many do — instead of a childlike naive magical belief that, if performed strongly enough, backed firmly with unwavering, profound yet unfounded emotion (thanks again, Disney), will warp the world in the direction of your strongest and most selfish desires.

Screw you, FOX NEWS — and screw your owners and programmers — for the misery-spreading propaganda engine you are, and, yes, also, screw you, Disney, for lying to five generations of children about how the world works and what faith means.



October 27, 2012 · by xalieri · Posted in Everything Else  

I write fiction. Here. Let me spin you a lie for the sake of pure entertainment.

There’s no such thing as truth. Words are everything. Regardless of what you see or hear or feel yourself, it’s nothing but confusing noise. Because of your limited powers of understanding you recognize only bits and pieces, trying desperately to concentrate only on the parts that make sense to you, and you understandably forget the noise. In fact, you don’t even remember the stuff you recognize. You remember only the words that you encode the noise into, and those words become your paltry substitute for truth and experience. And you, with your limited vocabulary, do a piss-poor job of it.

To try to make up for this, you turn to the words of more eloquent and charismatic bastards and let them overwrite your impoverished encapsulations in order to allow a more important and more memorable version of reality to thrive — a version that you can discuss with other people who have heard the same speeches and who, in general, tend to agree with you.

For the sake of belonging to this group — people who you hope will get your back in a scuffle and help take care of you in your declining years — you’re happy to allow this to happen to you, this overwriting of your sketchy approximation of reality. Further, the duty of belonging requires that you propagate it to others — less to convince outsiders, because that’s frankly impossible as they are undergoing their own onslaught of words from inside their own groups — but more toward reinforcing the subjugation of reality among your peers so that everyone stays together in these dark and confusing times.

If you don’t allow this corruption of your memories and thoughts and attitudes, and reinforce it among your peers, you will be outcast. And if you do cooperate, reality itself bends around you to enfold you in a comforting shape. And eventually the reality of the largest group of people will win out, thereby forcing their version of reality on their enemies and the undecided. This is the power of belief, the power of faith.

This is the necessary process to shrink the scary and unfathomable world to a manageable size, the critical parts of which you can now stuff in your head and thereby know how to be a righteous human being — this process of willful ignorance of your own experience and this subjugation of your impoverished view of the world to the goals of those who’d expend you all you hold dear for a greater good that you must not doubt exists, that you must not doubt has objective merit, because you know you’ve wagered your soul. And willingly participated in encouraging the same in your friends and family.

Just so that if it all goes wrong and you stand wanting and hideously embarrassed at the Final Judgment you can point to the serpent and say you were deceived. It’s a pathetic defense, but when you face the God of Infinite Mercy it should suffice, right?

I write fiction. I know the stuff of lies because I tell them. I invent them for my own amusement and to entertain others — and occasionally, as do we all, to protect the feelings of those I care about and to defend myself from the consequences of my actions when I act selfishly. I know lies the way a carpenter knows wood. The way a sculptor knows marble.

Beyond lies, I know there’s an objective reality that’s much deeper than the ones people build out of a foam of clever words, even though actual reality can look different from different vantage points. I know there’s a universe that, from our viewpoint embedded in time and space, is ancient and vast, but not uncountably or immeasurably so, and that doesn’t require any kind of miracle to explain either itself or its mechanisms. And while I’m still subject to the power of wonder, I don’t require any belief that it has any parts that are beyond my capacity to understand if I give it the time and study it deserves.

Our senses might limit the amount of the universe that we may directly experience, but we can know more about it than we can encode into words, regardless of the relative sizes of our vocabularies. And despite the limitations of both our senses and the machines that we build out of logic and science, we can measure the bulk of it and extrapolate as far as we dare.

We aren’t required to live our lives in a fog of other people’s lies, in denial of the evidence of our own sense and senses, and hope for the best. We can — and must — test everything we are told to see if it’s made out a foam of lies or if it can bear weight.

Here’s a test, especially relevant in today’s “post-truth” era of rampant greed.

Where does the message come from? Who paid money to have the message constructed and disseminated? What profit would the originator reap in having the message widely accepted as truth? Does this message contradict any information from sources that aren’t profit-motivated? If so, which source has better access to the equipment and personnel to make direct observations of the phenomena in question?

It’s a simple and effective test, but we balk at applying it because we’re afraid we’d be ostracized by our chosen side if we’re seen to show any doubt in our side’s doctrines. We’re afraid, more than of being wrong and knowing it, of being unsupported and alone. That makes us a planet full of chumps and cowards. It makes us tools capable of atrocities we can only barely comprehend in the hands of wealthy and charismatic fiends that killed their own consciences in the cradle. Or ate ’em in their respective wombs.

And that’s no lie.



September 18, 2012 · by xalieri · Posted in Everything Else  

The hypothetical ship is exceptionally unlikely; we must refer to it only in the subjunctive.

If this ship were to exist, it would be called Torquemada’s Conscience.

Are all boats female? Should I refer to a hypothetical vessel as “she”? Or should we be just as likely to assume the possibility of an alien gender incompatible with a typical human grasp of biology, subject to a certain amount of drift with respect to maturity and/or environment? It’s possible the best course here is to maintain a tone of casual and detached neutrality.

The crew of the hypothetical ship is less hypothetical and more simply undefined. I am the closest thing to a skipper at the moment, the chief servant to the hypothetical ship itself and to all of its terrible purposes. Elsewhere is the first mate (the chief officer and organizer), the second mate (navigator and signaler), the third mate (nurse and emergency management), the boatswain (foreman of the crew), the engineer, the cook, and all of the hands. Elsewhere in space and time, mostly in the future.

I don’t pretend to have any serious maritime training or academy certification. I have a minimum of sailing experience. On an actual sea-going vessel I’d be somewhere between able seaman and living ballast. I understand which bit goes in the water and which bit sticks up and all the basic physics that makes that happen. I understand how sails and keels and rudders work and how to keep a sail trim. I know to duck when someone calls “jibe ho!” — and I will possibly even duck if not on deck. I can tell which direction is north on a clear night and I know how and when magnetic compasses lie. But that’s about it. I will not belittle a holder of an actual maritime license by an inappropriate comparison.

But the capricious seas of the subjunctive are different waters. They require a different kind of vessel that steers by different stars, buoyed and blown by an entirely new kind of physics, of which I am one of a very small number of experts.

Even that is a fairly weak claim. Any position I have by default is certainly only temporary while I wait to be surpassed by those who come after me, just as I supplant the ones who have come before. But it’s not about me. It’s about the ship and the seas it would sail, and its crew, and cargo, and passengers, and various routes and destinations and ports of call.

To what purposes must a hypothetical ship be put? And how, terrible? What can it carry? Where can it go? What possible point could it serve by, hypothetically, existing? In what way is it different from Bertrand Russell’s celestial teapot, or, for that matter, any arbitrary divinity?

Believe me when I say I understand why you must ask these questions. I assure you I have answered these questions for myself, and a thousand more like them. I am who I am in relationship to the Torquemada’s Conscience, partially but measurably defined by it even though it might not actually exist as more than a construct for the sake of argument. As a concept, it has weight easily the equal of all the others adrift in the currents of the subjunctive.

Like any other object, even hypothetical, the ship has inherent properties. Until and unless it were to physically exist, it would not have to have any physical properties, but that does not mean Torquemada’s Conscience is free of all properties. It has a name. It has, for the sake of argument, a provisional skipper. Even this close to complete nonexistence, it can have.

What else can it have?

It can have a terrible purpose.


August 29, 2012 · by xalieri · Posted in Everything Else  

Death Playing Chess by Albertus Pictor (1440-1507). Täby Kyrka, Diocese of Stockholm. Photo August 2003 by HÃ¥kan Svensson (Xauxa).I am not “pro-life”, because if I were I would have to revere life wherever I found it, and I can’t do that. I see life where it doesn’t belong, in the hands of people who would use the gift to cause tremendous misery. We have no choice, in any of ten thousand situations, but to keep the confiscation of life on the table as an option to prevent suffering and misery.

Every action we take as a nation promotes life and causes deaths, shifting the balance points around, increasing and decreasing the odds of continued survival for various individuals en masse. The nation-state murders dangerous felons and occasionally innocent people we thought were felons. Wars murder people — enemy soldiers, any civilians who were too close to targets or who were mistaken for enemy soldiers, and occasionally our own soldiers and allies by mistake. Soldiers who can’t handle the conflict, or who can’t handle the life that they return to after they return from conflict, take their own lives, and we are responsible.

Embargoes starve the poor in nations with which we refuse commerce and humanitarian aid. Reduction of aid to our own citizens who have nowhere else to turn causes starvation and sufficient misery to provoke murder over what resources there, suicide in those who can’t handle the pain, and the death of sacrifice in those who simply wish to leave more to go around for their families.

Failure to clean up chemical spills and radiation and pollution kills by degrees upping the rates of sickness and cancer in those who can’t afford to leave the land we’ve fouled. We even wreck the weather. The misery from poverty and loss and lack of hope causes increases in addiction and violent crime and suicide and increases in any of a number of risky behaviors that people seek out to escape the pain.

With nearly every decision we make, we opt to kill people all the time, sometimes in ignorance, sometimes in hubris, and sometimes in deliberate acts — and most of the time people consider those deaths acceptable consequences. It’s stupid even to pretend we think life is sacred.

And I, consciously, do not so pretend. I think hugest portion of the killing we do is ignorant and pointless and wasteful and beyond reprehensible, but, and this is extremely rarely, sometimes I think it’s justified, and, I am forced to admit, sometimes I think death doesn’t happen to some of the people who most need killing. I do not hypocritically pretend that life, as a phenomenon, like fire perhaps, is sacred and must be preserved wherever we find it. Life isn’t sacred. Life, like fire, or anything else, is sanctified — or desecrated — by what you do with it. Life, like fire, requires resources, and sometimes those resources are in short supply. Also, sometimes death is welcomed as a mercy, as an end to suffering and misery, when all hope of other options has failed.

Every mother that is of a species that has to care for the children she gives birth to faces the same choices. After the travails of birth, she does a headcount. Every mouthful she feeds to a new child is a mouthful that she cannot feed to her other children and that she herself cannot eat — and her first duty is to stay alive and healthy well enough to care for her helpless charges. Thus, the headcount. Thus, the decision of who lives and who dies. The eldest and the strongest get preference, because they’re closest to being able to help out. Those she cannot afford to feed are destroyed or left to starve.

Humans are not absolved from this choice.

Humans are not absolved from this choice, and anyone who thinks we are, that we could be, that we ought to be, is so far removed from the realities of life and death that I’d have to say they’ve never even met reality. Humans are not, can not, will not be absolved from this choice until money rains from the heavens like manna — and pregnant women and mothers are allowed to keep the lion’s share. How likely is that?

And even then there would still be a choice, because a woman can only do so much, and she is the only one qualified to know how much that is.

Yes, there is charity. But face it — charity comes from poor people who can see one another’s pain. A slower trickle comes from those who can finally make ends meet, because they remember what it was like. And the people who could afford to feed whole villages, towns, even cities of hungry children toss off the odd thousand dollars here or there and use the rest to buy yachts. The churches could empty their coffers every week, staffed only by volunteers instead of employees, and we would need ten times that amount of money, even for a country as well-off and church-ridden as ours.

And abortion is a mercy, to both the potential mother and the unaffordable-on-so-many-different-scales children, because it is so much more merciful than a pillow held over a newborn infant’s face — the only safe-to-the-mother solution where abortion is not available. And that, of course, is hands-down better than leaving a newborn to the wolves and trying to forget the crying as you walk away.

It’s cheaper, too, and way less risky to the health of a woman who has other critical responsibilities.

So-called leaders who cannot understand this fundamental choice that must be made by women now and then have no business making any other life-or-death decision anywhere else, because their judgment is clearly flawed. Pie-in-the-sky idealistic. Ignorantly hopeful. Divorced from reality.

God is in charge of life and death, they say. Only God should decide who lives and who dies. Well God doesn’t start wars or declare embargoes or dump filth into the drinking water and poison the fish and livestock. All of those distant people are murdered without a second thought — except the murderers know enough of guilt to hide like cockroaches when the lights come on when someone demands an accounting.

God is in charge of life and death? Really? Then sometimes God is a woman, bawling with tears over the agony of the choice, motivated by the goal of the survival and comfort of the survivors. That other God must be away on business then, steering hurricanes after homos and wrecking entire impoverished nations with earthquakes.

Life and death is in our hands, not just might-be mothers, every day, shifted from one place to another with the shovel of every decision we make. This is why each of us has a conscience. This is why I will never understand yachts. This is why I know that people who don’t understand the choice a woman sometimes has to make kill the people they kill with blindfolds on and their favorite music cranked at maximum volume on their iPods to drown out the screams of the dying. Because God will save the ones he likes and kill the ones he doesn’t and that’s why it’s A-OK to force His hand and fire bullets into the sky, not caring where they come down.

Those people are the biggest single source of misery on earth, and some of us nearly worship them. To say I don’t get it is a massive, massive understatement.

If you want to go save the life of a child that would otherwise not get born, by all means, go save one. Find one of the thousands of women every year who desperately wants a baby, for whom the only reason they must choose abortion is not enough money to quit her job (even temporarily) and then be able to feed and house and clothe herself and the child, and dedicate the next couple of decades of your life to help support her and the baby, free of any obligation to yourself. You will never see the kind of joy that you would see then.

Go on. Do it.

Go to the overflowing orphanages and foster homes and adopt a couple of the kids you know you could support to make room in the system, so that mothers who are willing to give birth if only someone would take the child in would know that there is room in the system for their baby to get the care he or she will need.

Go on. Do it.

Go round up a couple of the violent bastards — fathers, husbands, boyfriends, whatever — who stand ready to beat or kill their daughters or wives or girlfriends if they ever find out she got pregnant. Get them out of the way however it needs to be done. Put them in jail. Consult any of a number of easily obtainable references on how to cleanly dispose of bodies. Whatever. Remove these diseased threats to the life of the woman and the child she would love to have.

Go on. Do it.

And then there’s prevention. Talk to your daughters and sons about birth control and get them whatever they need. Grab a bat and work over that old college buddy who you know has a serious habit of getting women drunk and taking advantage of them while their defenses are down. Lurk in the favorite dark alley of your choice and remove any rapists you find from the gene pool. Put coasters in bars with built-in test strips so women can tell that their drinks are free from GHB and rohypnol and ketamine and benzos and Ambien. Lobby your lawmakers to make getting caught with such substances in a bar or concert or other public gathering the crime that it is, with attendant horrific punishment.

Go on. Do it.

And unless you’re trying to have a baby with someone who is willing and ready to have a baby, make sure a damn condom is in the way. Use a couple of different methods, just in case, because sometimes any method can fail. Make birth control part of foreplay.

You’ve heard of foreplay, right?

Or, you know, just fire your bullets into the air, for both yourself and the horny teenagers under your roof, and pray for God to sort it out. But you know how well that works.

Women have been playing the “How many can I fit in the lifeboat?” game since the beginning of time, aided by mothers and grandmothers and aunts and sisters and midwives and daughters and cousins and nieces, and you’re a chump and a fool if you think outlawing abortion is going to put an end to that. It will just up the stakes of the misery your daughters go through — infection, a womb too scarred to bear children later, gangrene, bleeding out, disgrace, disownment, jail time, maybe even execution if some have their way. Because sometimes even that risk is preferable to being beaten more often, or watching all of your children sit around and get skinny, or being thrown out of the only home you know.

So what’s your call? Order everyone into the lifeboats even though you know it will swamp a few and send all of their human contents to the bottom — or let the people who are stronger than you quietly make the soul-breaking decisions that will save as many as possible?

Either way, you never have to know anything about it. No one is taking away your precious blindfold or iPod.



August 27, 2012 · by xalieri · Posted in Everything Else  

petroglyph logoWell, I’d promised not to cross-post everything I put up at the Journal of American Hoodoo, but my latest article, One of Many Problems with Religion, is an excellent follow-up to my previous post, The Trouble with Science.

Here’s a sample, with the main thesis:

Octopus uses empty shells to hide-Wikimedia Commons-Nick Hobgood

…this is the problem concept: that humans are special, are blessed, are chosen to be God’s favored children, are somehow above the animals and plants and everything else that lives, and have a God-given right of power over life and death with respect to them.

I’m not sure how all of that made it into the dominant narratives, because much of the scripture it’s based on stops well short of the worst of that in wording. But religions are made out of a huge body of traditions that, in those that do have scriptures, have very little support in those scriptures.

One of those traditions is a magic invisible body that inhabits the physical body and is the seat of awareness — a soul, the presence of which is a distinction between legitimate humans and animal kind. For instance, Judaic stories that pre-date the days of the Babylonian exile make no mention of this concept, and all the terminology bears strictly upon the ability to see and hear and breathe and react, a property shared with all of the animals and, as we dig deeper scientifically, present analogously in all living forms.

The concept of an immortal soul and possible attendant resurrection — either spiritual or physical — was obtained abroad, most likely in Egypt and surroundings, and brought back to be incorporated piecemeal into canon in the words of the more wild-eyed of the post-Mosaic prophets. [….]

[…] The soul is the biggest poorly-founded artificial division between Us and Them that many take as divine license to disregard Their merit, as it were. Because the dominant narrative says we can bedevil and torture and kill the soulless without consequence. We have a nasty tendency to claim the absence of a soul in anyone we don’t like, calling them monsters and animals and things instead of people, making them the embodiment of Other, and then the only consequences we have to deal with involve cleaning up the mess — and occasionally fending off the people who take issue with our declaration of the absence of a soul in our victims.

Prior to the assumption of the presence or absence of a soul in ourselves and various creatures, we managed to empathize enough with our livestock and prey and sacrificial victims to make it a matter of policy to kill them quickly and painlessly and with mercy. It seems quite plausible that it’s the assumption of the presence of a soul in Us and an absence in Them that turns US into monsters.

If you want to read more, go check it out.



August 22, 2012 · by xalieri · Posted in Everything Else  

I must be old, because I can remember a time when people had more value than any stack of money. When capitalism was merely a system of economics wherein people could own land and personal property and not an ideal and a religion, complete with living saints and prophets. When people were respected for their role in their communities and not considered leeches merely because they had the misfortune of losing their jobs or falling ill or getting too old or weak to work. When the value of life was in how time was spent, not in how much money changes hands in whichever direction. When charity and philanthropy were more important than profits. When how you treated the people in your care was more important than the bottom line. When, if you had more than enough, it was your duty to find people who needed your extra and hand it over, regardless of how you came by your surplus. When Ayn Rand’s Objectivism was an ideal of Anton LaVey’s Satanic Church rather than any Christian one.

The Cult of Mammon is not a new thing, and its ascendancy is not a new problem. But it has turned into the national religion.

Maybe if you’re younger than my 45 years, you won’t remember that foreclosing on a schoolhouse or a widow’s home used to be the epitome of evil — something a writer would make the villain in a book or movie do so everyone in the audience knew it would be okay for the hero to shoot him dead, or at least deliberately not rescue him from the cattle stampede. Now the motto of the state religion is, and I won’t ask you to pardon my language because I would love for you to know the depth of my feeling, “Fuck the Poor People”, or “Pedicabo Pauperibus” if you’d prefer it in Latin. “Irrumabo Pauperibus” if you’re a fan of Catullus. I’m surprised we don’t see it printed on our money.

Maybe next year. Maybe the year after.

We create value in people by investing time and resources in them — by, in the words of a lately unpopular radical of an early communist movement, feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, inviting in strangers, giving clothes to the poor and naked, and visiting the sick and those in prison. This isn’t something that just Christians are supposed to do. This is the goal of any enlightened culture. But if you are a Christian, then this is one of the commandments from the mouth of Jesus Himself. You’d think that would count for something.

Anyone who thinks there’s any way to integrate Rand’s philosophy and the commands of Christ is so wrong as to be clearly deranged. They are diametrically opposed. All you have to do to know that for certain would be to actually read something from both sources.

If you see someone arguing to cut back on support for the poor — food and shelter and healthcare and the basic education it takes to get along in the modern world — then it’s obvious who they serve. And this is their prayer:

Our dollar, which art invested, hoarding be thy game. Thy greenbacks call my wallet home, on Earth as it is on Wall Street. Give us our daily dividends, and forgive us our debts as we put the screws to our debtors. Lead us not into inflation but deliver us from red ink. For mine is the cash flow and the credit and the moolah for lining my pockets. Amen.

Spread the word.


August 14, 2012 · by xalieri · Posted in Everything Else  

ComiXology is a free e-reader application designed for reading comic books and graphic novels. This is what the ComiXology app looks like on my phone:

ComiXology screenshot -- Amelia Cole

I have it open to the issues currently available for Amelia Cole and the Unknown World. It’s by these people, and published by groundbreaking Monkeybrain Comics.

The version of ComiXology on the website works pretty well too. Go see. Sign up for an account. Try out some of the free books and sample issues so you can see that it’s not crap at all. The way ComiXology makes money is that they also run a store and will sell you, for money, books to download and read. That’s not so bad.

The above Amelia Cole and the Unknown World issues are for sale there. You can get both of the ones above for the price of a latte. Together. Twenty-four pages apiece. And that’s not an introductory price. It’s not a sample to get you hooked. It’s a legitimate and full-fledged story, at less than two bucks per issue.

And here’s the important bit. The story.

It’s a story of magic and mayhem with a young female protagonist out to do the right thing, no matter what the cost, making it up as she goes along. She’s smart. She pulls her own weight. She doesn’t take guff. She isn’t a size zero, doesn’t wear Spandex, and doesn’t sport DD-cups. She’s not boy-crazy. Feminine wiles are not a weapon of attack or manipulation to get her way. She doesn’t have it all figured out, but she doesn’t stand in anyone’s shadow, much less cower there.

You could happily give this to your daughter to read. And she, also, would be happy. Your son would enjoy it too. In fact, I’m pretty sure you would like it, and any kids you have can flippin’ wait to read it until you’re done with it.

Go see.

The story is intriguing. The art is intricately beautiful and is employed in top-notch sequential storytelling. The work is important, naturally free of the toxins kids get soaked in from Kindergarten on that prep them for a lifetime of beer ads and glossy grocery checkout lane magazines.

Go see.




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