The Writer in Black

The Writer in Black

Friday, August 22, 2014

Latest threats from ISIS.

Dear ISIS,

You want to bring that here? Well, bring it.

You want blood? We'll give you blood. We'll give you blood until you gag, until you choke on it. We'll give you blood until you're wading in it, until you're swimming in it, until you're drowning in it.

We'll give you blood until the only place they speak Arabic is in Hell.

You may get me, send me to Valhalla, but there are plenty more behind me.

You may convince those in power to leave you alone, but this is America. We have a long history of not listening terribly well to those in power.  Those in power are finding they have a tiger by the tail, and the more they tighten their grip, the more furious that tiger becomes--and the sooner before their grip slips.  And when that grip slips, the tiger will spring forth in all its fury.

In times of stress societies tend to revert to their founding myths*. The founding myths of the US include things like:

"Is life so dear and peace so sweet as to be bought at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God. I know not what
course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death.

"Stand your ground, don't fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have war, let it begin here."

"Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security."

"The tree of Liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants; it is it's natural manure."

"Live Free or Die."

"Sic Semper Tyrannus".

And so on.

Evoke that at your peril.

So bring it, if that's what you want. We'll be hurt, no doubt. You can hurt us,no question about that.  But you can't destroy us; only the most deluded think you can.

Then it will be our turn.

By the time the smoke clears and the rivers running red with blood drain away to the oceans, you'll either be extinct or the survivors nice, meek little lambs who remember Tamerlane as "Timur the Gentle" by comparison.

Count on it.

*"Myth" in this case does not mean "false story" but rather the collection of stories and concepts that provide the ideological underpinning of a culture. Ours include true items like the above as well as invented stories like Washington and the cherry tree, "the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere" (yes, Revere was a historical figure, but his ride went nothing like the poem), and so forth.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Science Vs. Creationism

My friend Michael Z. Williamson wrote a blog post in answer to Ted Beale's, AKA Vox Day's, "Questions Atheists Can't Answer."  He then got a number of scientist type folks to actually, you know, answer the questions.

Well, while not exactly an atheist (I describe as an "Asatru leaning Agnostic"--it's complicated) I am a scientist, a physicist to be exact.  Mike wrote his blog with the questions, followed by answers from each of the others identified by their field.  I do the same here with mine.

Q1: How do creationists "pose a serious threat to society"?
Physicist: To be "science" something has to meet certain rules and standards. Specifically, it has to make testable predictions. Now, those tests don't have to be laboratory experiments. Observations of the world around us can count as testing. But one has to be able to say "if we see this then our theory is wrong" and mean it. By attempting to give things that don't meet that standard the cachet of science, they dilute science and open the field to anything anyone might purport to believe.

Q2: There are an estimated 1,263,186 animal species and 326,175 plant species in the world. Assuming the age of the Earth is 4.54 billion years, what is the average rate of speciation?
Physicist: Numbers pulled largely out of thin air, but let's go with them. Even if we go with a constant "rate" of speciation (x number of years and one species splits into two) then x years makes 2 species. another x years and the two become 4. Another and 4 become 8. To get 1,589,361 species you would need 20 "splittings", over the course of 4 billion years (looks like about half a billion before the first life forms arose) if one species requires close to 80 million years to split there is plenty of time to create the number of claimed species. But, actually, the total number of species over the history of the Earth, including all extinct species is much higher. It can be a thousand times as high and the "rate" is still one splitting per 8 million years. Oh, and the "rate" is not a constant anyway but depends on the nature of the organism and its environment.

Q3: How many mutations, on average, are required per speciation?
Physicist: Nonsense question. How high is up? It depends on many factors including what the specific mutations might be.

Q4: What scientifically significant predictive model relies primarily upon evolution by natural selection?
Physicist: Antibiotic resistance in bacteria. Insecticide resistance in various arthopods. How various populations change with changing conditions. Really? You're asking this question?

Q5: Which of the various human sub- species is the most evolved; i.e. modified by mutation and natural selection from the most recent common human ancestor? Which is the least evolved?
Physicist: Fallacy of evolution having a direction. It doesn't. There is no more, or less "evolved" We all have 4 billion years of evolution behind us. Every last one of us. Some of those years have been under different conditions encouraging different traits but there is no "more" or "less" evolved.

6: Is the theory of evolution by natural selection strengthened or weakened by the claim that most DNA is devoid of purpose?
Physicist: Devoid of known purpose. Get it right. And it's irrelevant. Evolution by natural selection only addresses expressed or at least expressable traits. It says nothing about things that have no effect.

Here you go.

Now, let me make something very, very clear here.  I don't care what you believe. Really, I don't. Want to believe that Inazami and Inazagi got it on and the "drippings" created the Islands of Japan? Go for it. Want to believe that Brahma, under orders from Vishnu, fashioned the world from a Lotus Flower? Knock yourself out. Want to believe that the Self Existent One spoke the world into existence over the course of seven days and nights? Great. Whatever makes you happy.

Want to teach your belief as science in science classes?

Come up with testable predictions, things of the "this must happen if we're right, that can't happen if we're wrong" variety and then we'll talk. Until then, no. Not because I'm opposed to your believing that but because until you do that it's not science.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Feeding the Active Writer

This time, a basic meatloaf recipe that I call "Meat and Fiber Meatloaf".

I've posted meatloaf recipes before.  Those recipes, while perfectly serviceable and quite tasty, have to basic problems:  They shrink in cooking leaving a freestanding "cake" of meatloaf surrounded and half soaked in standing liquid, and (probably related) they tend to fall apart in taking them out of the pan and portioning them.

Traditional meatloaf recipes call for bread crumbs, crushed cereal, oatmeal, or some other grain as one of the ingredients.  But, low carb, so that's not an option for me.

Regular readers of Feeding the Active Writer will note, however that I've previously given a recipe for a no-carb flax meal bread (or muffins).  And, so, the thought occurred to me that I could use these as the bread in a meatloaf.  The problem was that making up the flax bread, then crumbling it to add to the meatloaf, would be a tedious, time-consuming process and fails the "active writer" part.  I don't have a lot of spare time so quick and easy has to be the watchword.

But, I thought, did I need to actually make it into bread?  Could I just add the flax meal to the meatloaf and cook it all together.

Why yes; yes I could.

So, here we are

Meat and Fiber Meatloaf.

3 lb ground chuck (leaner cuts also work).
1 cup ground flax meal.
1 cup chopped onions
1 12 oz. can tomato paste.

In the past I'd mix the ingredients in a bowl then dump them into the slow cooker, but, you know, why?
Put a slow cooker liner in a 4 or 5 quart slow cooker. (Optional, but it makes cleanup a breeze.)
Dump the ingredients into the lined slow cooker.
Thoroughly mix the ingredients together.
Cook on low for about 10 hours.
Eight servings.

This is a very basic, and quite plain, meatloaf.  But you can use it as a springboard for other things.  Add seasonings, use salsa instead of tomato paste, top with cheese, whatever you like to do to kick your meatloaf up a notch.


Sunday, August 17, 2014

"Plague Station" now available for sale

Plague Station:

Doctor Susan O'Bannon on Space Colony 42 attempts to find a cure for a new disease that's putting people into comas. But when people wake from the comas driven by rage and hunger, can she survive the onslaught, let alone find a cure?

A brief excerpt:
   O’Bannon woke to the sound of the comm buzzer.  She started to roll towards the bedside comm unit, then stopped.  She disengaged Steele’s arm from around her waist, then completed the roll.
   “O’Bannon,” she said, after punching the button.
   “Doctor, we need you to come into the infirmary,” the voice at the other end of the comm said.
   “We’ve lost the John Doe.”
   “That’s too bad,” O’Bannon said, “but not unexpected
   “No, doctor,” the voice said, “I mean, we can’t find him.  Nurse Tanaka is missing too.”
   “What?” The sound of a portable comm behind her intruded on O’Bannon’s awareness but she ignored it.
   “Tanaka called in that he was taking the Doe for an EHG but they never arrived.”
   “Have you called security?”
   “First thing.  We’re also making a search here.  The director would like you to come in in case we find them.  If isolation has been broken...”
   “Understood.  Okay, I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”
   She closed the connection and turned to see Steele already gathering up his clothes. “You heard?”
   “Yeah, and I’m afraid I’m about to repeat good new bad news joke,” Steele’s voice was absolutely serious.
   “I got a call too while you were on your phone.  Tanaka has been found.”
   “That’s the good news, I take it?”
   Steele sighed. “Yeah.  The bad news is that he was severely beaten and unconscious.  And there’s no sign of your missing John Doe.”
   O’Bannon’s head sagged forward and came to rest on her palms, “How truly good.”
   “Oh, it gets even better,” Steele’s voice was even grimmer. “There was considerable blood at the scene.  If Tanaka had your John Doe with him, then I’d say isolation has been well and truly breached.  My people are trying to keep the scene locked down but it may already be too late.”
   “Right.” O’Bannon pulled a shirt over her head. “Then I’d better get to the infirmary.  We’ll need everyone we’ve got.”
   “And I’ll have to get with traffic control.  Until we get this under control, we’ll have to lock down the colony.”
   O’Bannon nodded. “Quarantine.”

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Glory Days of Comics

Well, at least the Glory Days to me.

I used to be a big fan of comic books.  And while I was fond enough of Marvel, my true love was for DC comics.

Along about '87, I mostly dropped away though.  Comics had changed from the stories I loved into something else.  In the interest of being more "adult" and "relevant" they'd lost the magic that drew me to them, that still draw me to stories today.  Oh, there were exceptions.  I recently got reminded of the scene from a Superman graphic novel, the scene is titled "Superman and the Jumper".

When Superman is written well, he's very very good. (And, yes, I've seen the complaints "how many people could he have saved while he was spending all that time with that one person." Well, that's an issue you have to gloss over with Superman.  Because given his powers that question would apply to anything he does besides running at super speed from crisis to crisis to crisis.)

Truthfully, most of the stories from when I was reading comics kind of blend together and fade away.  I don't really remember a lot of specific story lines.

But some I do.  Some are as vivid in my head today as when I first read them.

There's the Dick Grayson story arc in New Teen Titans which began with him giving up the Robin identity (having passed it to Jason Todd--not being fired by Batman as per the post Crisis retcon dammit) and ending with him taking the identity of Nightwing and setting out with Jericho to rescue the other Titans in the climax of The Judas Contract.

There was "The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne," IMO simply the best Batman story ever written.

There was "Night of the Stalker", another Batman tale and #2 in my list of all time favorites.

And rounding out my top three ever Batman favorites, there is "To Kill a Legend."

But there's a Superman story that also remains fresh in my mind.  I don't know the title, but Superman ran into a villain called, IIRC, The Protector, because he "protects" polluting industries on the grounds that his powers come from pollution.  Superman goes a bit off the rails, and then Supergirl* drops a bombshell on him.  The whole "kryptonian" thing was a  massive delusion on his part.  He and she are actually mutants whose fathers were co-workers in an atomic facility.  All the statues and mementos in his Fortress of Solitude?  Things he'd made to flesh out his delusion.  The phantom zone projector?  A glorified flashlight.  Kandor?  A model with the citizens nothing more than tiny dolls.  Accepting this revelation, Superman decides to "connect" more with the Earth, accepting more human contact, dating Lois (as Clark--she was in one of her "attracted to Clark Kent" periods), playing football with the Galaxy broadcasting staff (and woolgathering so badly that he runs the wrong way when he gets the ball--yes, Clark Kent really is a klutz).

But when a distant star system pleads for help from invaders and Supergirl asks him to accompany them to help her, he rebuffs her; it's not his problem.  So Supergirl and Krypto fly off to deal with the invasion while Superman stays behind for a date with Lois.

On the date, he keeps watching with "telescopic vision" Supergirl's fight with the aliens.  Supergirl and Krypto are overcome.  Eventually, he makes a decision, hustles Lois out of his apartment, flies off, rescues Supergirl and Krypto, defeats the aliens, and flies back to Earth with SG and K.  Oh, and by the way, he's on to the whole "Krypton never existed" thing being a hoax.  You see, Supergirl kept referring to him as "cousin" when, per the hoax, their fathers were simply co-workers, not brothers.  It seems that Kandorian shrinks were concerned about his earlier outbursts and in Kandorian medicine they don't "resolve" problems but "remove" them.  And since his belief in destroyed Krypton, they though, fueled his overreactions, they responded by removing his belief in Krypton. (Okay, that was kind of stupid. Kind of?  That was a lot stupid.)

He explains that his overreaction earlier was not the result of Krypton having been destroyed, but Earth itself and his love for it, particularly since Earth "adopted" him and gave him a home.  He wished that everyone could feel what he felt but that Kara should feel it most of all because she was adopted too.

And, as Superman flies off, Supergirl looks up after him with a wistful expression and the narration is that "she does feel it most of all."

And, you know, I'd really like to find those issues someday.  That is the one Superman storyline that stands out after all these years.

*Out of the Superman Family, I was always more of a fan of Supergirl than Superman in much the same way I was more of a fan of Dick Grayson as Robin/Nightwing.  Superman and Batman were these big, iconic characters while Kara and Dick just struck me as more, I don't know, approachable, if that makes any sense.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Suicide Prevention

The death of Robin Williams has led to a lot of discussion among my friends on FaceBook.  One of the things that has got a lot of discussion is the topic of suicide and suicide prevention.

First, let me say that I am not a trained counselor or suicide prevention specialist.  We had some instruction on that back when I was in the Air Force and my own experiences may give me some insight but that's all I have to offer.  Perhaps for someone it will be enough.

A number of people have expressed some anger from the aspect of "think of how you're hurting the people left behind."  Well, from my experience, from "suicide prevention" materials I studied in the AF, and from people I've talked to, a person who's suicidal can generally go one of two ways. In one, they just don't believe that anyone cares, or that people would be better off, that their death would be a relief to the folk they leave behind. The other direction is that, yes, they know they'll hurt people. But they're still suicidal so now they feel guilty about the pain their death would cause, which makes them feel worse, which makes them more suicidal, which makes them feel more guilty, which....

In neither case does "think about the people you leave behind" serve as a useful approach to take.

Suicidal people do think about the people they're leaving behind, and the thought makes their feelings of depression worse. They are mistaken. On an objective level what they're thinking is wrong. But their thought processes are messed up by the same issues that cause the depression in the first place.

Now sometimes, "think about the people who care about you" can help but you do need to remember that both of the above are very common reactions. Does that mean that there's no way out? Of course not. A lot of it depends on how far one has gone down the path before intervention. I'm just pointing out one of the elements of depression is ones perceptions and emotional reactions are all screwed up. "Think about the people you'd be leaving behind" is generally not a good approach for a person who is deeply depressed and suicidal and is quite likely to make the matter worse.

One of the problems, and one of the defining points of going from "depression" to "suicidal" is the belief that it won't pass, that you will never be happy, or anything other than miserable, ever again. You might "know" on an intellectual level that it's bogus, that it will pass, but you feel, down inside, that it's forever, that you don't even have one happy day ahead of you. You might know better, but you don't believe it.

That doesn't mean that there aren't approaches that do help. Probably the simplest, and surprisingly quite effective is to just be there, be stubborn about leaving (frequently a depressed person will try to drive you away, thinking in their depression that they're doing you a favor by doing so, that they're not "worthy" of having friends or family around). and let them talk about whatever.

And sometimes, it means medication either temporarily to get out of the current cycle or possibly permanently. When I had my bad episode the first doctor to prescribe antidepressants for me said that because of the severity of my depression I'd probably be on medication as a prophylactic measure for the rest of my life. As it happened I found something better, far better, than medication (since the medications that worked for me had certain side effects that negatively impacted "quality of life" and also put some extra stress on my marriage--you can make your own guesses; I'm not going to say more here). I found that for me (not saying it would work for everyone, or even anyone, else) that getting involved in "outdoorsy" activities like hunting and fishing (hiking, less so), cleared things up in a way that none of the medications ever did.

But the combination of medication and counseling got me out of that very bad period. And the thing that my friends and family did that helped the most was get me into that counseling and to a doctor for the medication.

And, yes, I know that the two paths I described before are not "either/or". It's also "and" because I managed to feel both of them at once, mutually contradictory or not. (I did mention that depression screws up your thinking, right?)

Another thing that isn't very helpful is to ask a person why they're depressed.

When you try to answer that question, your "reasons" sound silly to yourself. And so you feel bad for being depressed over such "trivia". This results in feeling even worse.

That's one of the problems. Everything is so backwards from what a non-clinically-depressed person thinks.

However, the ones who really deserve a bitch-slap are the ones who sneer at "suicide attempts" and "depression" as a "ploy" for attention. While that might happen sometimes, the "cry for help" is generally not a "ploy". If they're crying for help via the means of doing something potentially lethal to themselves (unlike, say that scene near the beginning of Earthquake where Liz Taylor's character dumped a bunch of sleeping pills in the toilet and pretended to have taken an overdose).

If they're going that far, then that "cry for help" is because they really need help.

Even a half-ass suicide attempt which is highly unlikely to work means a person really needs help. Really.

For that matter, even a faked suicide attempt is a pretty serious cry for help, and may well be a first step toward something more serious.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Feeding the Active Writer

A bit late today, but here we go.

Italian Parmesan Chicken

This is another of those ridiculously easy recipes, or at least ridiculously easy if you have the Italian salad dressing ready to hand.  If you want a no-sugar/extremely low carb version, I have a recipe for it (included) but that's a bit more work. Of course, you could make, and keep, the dressing itself at any time and use it for this recipe.

The chicken:

4 lbs of boneless, skinless chicken. (I use the bagged chicken from my local supermarket.  It's cheap.)
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese. (You can use the powdered "grated" cheese as well, but the "shredded" cheese produces what I think is a more pleasing texture to the result.)
2 cups Italian salad dressing.

Place the chicken in 1 4-5 quart slow cooker.
Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese on top.
Pour the salad dressing over all.
Cook on low 8-10 hours.
Stir slightly when done to distribute the cheese and drippings through the chicken.

And that's it.

Really.  That's it.  Except to enjoy.

Low Carb Italian Dressing:

1 cup vegetable oil.
1 cup red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp finely minced garlic (I believe I've mentioned before that I like garlic?)
1 Tbsp onion powder or minced dried onion.
1 Tbsp oregano
1 Tbsp basil
2 Tbsp dried mustard.

Combine the ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid.  Close it.  Shake.

Refrigerate for storage.

Options:  You can use olive oil instead of vegetable oil but in that case you'll want to bring it to room temperature for use.

Again, enjoy.