Sunday, March 30, 2014

Something the Bible strangely fails to mention...

You know, Noah's Ark must have been an incredibly pestilential place, with every kind of disease-causing microbe known to man surviving in just eight people.

From Mycobacterium leprae to Yersinia pestis, from Variola major to Clostridium perfringens, from Trypanosoma cruzi to Epidermophyton floccosum - among many, many, many others - Noah and his family must have been walking petri dishes, infected with, quite literally, every disease in the world (and infested by every parasite in the world - lice, fleas, bedbugs, mosquitoes, tapeworms and guinea worms, to name just a very few).

Of course, the animals would all be infected and infested, too, with just two creatures of each species needing to host every disease-causing microbe and parasite which infects that species worldwide.

And if you stop to think of just how many different kinds of diseases, in humans and other animals, cause diarrhea - as just one symptom - maybe you'll start to get an idea of just what kind of plague ship we're talking about here.

It's odd that the Bible doesn't mention any of this, isn't it? :)

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The survivor, pt. 3

Starting map of Southbridge

This is part 3 of my current play of Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead. (The previous installments are here and here.) This is just for fun. If you want to learn how to install and play this free, rogue-like, zombie-survival game, check out my earlier posts here.

I'd hoped I'd left those 'blobs' behind, but I was still unsettled by the experience, so I thought I'd continue to explore south, along the west edge of town. I'd found a pair of binoculars, which helped, and when a day dawned bright and sunny, I though maybe it would be safe to explore an open area to the southwest, too. (I was still very worried about acid rain.)

There was forest to my west, and I'd run into more of those giant ants when I'd tried to go that way. This time, I went south to an office tower on the edge of town, then southwest across an open field, and I discovered another science lab, alongside a river, with a road leading north.

The lab had a small barracks, with beds and dressers, on the top floor (and a room filled with pits of goo on the other side - I closed the door and left that room strictly alone!), so it would probably work fine as an emergency base. Again, I didn't even attempt to explore the dark underground. Maybe someday.

Meanwhile, the day was still nice, so I went north along the river road. I really didn't find much. It looked like swamp on the other side of the river, and I could see an evac shelter far to the north of that, but there wasn't any way to get to the other side, bar swimming (and who knew what might be in the water).

After awhile, I found some wreckage in the middle of the road, and the bodies of scientists nearby (one of them animate), then more of those giant ants blocking the road further north. So I headed back to my temporary base.

(I was still having no luck in getting one of those ants to separate from the others. They were clearly hostile, and very angry at my presence, but even the big 'warrior' ants weren't willing to chase after me. After the blobs, that was kind of a relief, but it meant that I couldn't judge how dangerous they were without getting right in the middle of them,... and that didn't seem like a wise survival tactic to me!)

Northern part of Southbridge

The next morning, I was attacked by blobs again. I slept OK, despite the nightmares, but I awoke to find vast numbers of blobs moving my way from the north and northwest. (North, I could understand, since they were probably following my trail. But how did that long line of blobs coming from the west-northwest know where I was? Somehow, they clearly did.)

I spent half the day killing them, but I could still see blobs, far to my north, slowly heading my way. So I needed to try somewhere new.

My first experiment was to explore the sewers, since I'd found a manhole entrance in the middle of the street. It was unpleasant, and slow, but it seemed safe enough. (Obviously, I couldn't take my shopping cart with me, so this was just a scouting trip.)

The sewer went east, without any side corridors, until I found an exit that led to the subway system, coincidentally very near the subway entrance I'd explored in the middle of the night a few weeks previously. This time, it was daytime, and I had to fight a few zombies when I emerged - and then a zombear - but it wasn't too bad. (I'd found a machete, which was faster than my steel spear and did even more damage. Also, I'd traded my crowbar for a Halligan bar - which firefighters use - and I could do a lot of damage with that, too.)

Unfortunately, without my cart, I couldn't do much looting. And although I could move to the east side of town, if I wanted, I'd have to leave most of my stuff behind (again, without being able to use the shopping cart.) Plus, there were giant wasps very close by. I killed one of them when it attacked me, but then I scooted back down the subway entrance, and retraced my steps through the sewer, before I could be swarmed by them.

So the next day, I loaded up my cart and continued south. Past the office tower, I found a hotel that was off by itself, a bit, on the other side of a parking lot. It was full of zombies, but I could take them on individually. Of course, there were individual rooms with beds and dressers, and there was a basement with a swimming pool - and sewer snakes, admittedly - so I thought it would make a good base, at least temporarily.

I picked a room and boarded over the windows, then dragged dressers in front of them, for good measure. (The noise attracted a giant worm - that earlier sighting hadn't been my imagination after all - but I was able to kill it from a window without getting down into the dirt, myself. Actually, I chopped it in half with my machete, only to find both ends continuing to fight! But they weren't hard to kill after that - not like the blobs, luckily.)

I gathered stones from the fields nearby and built a fireplace with them. I was proud of that - it worked great! Then I looted a nearby library and a liquor store. (I needed reading material, for when the weather was bad - indeed, I was caught in acid rain again, though just briefly - and the liquor store was absolutely packed with booze. But even better than that, I found a road map that gave me some idea of the surrounding countryside.)

Southern Southbridge and surrounding roads

Then I started exploring nearby - trying to clear the zombies out of that side of town, if I could - when I got really sick. It was just the flu, I guess, but when I say "just" the flu, that really minimizes it. I was sick for weeks! (I was terrified that I might have caught some virus from the zombies. I mean, there was no one else around! How else could I have gotten sick?)

I was coughing so much at night that I kept having zombie dogs break through my boarded-over windows - and smashing through the dressers I'd barricaded them with - to get to me. Thank the gods there weren't any zombears, because I was so sick I never even woke up until they'd come that far.

Once I did wake up, the zombie dogs were easy enough to kill, but I had to keep rebuilding my defenses. (Why hadn't I dug pit traps outside the windows?) And one night, I woke up just as I was being poisoned by a giant spider. I was miserable enough already, and the poison certainly didn't help any! But I survived it.

And finally, about the first of autumn, I recovered completely. By then, I'd gone through most of my stash of food (I had plenty of water and fuel in the hotel, luckily), so I was really happy I'd accumulated so much food ahead of time. And I was happy I'd had a reasonably-secure hideout to recover in, too! I was lucky, in both respects. And I needed to remember that.

But with fall already here - and still no sign of other survivors - I had to start thinking about winter. What was I going to do next? And how could I best ensure my survival during the leanest part of the year?

My road map showed two large schools - community colleges, most likely - and those seemed to be likely places to find survivors, not to mention some of the resources - educational resources, primarily - that I'd need. One of them was far to the northeast, north along the road from that first science lab I'd found. But even with the lab in the middle, that would mean a lot of travel a long way from shelter, and I was still very worried about acid rain.

The other school was closer, but on the other side of town from me. Maybe I could skirt the town on the south. The river was that way, and I'd seen some swampy terrain from a distance, but most of that area was still a complete unknown to me. Or I could slowly clear a way across town. I'd been doing that already, to some extent, and the town still seemed to be fairly narrow at this point.

There was also that FEMA camp to the northwest. I had better weapons now, and more skill in using them. Plus, that liquor store had given me the supplies I needed to make Molotov cocktails. So maybe I could burn out that mass grave?

Well, first, when I got well enough to travel, I headed north to my closest stash of food and supplies and brought a wheelbarrow load of it back to the hotel. I wanted to be prepared in case I got sick again. Then I dug some deep pits in the dirt outside my boarded-up windows and set some sharpened sticks upright in them. Maybe that would discourage creatures from breaking in, next time.

Current kill count (my hotel room is in the background)

Finally, a day dawned bright and sunny, so I put some essentials in a shopping cart and headed off towards the FEMA camp. I traveled north, between the forest and Southbridge, as I had many times before, then cut northwest across that huge area of open ground, trying to avoid the slime pit to the north. But when I was halfway there, out in the middle of nothing, it clouded up and started to pour rain again!

Luckily, it wasn't acid rain, but it did turn to thunderstorms before I could make it to my nearest safe house, north of the crater (northwest of the blobs), and it turned to acid rain the next day. That's why I was worried about getting too far from shelter.

In fact, it rained and rained - thunderstorms, acid rain, heavy showers, drizzle. It just went on and on, day after day. I was going nuts, since I didn't have much to do - much I could do. I did explore around that part of town a bit - those few places I'd missed previously - and I found a rapier (yeah, an actual, honest-to-god rapier) and a .22 rifle and pistol, with ammo (with which I thought I could practice shooting a gun), but I was really going stir-crazy.

Finally, I woke to a sunny day, so I grabbed my cart and headed northwest again. As it turned out, there wasn't just one mass grave, but multiple mass graves, at the FEMA camp. I didn't even bother with my Molotov cocktails, because I didn't have nearly enough for that! The zombies weren't too tough, though. They'd been wandering through barbed wire so they were already injured, and they'd spread out enough that I could take them on one at a time.

I circled the camp, taking out the weaker creatures, then approached those soldier zombies in the middle. There were a half-dozen of them in a small building, and they saw me as I got closer. But they were so mindless that only two of them had sense enough to leave the building through the door, even after one had smashed it down (the others just bashed impotently on the bullet-proof glass). So it was easy enough to kill them one at a time, too - especially after I led them through barbed wire a few times.

I'd hoped to set up a base there, and I did find a solid concrete building in the center, with secure metal doors (only one entrance, admittedly). And I could see a river on the map not too far away, for water (not as convenient as I might wish, but workable). However, I just couldn't see sleeping in the middle of mass graves! I mean, I've become inured to a lot in the past few months, but that was taking it too far, even without the ever-present threat of zombies.

I did find some supplies, including an anvil! But I couldn't haul it all at once, so I loaded up my shopping cart and headed back to that temporary safe house, arriving just as it was getting dark, then went back for the anvil the next day.

It was getting cloudy by then, so I probably shouldn't have risked it, but I did a quick scout to the north after I got the anvil loaded up, and I found a survivalist shelter in the forest. It was small, and entirely underground, but it had a bed, a wood-burning stove, a source of water, and some supplies.

Frankly, it would have been the perfect place to build a log cabin, using the LMOE shelter as its basement, except that the ground was far too swampy to grow crops. (Admittedly, I'm far from ready to settle down as a hermit. I still need to find other survivors!) And as if it weren't swampy enough already, it started pouring rain again! So I grabbed what I could and headed back.

It's been raining pretty much nonstop ever since. If the winter is this wet, I may have to learn to use snowshoes! Despite the rain - and the ever-present risk of acid rain - I've been hauling cartloads of stuff south to my hotel base camp. It's been slow, wet, and boring, and my room is getting so full of crap that I probably won't fit inside, myself, before too long.

But with luck, I can use that as a base for awhile. I'm going to try to make it to that school, but it's probably going to take awhile. The southeast is still a complete unknown, but it's probably more city - which means more zombies, among other dangers.

Still, the acid rain scares me more than anything else, which seems to rule out the open plains and forests to the north and west (and even to the east, if I loop around that way). And assuming that I can still get food, the city seems like a better option for surviving the winter, too. I haven't seen those blobs in awhile, so maybe the nightmares about getting smothered in my sleep will finally stop.

Oh, and I finally encountered a warrior ant by itself. Those giant ants seem to be moving east, because I encountered what seemed to be scouts as I was hauling stuff back to my hotel room. That warrior ant wasn't as tough as I'd expected. In fact, although it clearly knew I was nearby, it didn't seem to know exactly where I was until I'd gotten quite close.

Of course, these are social insects, so I suspect that they don't do well on their own. Finding one ant by itself is a very unusual circumstance, and I shouldn't underestimate them. But I must admit that I'm far less worried than I was. At the very least, I could probably run away, setting a fire behind me to disrupt my scent trail.

Now, if I can just find a solution to the acid rain problem, the whole world would seem to be open for exploration.

Note: Here's part 4. And you can find my other computer game-related posts here.

Friday, March 28, 2014

And now the good news

Steve Shives has a whole series of these (obviously, as this is #77), but I particularly wanted to post this one.

Indeed, I meant to blog about that first discovery last week, but never got around to it. Here's the article in Scientific American:
Physicists have found a long-predicted twist in light from the big bang that represents the first image of ripples in the universe called gravitational waves, researchers announced today. The finding is direct proof of the theory of inflation, the idea that the universe expanded extremely quickly in the first fraction of a nanosecond after it was born. What’s more, the signal is coming through much more strongly than expected, ruling out a large class of inflation models and potentially pointing the way toward new theories of physics, experts say.

“This is huge,” says Marc Kamionkowski, professor of physics and astronomy at Johns Hopkins University, who was not involved in the discovery but who predicted back in 1997 how these gravitational wave imprints could be found. “It’s not every day that you wake up and find out something completely new about the early universe. To me this is as Nobel Prize–worthy as it gets.” ...

Such a groundbreaking finding requires confirmation from other experiments to be truly believed, physicists say. Nevertheless, the result has won praise from many leaders in the field.

Yes, this announcement needs to be confirmed. But that's how science works. And that's how scientists - unlike faith-based thinkers - come to a consensus about what's true and what isn't.

Typically, theoretical physics is ahead of experimental physics, by which I mean that hypotheses are proposed which we have no current way to test. But our abilities to conduct experiments are advancing every day.

We recently had a discussion about this in the Classic Science Fiction Yahoo Group. Were we reaching the end of what we could test in science? (If so, you could hardly call it science, then.) But this demonstrates pretty clearly that, if that's true at all, we're certainly not there yet.

Frankly, I'm blown away by what scientists have already been able to discover - with real evidence - about those parts of our universe so far away in both space and time. And they're getting better all the time. Heck, we're still confirming Einstein's hypotheses, as our technological abilities improve.

In this case, scientists made specific predictions about what we should find - as scientists do - if their ideas about inflation were true. If those predictions had not held up, their ideas would have have been proven wrong. This announcement is confirmation, though still not 'proof' that their ideas are true. That's not how it works. But if these findings are replicated, it will be an important piece of evidence pointing that way.

Furthermore, there are different models of inflation with different expectations of what we'd discover. As the article says, if these findings are confirmed, that would rule out certain models which predicted a someone different pattern or strength of gravitational waves.

It's neat stuff, isn't it? This is how science advances. This is why scientists can come to a consensus about what's true and what isn't, and then build on that foundation of reliable knowledge. (Compare that to religion, with a million different ideas about what's true and what isn't, since everyone can just believe whatever they prefer to believe.)

That's only part of this video, of course, though it's hugely important. But the other parts aren't bad, either. That "chicken from Hell" is pretty darn neat, isn't it? Furthermore, it continues to confirm that birds evolved from dinosaurs. That may seem old hat to you, but I'm old enough that this stuff still thrills me.

OK, I'm not so old that I remember the first discovery of Archaeopteryx in 1861. Heh, heh. But in my lifetime, I've continued to see better and better images of fossilized dinosaurs with feathers. That's not what I was originally taught about dinosaurs, in grade school, though it probably is today. Neat, huh?

Plus, how could you not love the discovery of a five foot high, eleven foot long chicken? :)

Note that, as Bill Nye pointed out in his recent debate with Ken Ham, all it would take to disprove current ideas about evolution is - among other things - one fossil in the wrong geological layer. (As Ham proudly noted himself, nothing would convince him that he was wrong that 'God done it.' That's science vs religion in a nutshell.)

Finally, Shives notes the announcement of a new optical switching device with switches 1/500th the width of a human hair and a thousand times faster than current optical switches.

For years now, we've been hearing that computers are reaching a limit, that we won't be able to continue the rapid improvements we've seen in the past. Well, maybe so, but we're not there yet!

When it comes to predicting the future, there are a lot of naysayers around. Yes, there probably are limits. But predictions of such limits usually discount scientific research and human ingenuity and are almost always premature.

This is a particularly cheering video this week, but similar good news is announced pretty much every week. The advances of science we've seen in recent centuries aren't even close to ending. In fact, I'd say that our advances are accelerating. We don't have hyperdrive or fusion power, not yet, but what we are learning is good news, indeed.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Flight to fantasy

This is embarrassing, isn't it? It shows not just the sad state of journalism in America, but the prevalent faith-based thinking here. Black holes? Bermuda Triangle? LOST?

I don't know if Don Lemon is this idiotic himself, or if he's just pandering to his idiot viewers, but note that CNN's ratings doubled during this period. How embarrassing is that? (At the very least, that will guarantee we see more of this kind of bullshit.)

As Jon Stewart says, "And don't worry about it if you're wrong, 'cause there are no consequences for that. At all. Ever."

And then it gets even worse. Psychics? Numerology? Noah's Ark? What have these people been smoking? And these are supposed to be news networks?

Yeah, numerology and Noah's Ark, really:

I guess that all we can do is laugh at this stuff, huh?

Monday, March 24, 2014

Educating Raymond

Yes, this is impolite, but keep in mind that Ray Comfort is the 'banana man' - the guy who claimed that the Cavendish banana was proof of God, because it was just so perfect for human requirements,... after being bred and selected by human beings for thousands of years for just those characteristics. ("The banana - the atheist's nightmare." Yes, that's actually what he said.)

And as this video demonstrates, he doesn't even know his own holy book, though he pushes it on everyone else just as hard as he can (and he certainly won't change his mind, even when the contradiction is read to him from his own Bible).

But then, this is not just Comfort's religion, but his job. He makes a very good living pushing this crap, and he's worshiped by his followers. I'm sure he wouldn't give that up, no matter what.

Baud Bits has made a whole series of videos about Ray Comfort, and this isn't even the most impolite. (Check out this one, for example - especially if you want to find out more about Comfort's banana claims.)

Extreme weather events linked to global warming

From the Associated Press:
Much of the extreme weather that wreaked havoc in Asia, Europe and the Pacific region last year can be blamed on human-induced climate change, the U.N. weather agency says.

The World Meteorological Organization's annual assessment Monday said 2013 was the sixth-warmest year on record. Thirteen of the 14 warmest years have occurred in the 21st century.

A rise in sea levels is leading to increasing damage from storm surges and coastal flooding, as demonstrated by Typhoon Haiyan, the agency's Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said. The typhoon in November killed at least 6,100 people and caused $13 billion in damage to the Philippines and Vietnam.

Australia, meanwhile, had its hottest year on record.

"Many of the extreme events of 2013 were consistent with what we would expect as a result of human-induced climate change," Jarraud said.

He also cited other costly weather disasters such as $22 billion damage from central European flooding in June, $10 billion in damage from Typhoon Fitow in China and Japan, and a $10 billion drought in much of China.

Only a few places - including the central U.S. - were cooler than normal last year, but 2013 had no El Nino, the warming of the central Pacific that happens once every few years and changes rain and temperature patterns around the world.

Jarraud spoke as top climate scientists and representatives from about 100 governments with the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change met in Japan to complete their latest report on global warming's impact on hunger, disease, drought, flooding, refugees and war.

Speaking in Geneva, Jarraud drew special attention to studies and climate modeling examining Australia's recent heat waves, saying the high temperatures there would have been virtually impossible without the emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide from the burning of coal, oil and gas.

"It is not possible to reproduce these heat waves in the models if you don't take into account human influence," he said.

This won't get much attention here in Nebraska - it was pretty much buried by the local news station where I found it - so I thought I'd repost it here. I'm already hearing comments about the harsh winter (not so much here, but certainly in the eastern part of the United States) from climate change deniers.

Of course, local weather is not global climate, though global climate will certainly have an impact on local weather. And when it comes to science, I'm going with the scientific consensus, no matter what the issue might be.

I don't know how in the world you could imagine that you know more than scientists in their own field of expertise, or why you'd accept the claims of politicians and political pundits instead of scientists - again in their own field of expertise. Don't you understand the scientific method at all?

Sunday, March 23, 2014


It's spring. No, it doesn't look like that picture here - certainly not yet. In fact, it's supposed to snow tonight. (Not much, unfortunately. We really need the moisture, and while I'd rather have rain, I'll happily take snow right now, if that's what we get.)

But it's still spring, and that means I need to cut back on blogging. Or try, at least. (Yeah, I need to cut back on playing computer games, too, but that's going to be harder. I'm still playing Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead almost obsessively. Man, that's a great game!)

Anyway, until next winter, don't be surprised if I go a few days at a time without posting anything. And when I do post, it's likely to be something short and quick, like embedding a video clip from YouTube. I've got a million things to blog about - I always do - but I need to get some other things done, as well.

Don't worry, I still plan to continue with my Bible series. Unfortunately, Leviticus has been boring as hell, and I've still got one more post to finish that book. And I'm sure I'll be continuing with my latest adventures in Cataclysm. As I noted above, I can't seem to stop playing the game, so I might as well blog about it, huh? :)

This is an election year, too, so the crazy will be out in force. Already, the Koch brothers - or whoever is funding this particular right-wing group - are already bombarding me with political ads on YouTube. Hey, guys, I wouldn't vote for that lunatic anyway, but your anonymous campaign ads are so annoying, I'd vote against him, just out of spite, for that reason alone!

Of course, this is Nebraska, so some right-wing lunatic is bound to win every statewide race. But don't get me started. :)  Anyway, I'll still be blogging regularly, but probably - hopefully - not as much as during the winter.

I hope you stick around, though. Thanks for reading my posts, and thanks for your comments!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The survivor, pt. 2

The north end of Southbridge

Note: This is part 2 of my current play of Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead. Part 1 is here. For more information about this free rogue-like zombie survival game, including instructions for installing it and beginners' tips, check out my earlier posts here.

By morning, I was still worried about that portal, but I'd settled down a little. It looked to be a bright and sunny day for a change, so I thought I'd explore to the northeast a bit. I didn't find much - just lots of trees.

But just before I turned back, I came across a science lab, at the end of a road. The ID I'd taken from that zombie scientist got me inside, but it turned out to be disappointing. There were only a few rooms on the surface - apparently used for dissection! - and the stairs down looked dark and forbidding.

As a safe house, it had a couple of problems, including only one entrance (I wouldn't want to get trapped inside) and no nearby source of water, as far as I could tell. There was a giant spider spinning webs in the forest nearby, but no other threats (again, as far as I could tell). The road led off to the north through more forest.

With all the acid rain lately, I was worried about getting too far from shelter. The forest looked to be a lot safer than the city, but only while the weather stayed clear. And with the National Weather Service permanently out of business, I had no idea how long that would be.

So I turned back 'home.' I could always use the science lab as a temporary emergency shelter, so I might want to explore further down that road. But not right yet.

The next day - still nice, though it started to cloud up a bit later in the day - I headed southwest. There was a lot of forest that way, too, though I skirted the edge as I headed more towards the south. I was trying to find more buildings to loot, and I did find a house off by itself, at the edge of a crater.

I don't know what had happened there - it was all rubble now - but this house had been spared the fate of its neighbors. There wasn't anything useful inside, though. To the south, on the other side of the highway, was a big open field, and I could swear I saw a giant worm out there. Maybe not. Maybe it was just my imagination - especially since it didn't seem to be moving. But I wasn't interested in getting any closer!

And when I tried to skirt the crater to the north, I spotted some weird-looking zombies in that direction. I've learned that 'weird' means dangerous, so I didn't go in that direction, either. Well, this was just a scouting trip, anyway, so I headed west.

It was open in that direction, too, but I encountered more of those giant ants. Again, there wasn't just one or two, but swarms of them - and some were even bigger and more dangerous-looking than those I'd seen earlier. So I skirted them on the north, still trying to go west, and I came across a FEMA camp.

There were bodies all around it, and a couple of them stood up as I got closer - more of those 'scientist zombies.' I killed them - I had lots of rocks to throw, and a couple of bear traps to keep them from getting too close. Then I cut the head off every corpse I could find.

As I was doing that, I got close enough to see a bunch of zombies in armor - soldier zombies - inside the camp. They didn't see me, and I made sure to keep it that way. I wouldn't have worried about just one, since I'd have no problem killing it before it got close. I'd done it before. With enough rocks, even armor wears down, eventually.

But that was a slow process, and there's a limit to how many rocks I can carry. I needed something a lot better than rocks - and a lot better than the sharp piece of steel tied to a broom handle, which was my current melee weapon - to take out a bunch of soldier zombies all at once. So I turned around and tried to skirt the camp on the north, instead.

And I came across a mass grave. Well, calling it a grave is doing it too much justice, because it was just a huge open pit filled with bodies. And those bodies were starting to move.

If they'd been soldiers, they'd had their armor removed. That was one thing, at least. One at a time, I wouldn't even have broken a sweat (assuming there weren't any surprises - note that I was seeing all this from a distance). But I couldn't even begin to estimate how many bodies there were in that pit. I could see about a dozen of them starting to stand up, but that was just a tiny fraction of the whole.

So I left. Maybe I could make a few Molotov cocktails and set the whole pit on fire? But what would be the point? I'd still have the soldier zombies to deal with. And I couldn't see inside most of the buildings in the camp, so I had no idea what horrors I might find in them.

So I returned to the evac shelter. I was really feeling discouraged, because the southwest had turned out to be such a complete bust. My options were narrowing. I had plenty of food, and I was doing OK on toilet water for the moment (boiled before I drank any, of course), but I needed better weapons. And I needed the skill to use those weapons. I was getting pretty good at throwing rocks, but rocks would only take me so far.

Temporary lodging in a fine home with a fireplace and garden pool

The next day, I tried to skirt that portal on the east and southeast, but I ran into more giant ants in a forest clearing there, so I turned back. That night, I went back to town - maybe I was getting too nonchalant, but I still hadn't seen any dangers from that portal - and looted an electronics store and a garage.

The first didn't have much that I could use, but the garage held a portable welder (along with an assortment of random auto parts), so I took that back to the shelter and used it to make a steel spear. OK, it was little more than a sharp steel pole, I guess, but it was better than what I'd had.

And the following night, I went back into town (note that I was trying to avoid the playground as much as the portal, since I couldn't bear to see what had happened to all those kids) and entered the underground subway. The downside was that I couldn't get my shopping cart down the broken escalators, and it was pitch black down there, so I had to use my flashlight - and its precious batteries - the whole time.

But the upside was that it was completely free of dangerous creatures - indeed, any creatures at all. There was a lot of rubble, here and there, but most of it was clear - just a long tunnel east, then south. I walked for a long, long time without encountering anything at all. But finally - though the tunnel continued south - there was another subway exit to the surface.

It was raining, and very, very dark, so I couldn't see much (and I was seriously worried about getting lost). There was a street directly in front of the subway station, of course, and there seemed to be a radio station just to the west.

On the east was a house, where I found some food before... something started breaking through the windows in front. So I ran back to the subway station. By then, it was about 2 AM, and I was really tired. Unfortunately, I'd found no safe place to rest, so I ran all the way back through the tunnel again.

Naturally, I encountered a bear just before I arrived at the evac shelter (at nearly 5 AM), so I had the fight of my life when I was completely exhausted. But I got home at last and crashed on a pile of unused clothing, sleeping till early afternoon. Clearly, I needed a different plan.

So the next day, I loaded up my shopping cart with what I thought I'd need in a temporary base and headed back southwest to that isolated house on the edge of the crater full of rubble. It was just an ordinary house, but there weren't any others particularly close, so I hoped I'd be safe enough there while I explored the area nearby.

My sleeping pattern was still screwed up, so I cleared out some homes northeast of the crater that night (piling anything which looked like it might be useful in my temporary base), then slept rather late in the morning. But when I went outside, there was a weird kind of... goth zombie, I guess, trailed by a huge plume of smoke, heading right for me.

I grabbed my gas mask out of the shopping cart and attacked. I have no idea what that first zombie was, but it certainly looked dangerous, so I put it down first. Behind that, the smoke turned out to be coming from another zombie, one which exploded when I killed it (though without causing any damage).

I'm guessing that these weird kinds of zombies are the varying results of decomposition. Something must be keeping those dead bodies from decomposing, but it didn't seem to work all the time. I suspect that 'boomers,' for example, and those strange zombies which spit acid, were both decomposing, but in different ways.

Likewise, this 'smoker' zombie was probably decomposing much like a pile of overly-rich mulch, giving off heat and smoke, but no flame. Like boomers, it was filled with the gasses of decomposition, so it exploded when pierced. Unlike them - and unlike the 'spitter' zombies - it was dessicated and dry, so it didn't spray the place with noxious liquids afterwards. That's my theory, at least.

Anyway, I continued to look around, and I didn't see any more zombies nearby, but there was a big pool of black oil - or maybe tar - to the southeast, and what looked like animated blobs of oil were emerging from it. I didn't get close, but I didn't like the looks of it, especially that close to my temporary base.

'Blobs' swarming a wrecked vehicle

So I explored some more to the north and northeast, clearing out a few more houses (and killing a few zombies on the way). At one point, I had a zombie dog break through the window when I was exploring a house, and after killing it, I saw this giant wasp across the street next to a house covered in paper, like a giant wasp nest (reasonably enough, huh?).

This wasp was easily the size of the zombie dog I'd just killed, and it was clearly hostile. But like the giant ants I'd seen, it didn't come after me. (Given the size of the stinger on it, I was very glad about that!) I only saw one of them, but I was pretty sure I'd be swarmed by wasps if I got any closer. So I didn't.

That night, I moved my shopping cart - both of them, since I'd just found another at a nearby grocery store - to a house a bit further north. I left some stuff in that first house, but I was just uncomfortable sleeping so close to that oil pit (and rightly so, as it turned out).

The next day, I continued to explore - cautiously - to the east (staying south of that wasp nest). But I was clearing out a house when I accidentally stepped in front of a window to discover a mass of both zombies and those strange black 'blobs' immediately to the south.

At first, I thought they might be attacking each other, but apparently not. (If the zombies really had been a military project, that would make sense, I guess. It's harder to imagine that human beings had created those animated blobs, but... well, I just don't know. Either way, they seemed to be ignoring each other.)

No, I'm guessing that they'd all been attracted to that spot by the noise of a zombie which had accidentally gotten stuck in a car and was just mindlessly smashing its way out again. Certainly, they all turned to attack me when I stepped in front of that window.

Maybe I was just tired of running, but I thought I'd just wait and see if I could hold them off. There were only two windows there, side by side, and although there were a lot of zombies, they were all just the ordinary kind, which really didn't scare me much anymore. The blobs were a complete unknown, but I figured I could run back through the house, closing doors behind me, anytime I wanted.

Oddly enough, the zombies were faster than the blobs, so they got to the windows first. (Admittedly, they were also a bit closer.) Certainly, I had plenty of time to prepare, and as the zombies broke through the windows and awkwardly tried to climb inside, I had an easy time killing them, one after the other. Again, they were just the ordinary variety of zombie.

The blobs were... weird. As I say, they were even slower than the zombies. But when they took enough damage, instead of dying, they just split into two smaller blobs - both just as hostile as the original. Those smaller blobs weren't a big problem, except that they would spit again when damaged. Eventually, the pieces would be so small that they ceased to be mobile or even very threatening, though they still wiggled.

But the scary thing was that I couldn't keep them at the window. When I'd split a blob into two pieces, those pieces would fly all over the place - including inside the house with me. So I kept getting surrounded by blobs. I tried to kill those inside the house first, so I'd keep a clear escape lane, but that wasn't always possible. It was rather frightening.

Still, the blobs themselves, though numerous, didn't seem to be very dangerous. Eventually, I killed them all - and without taking a scratch, myself. But something about them was just... unsettling. Frankly, they made my skin crawl. Wherever the hell they came from, they didn't belong on my planet! And I wasn't too eager to stick around anywhere in their vicinity.

So I decided I needed to move on. Again, I loaded up one shopping cart with just what I thought I'd need in a temporary base and left everything else behind. (This time, I left my army jacket behind, too, along with other useful stuff, because it was getting into late spring/early summer, and much too hot to wear that much. But I was definitely going to need to return for it, sometime.)

Early the next morning, while it was still dark, I headed southeast, trying to skirt the pool of blobs to the south. Yes, I know what you're going to say. What about that giant worm I'd seen? Well, I'd seen no sign of anything like that on this trip, so I was thinking it had probably just been my imagination. (Do you blame me for having an overactive imagination, after what I've seen?)

Certainly, I didn't encounter anything dangerous, except for one lone blob, which I destroyed. I made it to a very nice house, with an apple tree in the front yard and a fireplace - and three external doors in different directions - which I figured would make a fine hideout. Since it was still dark, I went north and cleared out a house in that direction, dumping the stuff near the fireplace.

But then it got light, and I peered outside to discover another massive group of zombies and blobs to the east! In the light of day, I could see isolated blobs to the north and west, too, so I grabbed my shopping cart and headed south.

There was another nice house - almost a mansion - down there, complete with a fireplace and a garden pool. And it was right on the edge of town, too, with open plain and then forest behind it. Unfortunately, most of it had been built of glass blocks, with no curtains on the windows. It would do for a temporary base, but only if there was nothing dangerous nearby.

So I set about trying to clear the area nearby. I did OK, although there was a pack of zombie dogs which might have been a problem if I hadn't had bear traps in my shopping cart. But when I went back to the mansion, I discovered that I'd been followed by blobs - another huge mass of them coming down from the north (no zombies this time, though).

I fought them in the street, since I knew they were slow. When they looked like they might surround me, I moved away and let them follow. Through such tactics, I whittled them down. Maybe after that, I'd be safe down there.

Note: Pt. 3 is here, and the rest of my computer game posts are here.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Kalam cosmological argument and the ethics of discourse

I'm still working my way through the archived videos of Scott Clifton, aka Theoretical Bullshit. (Don't worry, I'm almost caught up now.)

This is yet another video argument against William Lane Craig's Kalam cosmological argument for the existence of God. Note that I've posted two of these already from Scott Clifton - here and here.

Mostly, that's because I think they're interesting, and because I really like how Clifton presents his arguments. But William Lane Craig might be the most prominent Christian apologist these days, despite the fact that his core value seems to be dishonesty. Plus, he's egotistical, condescending, and elitist, too.

Yet his arguments get a lot of attention - undeserved attention, to my mind. So I especially enjoy seeing him taken to task. I hope you do, too.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

When the crazy drifts toward evil

From Josh Marshall at TPM:
People say lots of crazy stuff. Particularly right-wingers struggling to find analogies that might explain why their present day indignities, would-be oppressions or efforts to be understood place them in the descent of history's inconic victims - enslaved Africans in the Americas, gassed Jews in the Holocaust, to name only the most frequent examples.

I got to thinking about this more after I heard right wing star Dr. Ben Carson claim that 'political correctness' and its paramilitary enforcement arm, "the PC police", have made America "very much like Nazi Germany", so much in fact that we're living in a "Gestapo Age".

Right, the "PC police" are just like the Gestapo. After all, if you say something racist, sexist, or homophobic, they'll criticize you.

Yup, that's it. You'll just be criticized. Meanwhile, if you want to turn your stomach, do a Google image search for "Holocaust." I posted an example - far from the worst I found - above. That was Nazi Germany, "very much" like America, huh?

OK, this is just more right-wing crazy, huh? We hear it nearly every day, and I'm always posting examples here. But is there some point where batshit crazy becomes positively evil? Marshall continues:
... in the case of Dr. Carson's remark, I couldn't let it go as just more Tea Party-esque hyperbolic nonsense. It struck me more as a mix of dishonesty and myopia bordering on genuine evil - simultaneously dishonoring millions of dead and persecuted (not only Jews but gays, gypsies, slavs) while also pumping up the powerful with fantasies of oppression and threat that can lead them to do genuinely awful things.

It's likely worth noting that Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism has played a not insubstantial role normalizing on the right a cluster of ideas and interpretations that range from just historically ignorant to morally reprehensible. And that no doubt plays a role here.

As a general historical matter, when mainly powerless people have grand ideas about their oppression, conspiracies against them, etc., it's not that big a deal since they have little ability to act. Things are very different when people who are actually very powerful are gripped with the fantasy of their own powerlessness and oppression. [my emphasis]

Then today comes this. A Republican congressional candidate in Arizona has been forced to apologize for comparing social welfare and social insurance programs to slavery.
"Back in the day of slavery, slaves were kept in slavery by denying them education and opportunity while providing them with their basic needs …" wrote Jim Smith in a now deleted post.

"It is my sincere belief that over entitlements are a means of em- slaving [sic] the people by robbing opportunity while taking care of basic needs," he added.

Again, this is simply more of the Crazy we see on an on-going basis. But let's not walk too quickly past the idea that slavery was a sort of localized social welfare state in which "basic needs" where met but at the cost of denied opportunity for education and "opportunity."

I don't think there's any need to belabor the point that slavery was considerably more intense and dehumanizing than anything remotely like what Smith decides. Smith would appear to be a complete imbecile. But you cannot divorce this nonsense from the public discussion or race or social welfare in the country. That's frankly why we go to some lengths to publicize this stuff. Frankly, it's not that far removed from when a prominent Congressman talks about "inner city" poverty and cites a 'scholar' most known for arguing that African-American mental deficiencies account for poverty, lack of educational attainment, higher rates of incarceration and more.

Of course, he's talking about Paul Ryan's latest racist dog-whistle:
House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) previewed his upcoming legislative proposals for reforming America’s poverty programs during an appearance on Bill Bennett’s Morning in America Wednesday, hinting that he would focus on creating work requirements for men “in our inner cities” and dealing with the “real culture problem” in these communities. “We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with,” he said.

Ryan also cited Charles Murray, a conservative social scientist who believes African-Americans are, as a population, less intelligent than whites due to genetic differences and that poverty remains a national problem because “a lot of poor people are born lazy.”

"Inner city" is Republican code for "black." (If you need a reminder, here's how Lee Atwater explained it.) Of course, "inner city" would have been enough on its own, but right-wingers apparently can't help but beat us over the head with this stuff, so he had to mention Charles Murray, too, just to be sure that everyone got the point.

Paul Krugman is more generous than I feel about this stuff:
Just to be clear, there’s no evidence that Mr. Ryan is personally a racist, and his dog-whistle may not even have been deliberate. But it doesn’t matter. He said what he said because that’s the kind of thing conservatives say to each other all the time. And why do they say such things? Because American conservatism is still, after all these years, largely driven by claims that liberals are taking away your hard-earned money and giving it to Those People.

I think it was deliberate, very much so. Whether Paul Ryan is racist himself isn't even the point. Republicans have been putting economics in racial terms since Ronald Reagan. That's how they get white working-class people to vote against their own self-interest - by convincing them that the Democrats are giving all their tax money to those lazy blacks.

And yes, it's evil - just as evil as their whole Southern strategy of deliberately wooing white racists (a tactic which created today's Republican Party). In both cases, it's using racism to advance their own political ambition. How could that not be considered evil?

And so we get lunatic things like Saturday's White Man March - because, of course, white men are the people who really suffer discrimination these days, right?
A smattering of white people on Saturday stood up to discrimination against their race that exists only in their minds.

The so-called "White Man March" was the brainchild of an organizer named Kyle Hunt, who wrote on his website that he expected "thousands" of people to take part in "coordinated pro-white activity."

By the looks of it, his vision may have been a bit lofty. The demonstrations appear to have mostly involved a few people here and there holding up signs decrying "diversity."

Sure, it's funny, but crazy is often funny. That doesn't mean it's not evil. Certainly, the right-wing politicians who push this kind of thinking - though carefully maintaining their own plausible deniability - are either evil or incredibly stupid (or both).

It's not even necessary for me to note the widespread anti-Obama hysteria, is it? Republicans have done everything they could to foment that hysteria, up to and including implying that Barack Obama isn't the legitimate President of the United States.

And I haven't even mentioned the religious lunacy currently drifting towards evil in America. Here's the leader of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute - yes, a human rights institute - declaring that the "hard left, human-hating people that run modern universities... should all be taken out and shot."

When you start advocating shooting people because you disagree with them, we're well into evil, wouldn't you say? Or do you need to look at that picture of the Holocaust again?

Christians are the overwhelming majority in America, and Catholics are the single largest Christian denomination in our country. To suggest that they're so helpless, so marginalized, so oppressed that they need to start shooting people has got to be far more than just insane, don't you think?

And yes, let me be perfectly clear, I am accusing Republican Party leaders of fomenting this kind of nonsense. That's evil. (No, they don't want the shooting to start, at least partly because that would be counterproductive, politically. But they do work to encourage that kind of mindset.)

Monday, March 17, 2014

Kids first?

Nice license plate, isn't it? That's from Phil Cooke on Twitter. According to this article, though, the image has been "floating around the internet for years," but the Virginia DMV revoked the plate because they thought it had sexual overtones:
On their own, they came to the conclusion that my plate advocated oral sex on children, oral fucking sex on underage fucking children!! I was completely shocked and couldnt form a complete sentence afterwords.

So much for creativity and humor, huh?

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Agnostics are atheists

This is elementary, but something a lot of people still misunderstand. Agnosticism and atheism aren't mutually contradictory. I'm both an agnostic and an atheist, as are... well, all of the atheists I've ever met.

If you don't believe, you're a non-believer. It doesn't matter that you can't tell for sure if a fact claim is true or not. We can't tell for sure if any fact claims are true or not, since there's always an alternative explanation, however implausible. But we still believe or disbelieve such claims, based on the knowledge we've got.

What I really liked about this video, though, starts about three minutes in, where she explains how people tend to go through these various stages. You rarely find someone jumping right from theism into atheism. That's a difficult journey, and there are usually many rest stops along the way.

Agnosticism is usually one of those rest stops, even though, as Jaclyn points out, that's not an alternative to atheism. Other people might call themselves deists (which is just another religion, to my mind, not an alternative to theism).

It's not easy giving up what you've been raised from infancy to believe, especially when it promises eternal reward and threatens eternal torture. And many people are frightened not so much of hell, but of losing friends, family, and just the... warmth of their security blanket.

Obviously, what you want to label yourself is entirely up to you. But 'agnostic' doesn't actually refer to beliefs. Still, if you need that particular rest stop on the road to atheism, fine.

Likewise if you want to call yourself one of the 'Nones,' although most of them haven't actually given up the belief in magic. (But please, don't end your journey at a rest stop. Take a breather, if necessary, but then move on.)

What I want to encourage is evidence-based thinking - and thus to discourage faith-based thinking. Labels aren't nearly as important. They're not unimportant, you understand, but it's more important to get your head on straight.

Obama Derangement Syndrome

Here's The Fact Checker at The Washington Post:
The problem with the original ad was two-fold. First, Boonstra, a cancer patient, suggested she had lost her “wonderful doctor” when in fact she could keep that doctor in the new plan. Second, her premiums were cut in half, from $1,100 a month to $571, and the savings were slightly more than the out-of-pocket costs permitted under the health care law. So it seemed highly suspicious that the costs were “unaffordable.” ...

On March 10, however, the Detroit News reported that Boonstra admitted that she had Premier Gold plan. That has an out-of-pocket cap of $5,100 a year.

In other words, her old plan cost $13,200 a year—before co-pays and other out-of-pocket expenses. The new plan is $11,952—including co-pays and out of pocket expenses. That’s a savings of more than $1,200 a year.

Boonstra’s response to this report was that it “can’t be true” because she was worried about high expenses early in the year and because she thought one of her prescription drugs was not covered. A spokesman for Blue Cross told the News that all of her prescriptions are covered and her co-pays on the drugs would help with meeting her out-of-pocket maximum.

In the meantime, her premium savings are building up every month.

So the whole ad is a lie. Surprise, surprise, huh?

But will it matter that it's a lie? Republican claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction was a lie, too, but it got us to invade Iraq.

The billionaire Koch brothers are spending millions of dollars running these ads. Do you think that everyone who sees them will understand that they're simply lying? Of course not! Billionaires wouldn't be able to buy politicians - not so easily, at least - if this sort of thing didn't work.

Anyway, I like Cenk Uygur's description of this as 'Obama Derangement Syndrome,' because that's exactly right. This woman hates Barack Obama, so when people tell her the truth, her response is just that it "can't be true."

Obviously, that's just faith-based thinking. And it's very similar to the last Obamacare horror story I wrote about, where "Bette in Spokane" lost money because she refused to even use "that Obama website" which would have lowered her costs.

Yeah, it was just another lie that her costs were going up because of Obamacare, but it was a lie Republicans spread in their response to Obama's State of the Union speech. So it was probably a very effective lie, and that's all Republicans care about, isn't it?

The Gospels as myth

This is Richard Carrier in his debate against William Lane Craig five years ago (although this particular video excerpt was just posted).

If you've got the time, the full debate is here. (That's Craig's own YouTube site, so comments are disabled. It's funny how often Christians do that, isn't it?)

You can find more from Carrier in this playlist, which is a compilation of arguments against the resurrection of Christ being actual history.

Friday, March 14, 2014

What were you wearing?

From The Root:
Twitter user @Steenfox—real name Christine Fox—was still reeling Wednesday evening from an earlier online debate with a follower who insisted that women's revealing attire could be a contributing factor to sexual assault.

"I was trying to make him understand that it absolutely does not make a difference, and that the responsibility does not lie on women," she told The Root.

So she asked her twitter followers to report what they'd been wearing, if they'd been sexually assaulted:
The response was overwhelming. Within two hours, Fox says, she had received several hundred replies, pouring in faster than she could retweet them. ...

@steenfox I was wearing a Grumpy Carebear Tshirt, with jean was a male relative...(okay to RT)

@steenfox Assaulted twice. At age 15: jean capris, loose red baby tee, flip flops. At age 18: jeans, university t-shirt, sneakers. Can RT.

@steenfox I was wearing a hooded sweatshirt, baggy jeans and a cap advertising the Beatles. You can RT

@steenfox I was wearing a brown Garanimals-type shirt w/green frogs on it, a brown fringe jacket, Wranglers and B. Brown loafers. 6. OKRT

@steenfox The first time? I was 8. I had on a sweater and jeans. The 2nd, work clothes: dress pants and a button up blouse

@steenfox 1st of multiple times by the same family member was at 7...wearing pajamas. 2nd time I was 12...sweatpants and tee...youth pastor

@steenfox 10 wearing pjs molested by a "family friend"....16 wearing jeans, black hoody, and nikes

@steenfox Terry bicolor short set. It was my favorite. I had matching jellies. There were two of them. The oldest was 12. I was 6. RT away.

@steenfox 8yrs old at after school tutoring sessions so in school uniform - below-the-knee short sleeved dress. You can RT

"I really hope that this opens people's minds that what you are wearing has absolutely nothing to do with whether you are assaulted," said Fox.

Note that those are just a small fraction of the tweets she received, even in the first two hours. As Kay Steiger at TPM puts it:
This serves to simultaneously destroy two myths about rape, first that it is rare and that you probably don't know anyone who has suffered assault -- too many of the tweets related clothing that they were wearing as children and that the perpetrators were relatives or family friends. The second is that what a victim is wearing matters at all. This is one of the hardest things for many who haven't been victimized to understand about rape: it isn't about sex; it's about power.

This isn't the same thing, but it's not too far off, either:

A woman on YouTube must withstand the kinds of threats and vile, degrading personal attacks that a man just doesn't face. It must be frightening, but also incredibly depressing. Heck, I get depressed just reading the comments Rebecca Watson gets (and those aren't the worst of what she has to put up with, not by a long shot).

As a man, I need to recognize what women go through. I've never in my entire life worried about the possibility of being raped. I'm a big guy, and here in Lincoln, I've felt free to go anywhere at any time of the day or night, without ever worrying about my personal safety.

Sure, men are victims of crime, too, but I don't have to worry that all my doors are locked and my windows won't open far enough to let an intruder get in - not while I'm home, certainly. (When I bought this house, from a single woman, the windows had all been blocked from opening more than a few inches. Hey, that was just a prudent safety measure for her.)

It makes me angry that women do have to worry about these things. But it makes me angrier that women who are victims have to face accusations that they were at fault. That's ridiculous! It's not just that what you're wearing has nothing to do with rape. It's even more than that. The victim is never at fault here! It's the rapist who's entirely to blame.

I don't care if you walk down the street naked, at midnight. It's not your fault if you're attacked. I don't care if you had too much to drink. I've had too much to drink on occasion, and I've never had to worry about sexual assault. A woman shouldn't have to go through life worrying not just about strangers, but even about casual friends and acquaintances.

When men commit crimes, it's their fault. Don't get me wrong, it's not my fault, because I don't do things like that. But it is my fault if I fail to recognized the problems women face, just because they're women.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Republican alternative to Obamacare

Men's vs women's health care

Funny, isn't it? Federally-funded penis pumps, but no birth control for women? Viagra, sure. Cialis, of course. But no birth control pills for women, heaven forbid! (Literally, heaven forbids it.)

You'd think if men were getting penis pumps, then dildos would also be covered, wouldn't you? But can you imagine conservative heads exploding about that? (Actually, that would be pretty funny. I'd love to see it!)

The crazy thing - well, one of the crazy things - is that these right-wingers are also dead set against abortion. But if they really cared about abortion, instead of about controlling women, then effective birth control would be their top priority.

Here's another video, not so funny, on the subject of women's health care:

Old white men tend to look at things from the perspective of old white men. And since old white men controlled our country - and still do, largely - that was the perspective of our laws and regulations. In fact, that perspective tended to be just an implicit assumption.

Now, things are changing. There are a record number of women in Congress (though still only 18.8% of the total membership), and women tend to look at some of these things differently.

Of course, they were still raised in a patriarchal society and almost all belong to a patriarchal religion, so their attitudes aren't necessarily going to be different. But it's a start.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Bible barons

From Salon, here's an excellent article about how the Republican Party gets people to vote against their own self-interest (my thanks to Jim Harris for the link):
Last week, a bill to make way for the display of Ten Commandments in public buildings, such as courthouses and schools, passed out of an Alabama Senate committee, sending it to the full Senate for a vote as early as next week.

If you want to know why nine out of the 10 poorest states are located in the hyper-religious South, look no further than this calculated right-wing political play, which is designed for one purpose: to ensure Southern and Sunbelt voters continue to vote against their own self-economic interests.

If passed by the state Senate and signed by the governor, the state would put a constitutional amendment on the next ballot to let Alabama voters decide the issue. The theocratic authors and the Republican Party sponsors of this bill are fully cognizant of the fact that the bill is unconstitutional, and thus it will, inevitably, be struck down by the courts.

The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is clear: “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion.” It is the very basis of the separation of church and state. ...

While both [Trip] Pittman and [DuWayne] Bridges may sound like idiots, they’re actually shrewd political strategists, for the promise of tax cuts for the rich is hardly an effective platform for rallying the Republican Party base in a midterm election year. The promise of the Ten Commandments, however, is how you get a person without healthcare to vote for the party whose platform is based on repealing the Affordable Care Act.

According to the Pew Research Center, Alabama is the second most religious state in the nation with 74 percent of residents saying religion is very important in their lives. Number one is Mississippi. It is a pitiful irony that those states that are most religious are also states with the most individual suffering. More than 30 percent of the children in these two states suffer extreme poverty. In both states, the primary reason for abject poverty is that more than a third of children have parents who lack secure employment, decent wages, and healthcare. But thanks to Jesus, these poor saps vote for the party that rejects Medicaid expansion, opposes early education expansion, legislates larger cuts to education, and slashes food stamps to make room for oil and agriculture subsidies on top of tax cuts and loopholes for corporations and the wealthy.

Yup. And note that it's to the Republican Party's advantage to keep citizens poorly educated and ignorant, so they won't understand this. But more importantly, it's to their advantage to keep citizens poor, because struggling people tend to turn more to religion (especially when our society's social safety net has been shredded).

It's a very, very bad thing when there's no incentive for politicians to do well. Indeed, as the party which claims that "government is the problem," the incentives are just the reverse, to do so badly it demonstrates their point.

In a way, we're lucky the Republican Party is so bigoted and so crazy. If they were even halfway reasonable just think of how much damage they could do. Instead, they can't help but show the crazy, despite their best efforts to keep that hidden, and that helps to keep them out of power (not in Alabama, though, or Mississippi,... or Nebraska).

Monday, March 10, 2014

The survivor

Southbridge - or the northern tip of it, at least

Note: This is Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead - the new version, with a new world and a new character. Check out my other posts for the details about this game, including installation instructions and tips for beginners. This post is just for fun.

I'm a survivor.

Yeah, call me a coward if you want, I don't care. But you can't, because you're dead, huh? Everyone's dead...

And it's not my fault! There wasn't anything I could do about it. I'm not a coward!

I was traveling cross-country, far from family and friends, when the world ended. Suddenly, it was a complete madhouse. Sure, we'd heard rumors. We'd seen the military everywhere, and we knew something was up. (Ha! Lot of good that did. All that gave us was zombies outfitted in Kevlar!)

OK, I'm sure they did their best, and so did I. I would have joined up with other survivors - of course I would. I offered. I argued that we needed to get organized. We're social animals, for chrissake! How do you think human beings have survived this long?

But no one was willing to trust a stranger - even the few who weren't operating purely in panic mode by then. I was there. I saw it. I wish to hell I hadn't, but there wasn't anything I could do about it! Heck, it's a miracle I survived myself. I nearly didn't...

I'm not a coward! I'm cautious. I'm prudent. When the world goes to hell, there's no way one man can stand in the way. Somehow, I ended up in the woods, and I stayed there as long as I could. I slept in the trees. (Thank the gods the weather stayed clear!) I scavenged for food. I'm no survivalist, or even a backpacker, but I am a survivor.

Eventually, I wandered into the evac shelter just north of Southbridge. (That's what the signs say, at least. I don't even know what state I'm in, not for sure.) Would I have been rescued if I'd made it there sooner, whisked off to some tropical island paradise where human beings are even now trying to rebuild civilization?

Maybe, but there was no sign of that. There was a car engine sitting on the pavement in front of the shelter - just the engine, nothing else - and a pair of jeans in the basement. Those were the only signs that anyone had ever been there. The doors were closed. The windows were unbroken. There was no blood, thank the heavens, and no other sign of struggle, either.

I had a small pocketknife and a matchbook - I don't smoke; I just picked it up somewhere - and I was carrying a plastic bottle of water. That was it. I'd been wearing the same clothes for far too long - t-shirt, jeans, and sneakers - but I'd tried to keep them clean and aired out. (I didn't want anything trailing me by the smell.)

And as far as I could tell, I was the only human being left alive on Earth.

I hope not. No, no, I can't be. There must be other survivors left, and I'm going to stay alive until I find them. But I wouldn't stay alive for long by hiding in the woods. I needed supplies. I needed shelter. And I needed weapons. (Oh, I'm not going to fight unless I have to. I've seen how far bravado gets a person! But I'm tired of being completely helpless.)

I had shelter. The evac building would keep the rain off, I could close the curtains to keep... things from seeing me, and there were doors in all four compass directions. If something came at me, I could at least escape in the opposite direction.

And I'd checked it out before I'd even come close. The shelter sat in an open field, far from anything else. In the daytime, at least, I could see a long way. And most zombies are slow. I could outrun them, if I had to. But I still needed a weapon.

There were metal lockers in the evac shelter, though they were all empty. But I grabbed a rock from the field outside and smashed one of them to pieces. Most of the debris was useless, but there was a stout metal pipe which fit my hand pretty well. And by flattening the end with my rock, I created a makeshift crowbar, which would come in useful as a tool, as well.

I kept the rock, too. I took a drink of water, then left the bottle behind - no way to carry it - but I put a couple of rocks in my pockets and I carried the club/crowbar in my hand. I knew better than to go very far into town, but I thought maybe I could sneak into a few outlying houses, so that's what I did.

It was scary. I'm not embarrassed to say that. But, oddly, I also felt a bit ashamed to be breaking into someone's house and going through their stuff. Still, they were almost certainly dead, and... what else could I do? I needed supplies. I needed food. I needed water. I needed clothing - in particular, I needed some way to carry the other stuff I found. And - of lesser importance immediately, though necessary to survive for long - I needed tools.

So I pried open a few back windows and went inside. For the most part, I stayed in the back, because I could see zombies through the front windows, and I couldn't close the curtains without them seeing me. Perhaps if I came back at night?

There was stuff scattered around, but I couldn't carry any of it without dropping my makeshift crowbar. So I made a note of what I'd found and moved on. I did find some food and some warm cans of pop, and I ate and drank my fill before returning to the evac shelter, so it wasn't a complete loss. I needed to be methodical about this, anyway. I needed to take my time and scout out everything I could.

The last house had a basement filled with guns. Yeah, big surprise, huh? It seems like the only right we have - had - in recent years was the 'right to bear arms.' Every other right could be limited, but never that one, huh? Fat lot of good it did that poor bastard in the basement, though. He was still moving around, but he wasn't alive.

I shut the door and left. The fact is, I didn't know how to use any of those guns. But one thing I did know was that it was an easy quick way to die.

This was America, after all. Half the men and even some of the women had been carrying their own personal penis substitute. But you know what happens when some swaggering fool shoots a zombie? Oh, he might drop one or even two, but the sound of a shot is like ringing a dinner bell. And eventually, all those zombies get back up again,... plus one.

(I don't want to be misleading here - assuming that anyone else will ever read this. Zombies don't eat brains. They don't eat anything. They just have an overpowering urge to kill. That's one reason why I think this was a military project gone wrong. But that's another story. I just want to be as accurate as I can here, so I thought I'd better explain.)

Southbridge evac shelter

I couldn't sleep that night - too keyed up, I guess. So I thought I'd try a night raid on the town, maybe get to some of those front rooms in the dark (so I could close the curtains and look around more thoroughly). I'd seen a clothing store, too, a little further in. If I could get there, maybe I could get a coat with pockets.

That's where I headed first. It was drizzling rain and very dark. I see well at night, but even for me, it wasn't easy. [Note: I was wrong in this post about the Night Vision trait. Actually, the distance you can see varies with the conditions. When it's raining, it's darker than when the night is clear or even just cloudy. Makes sense, huh? The developers seem to have thought of everything.]

But it was easy to walk quietly, too, and I was able to search the clothing store without encountering anything at all. I found cargo pants in my size, plus a trenchcoat and a raincoat, and then topped it all off with a voluminous bag I could sling across one shoulder.

Finally, I could carry stuff! So I went back to those homes I'd explored earlier in the day and filled that bag, and my pockets, with food, drink, and small tools. I was in a great mood as I ran back to the evac shelter. I suppose I wasn't paying enough attention, but it was still pitch black outside. Anyway, I nearly ran into the side of a moose.

It was scary as hell in the darkness. Have you ever seen a moose closeup? They're huge! Normally, they'll ignore a human being, but not when they feel threatened. And running up to a moose in the middle of the night clearly feels like a threat to them.

I tried to back off, but it kept attacking me. I tried to run, but it was faster than me. It kept knocking me down as I was trying to escape. Finally, I ran inside one of the homes nearby, but it came right inside after me! It was just so fast, I couldn't even get the door closed.

In desperation, I started beating at it with my makeshift crowbar, and I finally drove it off. At least, it ran out the front door, and I was able to close the door behind it. Then I crawled out a back window and ran for home again,... only to run smack dab into another moose.

I was nearly in hysterics by then. I'd not only taken a beating, but my new clothes were getting shredded. So I started hitting the moose with my crowbar until that one, too, ran off, and I was finally able to return to the evac shelter.

My trenchcoat had been completely destroyed, and my raincoat was little better. Most of my clothes were damaged, with only the messenger bag still in good condition. Well, I was a little better off than I had been, but not much. I did have some food and water, at least.

The next day, I thought I'd check out a science lab to the northwest, but I started encountering these giant insects. I'm talking about ants the size of dogs - big dogs (and even a fly of that size). What had those damned scientists been doing?

I remember finding science books at my grandparents' house - until my parents found out and threw them away - so I knew well enough that science hadn't always been like that. But in recent years, the only science being done was funded by the military - partly because only the military had any money and partly because we didn't really value science. Only technology was valued and, for the most part, only military technology at that.

I'd always loved to hear stories about the old days, when scientists could research whatever the hell they wanted. Heck, I might have become a scientist myself back then, back before scientists were basically just army grunts without the status. Anyway, I'd heard rumors of worse stuff than giant bugs. I just hoped I wouldn't run into any of that stuff.

As it turned out, I found some scientists on the way back - their corpses, at least. One of them was animate. At first, I thought maybe it was still alive, because it didn't seem to be completely mindless. It was mindlessly hostile, though. I smashed it with rocks from a distance, while it was still fumbling through its pockets. (I didn't wait to find out why. Despite its weird behavior - not quite like ordinary zombies - it clearly wasn't human anymore.)

I continued a little further south, on the west side of this small suburb, as the drizzle turned to rain. Pretty soon, I was in a thunderstorm (and remember that my raincoat had been damaged pretty badly). Just before I could get to another house down there, I was spotted by a zombie dog - a German shepherd that had apparently been an army dog when it was alive, since it was still wearing the remains of its Kevlar armor.

It was very fast, and most of my rocks just bounced off its armor. I did hit it in the head a couple of times before it got to me, but then it was just a matter of standing my ground and smacking it with my crowbar until it was dead. I was bleeding badly by then, and in a great deal of pain. But it was only when I started to bandage my leg that I realized why. The rain had turned to acid!

What in the hell have we done to our planet? Yeah, we'd had 'acid rain' before - we'd been screwing up our own environment for years - but nothing like this. If I hadn't been wearing a motorcycle helmet I'd found in one of those houses, I think I would have gone blind. As it was, my skin felt like it was on fire.

I ran towards the nearest house, pried open a window, and crawled inside. It didn't matter what was in there. Without shelter, I was going to die anyway. Luckily, it was safe. There was just a frightened ground squirrel in the garage, a pair of boots in my size (my sneakers were about shot by then), and some odds and ends of food and drink. But mostly, it was a place to wait out the acid storm.

When the rain turned to drizzle, I looked outside to discover bodies lying all around the house - zombies, apparently 'killed' by the acid rain. Of course, I knew that they'd just get back up again, eventually. I'd seen that happen far too many times already. So I went outside and cut their heads off.

On the way back to the evac shelter, I tried to stay close to houses I'd already cleared, just in case the acid rain returned. Christ, I'm glad that hadn't happened when I'd been lost in the forest. What a way to die!

It was only mid-day, but I was exhausted, so I slept until nightfall, then went back into town. This time, I raided a sporting goods store, which was a big disappointment, then a grocery store, where I grabbed a shopping cart and filled it to the brim with everything I could find that hadn't spoiled (including some useful magazines about crafts, construction, and popular mechanics, too).

On the way back, I encountered a weird, swollen zombie which exploded after I hit it with a few rocks. Then I was almost at the shelter when a cougar attacked me. I killed it - mostly with rocks, again, and a few lucky hits with my crowbar - but not before it shredded the few clothes I had left.

I had to learn how to repair that stuff, so I spent the next day practicing. (I'd found a needle and thread in a couple of those houses.) I also read for awhile, when I needed a break. I had enough food - especially after another period of acid rain left moose and wolf corpses all around the shelter - and I needed to take it easy for a bit.

Cabin in the woods, but this room isn't finished, and there's no water.

A couple of days later, the sun came out, so I headed north. I'd seen a cabin in the woods, and I wanted to check it out. It looked safe enough - I didn't see anything dangerous on the way - and the cabin had a bed and a wood stove. But one wall needed repairing, and there was no permanent source of water nearby. Well, neither was there at the evac shelter, but at least I could get water from toilets, for awhile

It stayed clear, so that night, I went further south, raiding some military surplus stores. Again, the results were disappointing. I found a few things that were useful, but no weapons. And I really needed something better than that makeshift crowbar! (Maybe I should get a gun, if I can find one with a silencer.)

There were a lot of wrecked vehicles everywhere, and a couple of them still had their lights on. Thus, I came upon a well-lit scene that will give me nightmares for years: a playground, still full of kids. Only they weren't kids anymore.

They couldn't see me, so I just stood in the dark crying.

Eventually, I moved on. What else could I do? There were several military surplus stores nearby. I found some MREs, some military clothes, and a really nice backpack, but still no melee weapons. I attracted some attention at one point, when I was forced to move into the light, but I lost them again. Then I opened the back door of a supermarket and came face-to-face with a glowing blue portal.

I nearly had a heart attack. I'd heard rumors about such things, and if even half of what I'd heard was true, I needed to start running and never look back. But survivors don't panic. I closed the door and headed back to the evac shelter - moving more quickly than usual, true, but I wasn't in a panic.

Still, what do I do now? I can't head into the forest, not without a shelter, not given the likelihood of more acid rain. I'd try that science lab, but I don't fancy being eaten alive by giant ants. Yet that might be a kinder fate than what waiting around near that portal would grant me.

Could I destroy it, somehow? How do you destroy a portal? I suppose I could burn down the grocery store, but would that accomplish anything? I just don't know. And the fact is, my skin crawled at the very thought of getting that close to it again.

I laid awake that night worrying and wondering what to do. Maybe I could wait for a sunny day and head east into the forest, just to see if there might be something in that direction. Alternately, I could try exploring southwest, trying to stay a prudent distance from the portal that way. But what was a prudent distance? I had no idea.

I'm still wondering what to do.

Note: Part 2 is here, and my other game-related posts are here.