Archive for category Catablogic Blathering

How dare you call my square a polygon!

Is calling someone “Pocahontas” an ethnic slur? Assume that it’s not. Why are the people insulted that Trump is being accused of racism for his remarks in Hawaii yesterday even bothering? When you defend someone who doesn’t even hide his own fondness for racial discord against allegations of a racial slur, you only add to the barrage of reasons a lot of people you encounter probably think you’re an idiot. Alternatively, you could be deflecting, like this asshole.

Imagine someone who’s been bragging for two decades that his daddy cheats on his income taxes every year bristling at the very suggestion that his dad went through a highway tollbooth this morning without paying.

But it’s worse than this, of course, because I’ve never seen Trump sound more drunk or mentally disabled than he did during that soliloquy, and identifying anything as such is akin to saying you know for sure which Bazooka Joe comic strip is the least funny. I’ve concluded that a startling number of people, in addition to those who simply like the tumult, genuinely do not know that Trump invariably sounds like someone trying to say the words to “Yellow Submarine” backward while failing to remember all but seven of them. When they say that he sounds like an intelligent speaker, they mean it. This has me once again aching for either the immediate construction and grand opening of the U.S.A. DumberDome (inside joke, sort of) or an intense, nationwide campaign of forced sterilization (hyperbole, maybe).


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In case you’ve never been to Goat Scrotum, U.S.A.

Psychological projection is a potent force, and smart people are at least as susceptible to its wiles as anyone else — maybe more so. Even continually and accurately pointing out examples of projection in other people won’t immunize you; only cold, uncomfortable reality can break its spell.

If you’ve been telling yourself, in spite of what mounds of polling data and other metrics of public opinion reveal every day, that “no one” or “hardly anyone” really thinks that a wall along the Mexican border is not only worth the expense but sure to be effective, you are wrong. If you tell yourself that “no one who’s paying any attention” really thinks that Trump plans to repeal the ACA and immediately replace it with a better plan, you are wrong. And it’s not just complete backwoods tunnel-vision ninnies who believe such things, although it’s safe to say virtually all such people believe them. I have spent some time in less urbanized, less economically flourishing parts of the state recently, and it has been an eye-opening, even jarring experience in terms of the dearth of cognition that occurs in an abundance of people between hearing something on the news and ejecting it from the primary hole in their faces. Read the rest of this entry »

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Some thing’s never change’s: Grokster’s still happily inhabiting an alternate realities

Until today I hadn’t looked at Granite Grok in several months. With a Clinton presidency all but assured and the Dems’ taking back the Senate more likely than not, I figured that the loons who keep that Internet turd bobbing along in the sewer pipes of cyberspace had become even more irrational and incoherent than usual. Then I remembered that their achieving this is as about as feasible a prospect as exceeding infinity; maxed out is maxed out. But I was nevertheless far from disappointed.

This post jumped out at me because it has all of the usual Grok nonsense: written in barely comprehensible English, relying on fringe characters and sites as sources, and laced with untenable amounts of wishful thinking. The lowlights: Read the rest of this entry »

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“New Atheists” may chafe, but that doesn’t make calmer approaches to fundamentalism effective

Yesterday, TIME’s online edition ran a column jointly created by three fellows who purported to have a new answer to combating Islamic fundamentalism. They invoked the annoying term “New Atheist” a lot, and while they acknowledged that the stridency of some of the highly visible contemporary atheists has its place in productive discourse, in their view it would be preferable to approach would-be jihadists in a gentler, more diplomatic way.

I was immediately skeptical of this for reasons I will get to even though they are probably obvious to many of you, but I kept reading to see what this novel and apparently magical strategy appealing to jihadists’ kinder sides would consist of.

And then the column ended. Read the rest of this entry »

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“Don’t listen to him, he’s as dumb as me! Listen to me instead!”

Sometimes the lack of basic reasoning skills possessed by pseudo-pundits like Sarah Palin is as profound as their general ignorance.

Palin is claiming that Bill Nye lacks the credentials and background to be commenting on scientific issues like global warming — even comparing him to *herself* by way of trying undermine his statements.

Even if she were right about Nye, who worked as an engineer for years before becoming the popularizer of science he’s best known for being, how does she expect to be taken seriously if she admits that she has no business talking about about climate change even as she continues offering her own childishly stupid ideas about it? How intellectually crippled does one’s audience have to be to hear someone say, almost flat-out, “Don’t listen to him, he’s as dumb as me! Listen to me instead!”

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Regulating the wrong guns

11953185_10153189044612149_2727887019999792664_nThe social philosophers that operate incoherent goofblogs have a fondness for the word “hoplophobe” (except that to them it’s sometimes “Hoplophobe,” in the Fine Wingnut tradition Of Capitalizing random Words) to characterize anyone who supports anything pertaining to the purchase, possession, or use of firearms, period. Owing to the fact that every once in a while, something like this happens — even though the media never reports such things, of course — they reckon that anyone proposing that it is entirely unnecessary to allow, say, an Uzi to be toted into the U.S. Capitol by a civilian covered in swastika tattoos is simply fearful of guns in all their forms.

This is one of countless ironies emanating from the far right. Given its members’ collective stance on homosexuality, pornography, premarital sex, abortion, contraception, and even sex toys — at least the one they project to the world — it’s not surprising that they want to regulate practically everything pertaining to human genitalia, and to a far greater degree than most liberals want to regulate guns.

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Another unintended consequence of Trump’s campaign

Is dipshits squaring off against morons, much like the street-fight scene in the original Anchorman.

This is a textbook display of blaming the woman victim of male aggression, right down to the guy doing the blaming being an inbred-looking halfwit in his sixties who still thinks yo-momma jokes and dragging people’s girlfriends into petty Internet wars are not only clever but an effective means of chasing off your betters when you have unwisely picked fights with them.

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And what kind of idiots read just to *learn* stuff?

Someone really could turn mocking the stupidity posted on just this one blog into a full-time job, if there were money to be made in mocking nameless dingbats.

Like all right-wing echo-chambers, this one is characterized by the big three traits of confused and angry Americans: Lying, delusional belief systems, and hypocrisy. At times, though, bursts of incidental honesty provide a few cheap laughs.

It’s fine that not everyone cares to exercise for the sake of fun or health or sport. But why anyone on a blog populated by visibly unfit individuals would actually malign physical activity for the sake of activity would be a mystery if the grisly lack of self-awareness of these bloggers wasn’t already well established.

The entire post is nothing more than a quote and a picture of a random younger guy using an elliptical trainer. The first line of the quote is “Physical work without producing something is alien to my mind.”

To each her own, I guess; to me, expending the physical work of writing words without producing a single useful observation is a far more profligate waste of time, since it won’t make you fitter or leaner or sharper.

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Is climate change the new gay marijuana?

The most important thing about this graph (source) is that it signifies not an increase in the general public’s understanding of climate science, but a trend toward greater trust in science and scientists as a whole. The former is not vital but the latter clearly is.


This is good news, but — and forgive me for my glass-half-shattered outlook here — it only further exposes just how foolish the many remaining holdouts are.

I have a degree in a physical science, and I try to keep current on important (or sometimes simply interesting) scientific issues. But I don’t pretend to have more than a passing knowledge of what climate scientists do in terms of information gathering and data analysis and computer modeling. What I do know for certain is that their conclusions are not whimsical or capricious or, worse yet, products of influence-peddling or part of a conspiracy aimed at making a few climate scientists rich. Yet we live in a country rife with “bloggers” who apparently think that climate-change data is the result of a few guys from NCAR sticking a ruler and a thermometer into the Antarctic ice shelf once a year and bleating “Owned, Inhofe!” as they scribble bullshit into their little notebooks. They are the ones who aren’t joking when they point at May snowfall in Colorado or a sub-freezing day in Tallahassee as proof that human-caused climate change — or hell, global warming, period — is an elaborate hoax.
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Yes, Trump’s free-speech rights were violated when his campaign cancelled his rally

…in the same way my right to vote in November will have been violated if I swerve into a brick wall on purpose on my way to the polls and never make it there.

Look, if you really think that Trump was shafted by the happenings in Chicago the other night, please stop reading and eat a footlong strychnine sub and put yourself out of America’s misery right now, and if you know anyone else who thinks like you do, don’t be shy about sharing.

For the rest of you: It’s surreal, isn’t it? Not just the unprecedented sight of rally after presidential-campaign rally being torn apart by increasingly serious eruptions of violence, but also the response to these events by the staggeringly blinkered assholes of the United States. Despite Donald Trump consciously, vociferously, repeatedly and gleefully fomenting this bullshit — which, I hope you’ll agree, is no longer funny even in the macabre way some of Trump’s previous public fuckery was funny — there are people who not only rush to absolve Trump of any and all blame for the very series of ugly confrontations he has invited, but have the unbridled skull-fucking, dick-twisting audacity to blame Bernie Sanders or Barack Obama or both. (Did I forget to add that these craven, ruddy-necked weasels are blaming the protesters as well? I guess I see no need to state the overly obvious.)

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Right-wing Republicans are leading the women’s health charge

grok-logoDid you know that the political left is aiming to selectively abort as many potential black people as possible, preferably in squalid conditions, and that the chief reason for the recent unprecedented rise in abortion-clinic closings is because the Democrats who run such places refuse to conform to the ultra-high standards of women’s healthcare set by Republicans? I know that sounds weird, since liberals *also* want as many ethnic minorities casting illegal ballots as possible, and also because Republican politicians often say silly things about women and their ladyparts, but it’s true! I read it here.

Watch me get thrashed in the comments section by one of the resident geniuses. Hey, I’m a big boy, I can take a licking from my rhetorical betters and learn from it.


A ten-penny Naile (that’s being generous)

145557125677005Back when I blogged more often (Facebook and work projects have largely put an end to such forays into frivolity, although I, Doc Bushwell and Jim were actually paid a few bucks a month by just to rave about whatever we wished when the Chimp Refuge was part of that network), I occasionally mentioned a group of right-wing paranoiacs and oppressives from New Hampshire collectively operating an amusingly unsophisticated site called  Granite Grok. This crew, which at any time features maybe a dozen or so “writers,” first came to my attention when a transplant from either Texas or Oklahoma (does the distinction matter?) named Judy Paris  was babbling about the evils of homosexuality. I wrote an open letter to her here on the Chimp Refuge, but didn’t actually expect her to see it, much less respond.

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Call it the “I’m RUBBER, YOU’RE GLUE!” rebuttal

False equivalency as a rhetorical tactic of the religious right is nothing new, but it seems to be more prevalent lately. I read a story on my new pick for the most comically stupid “news” site on the Internet,, in which the anonymous author — supposedly a high-school kid in Canada but almost certainly one or more regular contributors to the site — complains that people calling him a bully for maligning homosexuality and same-sex marriage are actually the real bullies. Others have taken up the cry that calling bigoted homophobes “bigoted homophobes” (for lack of a clearer, more specific term) is itself bigotry and marks an unwillingness on the part of liberals to properly understand where they’re coming from.

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Sanitation workers: Our job isn’t to pick up your trash

As far as I know, no garbage collectors have said any such thing. But if Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal were among their ranks, this would evidently be his position.

abc_tw_jindal_150125a-800x430In the past, I naively found it strange that an ethnic minority such as Jindal could be elected to the governorship of a Deep South state. What I forgot to keep in mind is that for all of their often-inimical relations, whites, blacks, Latinos, Muslims and others can quickly put aside their differences to unite as one god-inspired meta-organism against the ugly and irreligious creep of LGBT equality.

In this opinion piece in the N.Y. Times, Jindal says flat-out that he doesn’t care that a growing number of Americans, most likely a majority of them, disagree with him about same-sex marriage, because those people — influenced, as always, but noisy radical Hollywood liberals — have no business infringing on the right of upstanding traditional religious folks to discriminate against minorities. I am not parodizing his position; if nothing else, Jindal rarely pretends to be anything besides the sputtering prick he’s always been.

It’ll be fascinating if he runs for President (which I don’t think he will). What are the chances that the campaign of someone who repeatedly says, “I wasn’t elected to office to serve you people” can gain significant traction?

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A look at the latest spate of “religious freedom” laws…

…by way of an analogy, which you are free to dismiss if you have shit for your brains:

Imagine a person walking through the door of an urgent-care clinic complaining of really bad abdominal pain or an intractable headache, and the doctor seeing a Bible under the person’s arm.

“Are you a Christian?” the doctor asks gently.

“Why yes, doctor, I am,” the afflicted person replies hopefully.

“Well, nothing personal,” the doctor replies, “but I simply can’t treat Christians here. I don’t agree with your deviant lifestyle, this ridiculous worshiping of bullshit ‘gods’ and teaching your children backward things. There’s a Jesus-freak nurse practitioner a mile up the road who’d be happy to see you…I’m really sorry, because I hate the idiocy, not the idiots.”

Does this sound appalling? To me it does. But there is precisely no functional difference at all between someone discriminating against GLBT people for religious reasons and a god-free person discriminating against a Christian, Muslim or Mormon for irreligious ones. And I would bet anything in this world that if the above scenario were a real one, Christians around the country would be screaming to high hell about it (and rightfully so) and doing everything they could to invoke the power of the secular government to act on their behalf.

We don’t let people sacrifice virgins anymore for religious reasons, so why do we let things nearly as stupid — if not as lethal — remain in play? It once again comes down to letting people believe their gloriously hollow-headed crap about shy-fairies while not allowing those ideas to gain any functional traction.


The LGBT crowd’s *real* goal — to take over the world!

The State of Minnesota has ruled that transgender high-school boys can participate in girls’ sports.

The flood of ignorant and hysterical comments about this from the usual suspects was inevitable, but after I got tired of seeing incoherent rants about freaks and homos and perverts and the mentally ill (because apparently, anyone who hasn’t been a straight man or woman since birth can be described an all of these ways) I got into an argument with someone (actually many someones) about this on a site I should probably avoid just for sanity’s sake, and provoked the following comment. From this comment, as you will see, I learned (from a supposed chemistry teacher, no less) that 1. “real” transgender people are all of those, and only those, who are born with both penises and vaginas; 2. There are all sorts of people out there who are only pretending to be transgender because of the obvious societal pay-off this guarantees; 3. LGBT fundamentally want nothing more than for everyone in the world to be LGBT; 4. Any sort of emotional disquiet that has its roots in hormonal imbalances can and should be squashed with exogenous hormones; 5. The whole basis for transgender boys wanting to play girls’ sports, have gender-reassignment surgery, and otherwise live the lives of women is malicious intent and untrammeled mental illness, and society shouldn’t coddle them and their suicidal intentions.

Here’s part of the comment:

“I have no problem with people who, through their genetics, manifest both male and female genitalia. What I do have a problem with is people who are born fully male or female who demand that we adapt to and in some times fund their mental illness because their ‘hormones’ demand it. If it is hormonal then it can be treated with hormones right? We can push back against emotions with those hormones that are natural to their body. But I’m sure you and your ilk would never go for that. Emotions rule your every action. If someone ‘feels’ female then we just have to adjust to their feelings right? You can’t have it both ways. You can’t demand that a person should have the state pay for their operation and hormone injections through the ADA and then turn around and say they are not mentally ill. The argument of the left is always that they are unhappy and might kill themselves out of despair if they don’t get the operation or are allowed to compete with girls. Sorry but that is just further evidence of their mental illness. If they want to get injections and mutilate their bodies let them pay for it themselves and stay the hell out of sports and bathrooms they do not belong in. But the LGBT crowd is all about increasing their numbers at whatever the cost to society.”

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Since no one’s going to read this anyway…

I produced the following in the fall of 1998, shortly before I started actually getting paid for stuff I’d come up with concerning running. In those days I was a de facto columnist for Cool Running, which long ago scrapped all of my and others’ material in its purposeful transition from a homey New England-first site to a far-reaching virtual shitstain that sold out to the assholes at I particularly like this one; you can explore the whole lot of them here thanks to the intrepid generosity of the Wayback Machine.

Don’t Go There

We runners are explorers. Except for the treadmill crowd, the very nature of what we do makes us wanderers and seekers, postmodern pioneers. All but the most regimented yearn for the variety offered by new routes; fresh landscapes and changes of scenery help spike our motivation, forestalling the drudgery that inevitably creeps into our training programs.

Vacations serve as opportunities to travel through virgin territory, guided by our whims rather than travel brochures. Instead of viewing the passing scenery through the porthole of a tour bus or rental car, we live it, feel it, in fact become a part of it. To the resigned dismay of family and friends, we prefer to run, for example, around the perimeter of Disneyworld rather than immerse ourselves in the mouse-eared attractions therein. Accusations that we make bad traveling companions are difficult to deflect.

But we spend most of our time at home, where excursions into the unknown require resourcefulness and effort. To the city-bound, novelty is often offset by banality: “fresh” scenery might include a new strip mall or, almost as offensive, loosely-organized bands of brooding crackheads. (After spending one high-mileage summer in Atlanta, I came to know many of these types by name.)

Those of us in the ‘burbs and beyond are more fortunate. No matter how intimately we know our environment, there is always somewhere new to run. An old logging trail, shooting off into the netherworld from a familiar road, catches our eye after years of inexplicable concealment; we are inspired to explore the sloping lanes of an apple orchard after a decade of regarding it as just another tract of land.

Inherent in the discovery of off-road routes is the certainty of becoming an unwanted guest. Admit it: you’ve seen the signs, the ones that read “PRIVATE PROPERTY” in plain English, and you’ve ignored them, unable to resist what lay beyond in spite of (or, perhaps, because of) their admonitions. “Hell, I’m just a runner,” you tell yourself. These signs explicitly discourage hunters, fishermen, snowmobilers, dirt bikers, unicyclists, out-of-control Canadian truckers and Kenneth Starr, but never runners, who pose no threat to flora and fauna. Therefore, “NO TRESPASSING – THIS MEANS YOU” must apply to someone else.

Running into the relative unknown infuses me with a certain arrogance, a sense of self-reliance; I may be on unfamiliar ground, but, buoyed by past experience, I know I can find my way home. Through my willingness to tolerate swamps, thorns, and righteously barking dogs, I gain perspectives on my world that the couch-bound cannot: a glimpse of scampering deer, or, beneath a sky gloriously streaked and bronzed by a sunset, a view of the sparkling waters of the Merrimack River from an isolated, long-forgotten hilltop.

Serene as it sounds, I’ve gotten myself into trouble this way.

During my Dartmouth days I frequently took to the woods around the town reservoir. One day I became convinced I could find a shortcut back to campus by striking out overland. After negotiating some brutal thickets and crossing a sizable creek, I came upon a field and could hear the telltale hum of traffic on nearby Route 120, the road I had hoped to find. Too smug to be cautious, I breezed by a sign nailed to a tree, noting only the first word: “ATTENTION.” A few minutes later a series of rifle reports did indeed capture my attention, and I did a prompt about-face toward the reservoir. This time I read the sign’s fine print: “ATTENTION: Dartmouth biathlon training range. Firearms in use.” In a typical display of wisdom, I returned a few months later. “Must be a seasonal thing,” I reasoned, immediately before another spate of gunfire sent me thrashing into the sanctity of the woods once again.

Sometimes my disregard is even more callous. About once a year, I run to the top of Oak Hill, my hometown’s highest point. A tough one-mile climb of some 500 vertical feet up a decaying road once maintained by the Forest Service leads to an ancient, sixty-foot-tall observation tower formerly used to spot fires. The public is invited to “CLIMB AT YOUR OWN RISK,” which is considerable, since the structure is older than Stonehenge. But its rickety wooden steps lead to a rewarding vista, so I can’t resist the ascent.

When I last climbed Oak Hill, I noticed a new man-made encroachment: a cell-phone tower over twice as tall as the observatory. It was serviced by a ladder and looked climbable. Figuring it would offer twice the view of its older companion, I clambered gingerly over the concertina wire girding this edifice (“surely they don’t mind runners inside”) and made it about fifty feet up before I realized the bitter winds up there were quickly turning my gloved fingers to stone. Frozen in place momentarily, I was suddenly more curious about the proposed link between electromagnetic fields and various cancers; I swore I could hear the conversations of pimps, drug dealers, and their lawyers being transmitted through my fillings and directly into my brain. Wondering what Sir Edmund Hillary would have made of such folly, I slithered back down to earth. It bears mentioning that while I was flailing around on the tower, a vicious house fire attracting firefighters from fourteen towns was raging away no more than four miles from my dubious perch. The fact that I didn’t see the blaze from a point expressly chosen for detecting such disasters categorically eliminated at least one career option. I did put in nineteen miles that day, though.

I do a lot of running near the hospital where I work. Behind the medical center, a network of trails – soon to be replaced, I understand, by acres of pavement and a nursing-home complex – is surrounded on all sides by private lands and homes, offering ample opportunity to explore and trespass. Having lost track of time and my bearings one morning, I was searching for a shortcut back to the hospital, hoping to avoid tardiness, when I saw a pair of hunters, one wielding a bow and the other an ancient-looking musket. I think the average paintballer could have taken out this pair; still I was aghast – this was hospital property, and signs forbidding hunting abound. “Can’t these idiots read? Have they no respect?” I asked myself in disgust, picking my way over a chain-link fence into someone’s back yard. I just made it to work on time.

I had my most remarkable experience along these lines last month, when I decided to do a hill workout on an open slope I discovered after considerable effort. To find it, I had to cross an interstate highway on foot and run about three miles along a set of railroad tracks. To this day, I cannot pinpoint this hill’s location on a map within a mile, but when I saw it I knew it was there just so I could punish myself in style. The slope was grassy, but not slick; it was evenly pitched, with a grade of perhaps fifteen percent, and two hundred meters long. Best of all, I was far enough away from everything and everyone so that no one would hear me puke toward the end of the workout. I don’t mind doing speedwork in public, but hill workouts are private things, the dirty laundry of anyone’s training regimen. There is no grace or dignity in them, even on the finest of days.

Reflecting afterwards, I could not recall any signs indicating that this land was off-limits. Then again, its owner could not have expected anyone without antlers or wings to violate it from the railroad-track angle. Parachuting in would have been easier. Still, the fact that I had to breach a barbed-wire fence in order to access my perfect hill should have been a clue that I had again overstepped my bounds.

Anyway, after my third or fourth trek up the incline, with the effort taxing but not yet brutal, I glimpsed a figure standing as still as a statue, fifty yards beyond the summit and right in my path, toward lands unknown. He stood within a copse of trees, where branch-scattered sunbeams woven among shadows played havoc with my vision and made me wonder if I was imagining things. Disturbed but not truly afraid, I jogged back toward the base of the hill for my next dose.

But after the next repeat he was still there, and he had moved closer. Now I could see that he was wearing grease-stained overalls and holding a pitchfork. But this was no Rockwellian figure; he looked downright foreboding, his lack of an expression heralding something more sinister than simple indifference. My gasping breath caught in my throat, and I again made tracks for the bottom of the hill. But I’d be coming back up again. If this guy wanted to watch, fine. But unless he specifically ordered me away, I was determined to finish the workout.

Repeat number six came in went, fire rushing up and down my throat. At the top, I resolved not to look up this time, but was unable to keep this pledge, and I saw that the man had taken up a position on a nearby berm. He had swapped the pitchfork for a banjo, which he strummed – poorly – for a few seconds before smashing it to smithereens against a birch tree, Pete Townshend-like. I shook my head and lurched down the hill. For the first time, I dwelled on the possibility that oxygen starvation might be responsible for my “spectator.”

After the seventh ascent, a grunting, arm-flailing, knock-kneed affair that bore all the elegance of an epileptic donkey, my presumed landowner was wearing a pilgrim’s hat and a sundress, and was smoking a suspicious-smelling substance out of a gigantic hookah. He also held a sign: “CLIMB AT YOUR OWN RISK.” But I couldn’t – just couldn’t – stop at seven hills. Not with eight on the agenda. Just one more.

My final dash up the hill was a horrific struggle that seemed to leave even my fingernails hungering for air. I ignored the Drano sloshing about my leg veins for what seemed an eternity. At the top, beaten but exalted, I collapsed onto my hands and knees on a carpet of pine needles. Rolling over a moment later, I saw the man looming over me. He had shed his ensemble and wore the greasy overalls again. And a scowl. Unable to do more than suck in great gasps of air, I waited for his tirade to begin.

“Son,” he said, waggling a gouty index finger and fixing me with a baleful stare, “you lengthen the recovery interval between repeats like you’ve been doing, you’ll lose the anaerobic benefit. Keep it steady.” With that, he spat out a tooth, turned and ambled away.

That’s when I knew my visitor was a phantasm.

Still, making my way back to civilization, I was shaken enough to make an inner promise: no more misguided runs into areas I didn’t belong. There’s something to be said for familiarity, the old saw about it breeding contempt notwithstanding. Enough was enough.

I couldn’t help but notice an odd looking sign along the railroad tracks, though, one of those funky black-and-yellow jobbies with the little triangles. Passing by it, I read a single word: “BIOHAZARD.”

Surely what lay beyond was not a place where a runner would be welcome.

But as I sit here safely in front of my keyboard, contemplating my next run, another old saw occurs to me: it never hurts to be sure.

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Have a point, even if I don’t (yet)

Friends can disagree, for the most part amiably, about politics. I would never reconsider maintaining a friendship with someone merely because he or she supports or rejects something related to public policy that I may not; many of these issues are strongly nuanced, and I can hardly claim to have encyclopedic — or in some cases even superficial — knowledge of all things being bandied about the public sphere.

I cannot, however, broker meaningful relationships with genuine wingnuts of any stripe. There’s no objective definition of a wingnut, of course, but if you can’t recognize one at a glance, consider corneal transplants. The classic example is people who base their entire world views on immoral mythical beings. These folks are wingnuts because they are not merely demonstrably wrong about a great many things, but are fiercely dogmatic, which is even worse. Often, but not always, the thought processes of wingnuts are damaged in ways that bleed into their everyday behaviors, leading to dealings that they’re as apt to find as miserable or pointless as you do, unless they’re trying to “save” you. Also, people who expressly go looking for their adversaries are going to find them, and will generally make irritating companions. Racism, sexism, true religious persecution, class warfare and other solecisms are very real and deeply troubling problems, but if you spend your days looking and high and low for them and screaming about them without any trace of offering solutions, you are virtually certain to be spreading unhappiness in your wake. I can’t think of a time when my own life was going really well and I was filling my spare time looking for people to get pissed at — which, of course, isn’t the same as turning a blind eye to injustice and strife.

With a black Democratic president in the White House, most of the more vocal and dissatisfied wingnuts these days are conservatives — or so they say. Most of them consider themselves right-leaning, but for the most part they’re apolitical save for their normative outbursts about guns and illegal immigrants and the Nanny State, and in that main they are grimly, almost parodically uneducated.

This blog post is a superb example. The anonymous clown who wrote this is an idiot, but deserves a smidgen of credit for at least having a goal of some sort: He believes that veterans should have improved access to health care. Never mind that his idea of a zero-sum game in this — a wider range of contraceptive options for women *or* medical care for vets — is a fucking shambles; despite his crippling biases, he seems at least vaguely attuned to the idea that realities beyond simply trying to get under others; skin exist.

Which brings me to my point. I don’t have time to discuss it at the moment, and even if I did this post is becoming unwieldy, but it relates to this: At least learn to recognize a “pure anti” when you see one. There are obvious examples among current and past politicians, but you really ought to recognize when it’s time to just quit listening to someone, and that your heroes on television or on the Internet are nothing more than animated avatars for you to jerk off to.

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Boulder’s unique flavor of unruly citizen

We’ve all dealt with assholes, and I mean the metaphorical sort, not the anatomical aperture. Most of us have, intentionally but often unwittingly, been one at various times. Some parts of the world are unquestionably home to a higher proportion of obnoxious, rude, or just plain dismal people than others, with most of these cities being, in my experience, in the northeastern U.S. It’s sort of the Asshole Belt. I love the big city in whose far outskirts I grew up, but I won’t pretend that Boston, or large swaths of it, isn’t a teeming display of drunken, racist louts who in the main would rather see the Red Sox beat the Yankees than save the life of a randomly selected newborn baby.

Yet the sneering, overt assholism of Boston, along with New York, Philadelphia, the entire New Jersey Turnpike, and many proud communities I’ve omitted for want of an attention span, if nothing else leaves no room for mystery. If a guy reeking of Budweiser and a series of poor life decisions tells you to get the fuck out of his way because he’s late for his flight, you may wish ill on him and hope that either he misses his plane or it crashes into the ocean en route to whatever asshole-peppered destination he hopes to reach, but you won’t scratch your head over why he acted as he did. He’s just one more person who unabashedly takes out the stressful comings and goings of his life on total strangers, and in some ways it’s even easy to root for him, the thing about the plane crash notwithstanding. Read the rest of this entry »

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Victor Stenger’s talk in Boulder about intelligent life

In 2007, I read God: The Failed Hypothesis by a retired physicist named Victor Stenger. I’ve a read a number of books by scientists and public intellectuals describing various ways in which the notion of a Christian creator is absurd, increasingly as as new evidence about the world we live in comes to light; this was the first that treated the idea of God as a testable hypothesis and proceeded to use scientific principles to shoot it down.

Stenger, it turns out, now lives in Boulder and is an adjunct professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado. He gave a talk about the likelihood of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe yesterday, and after the Q-&-A that followed his 25- or 30-minute talk, I’m not sure the “elsewhere” part is necessary. What I didn’t foresee, to my own chagrin, is that this talk wouldn’t be merely a magnet for people who think more or less like Stenger does about the cosmos, including the role of creator deities therein. 

The median age of the crowd of about 30 people had to be 70 or 75, which I didn’t understand. This made everything a little harder to follow because, through no fault of their own, elderly people can’t help but make a lot of noise, knocking coffee cups over and getting up to piss every three minutes and letting fly with inarticulate exclamatory noises at irregular but frequent intervals. 

The talk went on for about 25 minutes and was interesting, though not earth-shattering — the universe is 13.8 billion years old, Hubble has seen out to 13 billion light years and therefore to almost the so-called event horizon, there’s a big chunk of our universe we cannot see directly, and there’s reasonably firm cosmological evidence that there are a staggering number of infinite multiverses in addition to our own, this evidence taking the form of perturbations is the cosmic microwave background discovered in the 1960s and central to much of our understanding about origins (for example, to those who think the Big Bang was “silent,” evidence in the CMB strongly implies otherwise). So, we know that there are maybe a quadrillion planets that could sustain life as we know it out there somewhere, and that Hubble has recently catalogued over 100 planets just in our own corner of the universe. Not all of these are terrestrial, but astrobiologists now believe that a planet doesn’t necessarily need to be “Earth-like” to support life per se. So the chances that intelligent, or sentient, life *does not* exist somewhere seem vanishingly small based on statistics alone, but we have yet to collect any evidence that it does and perhaps never will thanks to the vast distances between planets. 

Little did I know that most in the audience didn’t give a fuck about any of this. They all came in with agendas. The crowd seemed about evenly split between everyday conspiracy nuts who think that aliens are already here or have come and gone and that they could fuck us up at any time, and those who insisted on asking unrelated questions in the area of pseudophysics and metaphysics. For example, one guy asked that since string theory posits the existence of 11 dimensions and we only inhabit four, isn’t it possible that “heaven” lies in on of the other seven? Stenger tried to tell him that even if string theory turns out to be valid, which it probably won’t, it will then follow that in fact we did inhabit all 11 dimensions and that any such “heaven” is by definition beyond the reach of scientific inquiry because it would be supernatural. This only led the guy to repeat the question with greater insistence. This circus of plaintive bullshit and false premises was a theme of the afternoon. It was maddening. One lady said she’d been to China twice and that scientists there knew that we had aliens here in the U.S., so why wasn’t the government letting us see them? Then there was the fellow who asked, all full of senility and hubris, why we were wasting time and money on projects like SETI when there were so many problems to be addressed right here on Earth. I felt like standing up and yelling, “Then why the fuck are you HERE and not back in the soup kitchen, you insufferable prick?”

My one contribution was responding to someone who asked what the closest planet (or star, actually) was that appeared to be a candidate for supporting life. Stenger didn’t remember the name of the star but recalled that it was about 20 light years away. I said that last I knew it was Fomalhaut, a first-magnitude star in Piscis Austrinis (“The Southern Fish”) that is maybe 24 light-years distant. I don’t know if this is still true but it was true a few years ago. Anyway, after this utterance I got up, took a bow, barked “You’re all fucking loopy!” and left the room amid a smattering of appreciative boos and whistles. Or left wishing I had.

Next time I attend a talk that touches even tangentially on the notion of “extraterrestrials,” I’ll be sure to remind myself going in what I should expect.

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