Saturday, July 19, 2014

Tour de France / Death Race 2000

Idiotic spectators impeding the riders have always been a problem at the Tour de France. The attitude of these idiots generally seems to be: Look at me! Look at me! when naturally nobody is there to look at them, it's about the riders. In case this Look at me! - attitude might have been hard to perceive, many of these idiots make it more obvious by waving enormous flags in the riders' face and/or by dressing up in grotesque costumes.

And of course by standing or running in the middle of the course during a bicycle race, which is what brought me here today. I'm not the first to suggest that these jokers should be kept from the race course. These days the final 2 kilometers or so of each stage tend to feature barricades on both sides of the course -- but the idiots lean way over the barricades into the paths of the riders, and still wave those huge flags in the riders' faces, and sometimes go over or around the barricades and into the race course. You really need 2 rows of barricades, far enough apart that it's impossible to reach the mightiest giant flag over the outer barricade, and then over the inner barricade, and into the face of someone working very hard at something he has trained very hard his whole life to do, and is doing it for great stakes and, sorry, you idiot, doesn't want to look at you or your flag or your costume right now.

Having stay-off-the-course-you-idiots laws, and enforcing them strictly, also might improve race conditions, but they would also cause a huge uproar. Idiots would rise up in indignant solidarity. French idiots would claim that the standing-or-running-in-the-middle-of-the-course-thing is a French thing which I do not understand because I'm a crude fat American pig who only loves cheeseburgers, and that it has to do with freedom and the Bastille and that the riders love it.

I'm sure that most French people are not idiots and are embarrassed by the idiots impeding the Tour de France riders, and doubly so by the French idiots would impede riders and claim it is a French thing. And of course it is by no means a French thing: idiots flock to the Tour de France from all over the world in order to get in the way and force people to look at them. (Maybe idiots, generally speaking, feel neglected and ignored. Hm.)

And this year, I gather, a bad situation has become worse because of fans leaping into the course in order to take selfies with the riders.

I don't think that selfies are entirely useless. I believe that, just like leisure suits beginning in the 1970's and mullets in the 80's, selfies will aid future historians in determining who the real idiots of our era were.

But in the meantime riders have been colliding with fans in the Tour de France since its inception, and the collisions have grown in numbers over the decades, and now there's these Tour de France selfies, and so, with apologies to those future historians, I propose that the Tour de France be combined with aspects of Death Race 2000,



a 1975 Roger Croman movie starring David Carradine and Mary Woronov, about a cross-country auto race in which the drivers are awarded points for hitting pedestrians. Not to be confused with 2008's Death Race



with Jason Statham and Joan Allen, not a bad movie, but significantly different than the original in that its race is held inside a prison, and the deaths are those of the racers as they destroy each other for the delight of a sadistic pay-per-view audience and the profit of Allen, the yummy, evil warden. I'm inspired here by the pedestrian kills of the 1975 flick. In this improved version of the Tour de France, riders would be awarded points for colliding with fans. These points would amount to time being subtracted from their Tour totals, bringing them closer to victory. So and so many points would be awarded for striking a fan, so many for seriously injuring a fan, so many for killing one outright, so many for striking a fan waving an enormous fan, so many for one in costume, so many for one attempting to take a selfie and so forth, you get the idea.

I submit that these rule changes would greatly alter the nature of the Tour. It's also possible -- very unlikely, of course, but possible -- that they would cause some idiots somewhere to stop and think about who they are and what they do. And wouldn't that be a miracle.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

(Review Of Why I Am An Atheist Who Believes In God By Frank Schaeffer) I Wonder Whether There's A Precedent For This Willy-nilly Re-Definition Of Terms:

-- "spiritual but not religious." "Followers of Christ but not Christians." "Jumbo shrimp." (Just kidding about about the term "jumbo shrimp;" it doesn't belong in this discussion because if the shrimp in question are unusually large, the term actually makes some sense.) And Now: The Amazing Story Of Frank Schaeffer, The Atheist Who Believed In God!



If it were not already quite enough that Schaeffer claims to be simultaneously a believer and an atheist -- oh, but it is, it is -- in this book Schaeffer claims never to have met an atheist nor a believer. Nonsense is one thing. Inconsistent nonsense is quite another, and writing "or" when "nor" is correct -- strike three, siddown, Schaeffer!

Just as there was a serviceable existing description of SBNR's etc -- they're Protestants -- so also is there a term for what Schaeffer is talking about in the title of his goofy new book: he's a Christian who has crises of faith now and then. If he had them a lot he might actually wake up someday and become a nice sensible atheist, but we really shouldn't hold our breath in Frank's case.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Change In Plans For Because of Mistakes!

As some of you may have noticed, after posting a portion of my novel Because of Mistakes! on this blog almost every day, I have posted nothing at all for several weeks. I must apologize to those expecting to be able to read the entire novel on the blog. It had been my intent originally to post the entire book on the blog, but for various reasons which I can't go into here, that plan has been changed.

I completed two novels before starting to write Because of Mistakes! The first of those novels is entitled Salvation, and it is my hope that it will be published in conventional book form (and also Kindle) soon. How soon, I can't say. But I will announce its publication here, and also, hopefully, the publication of other books written by me.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Because Of Mistakes! pt 19

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7 Part 8 Part 9 Part 10 Part 11 Part 12 Part 13 Part 14 Part 15 Part 16 Part 17 Part 18

The following Sunday, the 10th of June, at about 1:43 PM, Spilman was with Ted in the Green Park, the two of them just relaxing and enjoying a beautiful rare sunny day, when Spilman saw the two men who'd chased him Tuesday night and a couple of nights since. People who'd spent the morning in church were strutting their fine church duds; people who'd been drinking the night before had mostly recovered from their hangovers; people such as Spilman and Ted who'd done neither had been soaking in the beautiful weather since early that morning; and now those two clowns appeared on a bench a hundred yards away or so, clearly watching Spilman and pretending not to, like a very sour note in the lovely symphony which this afternoon had been. Not entirely unexpected sour notes, though. Since Tuesday night Spilman had been enjoying Ted's company more often than usual. Charlie wasn't with them today. He and Latham and many other autistics found the bright sunlight much more harsh than delightful, and were staying indoors. It was the first time since Tuesday Spilman and Ted'd been out together without Charlie; it was the first time Spilman had seen the two heavies in the daytime, the first time he had seen them while Ted was near, and the first time he saw them and felt no need to run. He slapped Ted's knee, nodded in their direction and said, "That's them."

"The two fellows who've been bovering you?"

"Hm-mm."

"Oy. You do mean the two jokers wif matching hats and -- "

"Yes, and matching jackets, and, uh..."

"Yeah, entire matching outfits, they dress in matching outfits a lot."

"You know them?"

"Oy."

"Two of us?"

"Oy, I am very sad to say. I mean, look at them. Is there anything in the world more conspicuous than matching outfits on large grown men? I imagine they were wearing matching outfits too the other times they was chasing you?"

"Yes."

"Disgraceful. Just what you want when you're trying to sneak up on somebody: look like a cricket team. I thought we had some standards. I mean, we don't trust Charlie wif any political business -- you know what I mean. I love the sod, but -- "

" -- Yes, I know exactly what you mean, Charlie's got no sense of what needs to be secret, so we can't trust him with any of our many secrets. It's nothing against him, he's just different. What are they, brothers? I'm simply trying to understand the matching outfits."

"Nah."

"Lovers, perhaps?"

"Uhhh... Hah. Hadn't thought of that. No, I don't think so. I think they're just mates, and more than a bit thick. Some pairs of eight-year-old boys'll dress alike, given the opportunity. If they're not particularly bright eight-year-old boys. These two donkeys shouldn't be entrusted with secrets any more than Charlie -- in my opinion. Others clearly see if differently -- and neither one a them ever fixed a watch or a sparrow's nest. Oy!" Ted shouted. His voice boomed and echoed and many people startled, including the two identically-dressed men on the other bench watching them and pretending not to. "Yes, we can see you just fine, can ya see us awright?" They gestured frantically for Ted to be quiet. "What's that? Lower? Awright!" Ted shouted, then shifted from his natural booming baritone to an even more penetrating, deafening false basso profundo, and shouted, "I said we can see you just fine from over here, can you see us awright!" He shifted back to his natural voice and shouted, "Come on over then, we got some stuff to diiscuss, the four of us. No? You don't want to come over? Fine. I'll ask you anyway: why've you two idiots been trying to kill my friend?!" Gasps and half-shrieks were audible from bystanders, and the two in matching Sunday finery were scurrying over to where Ted and Spilman sat.

When they were near Ted snarled, "Siddown," and nodded down at the bench he and Spilman were occupying. It was not a large bench, Ted was sitting at one end, one of the large smashed-faced fellows brushed against Spilman as he sat down, but this time Spilman didn't feel the slightest bit alarmed. "Two on two now," Ted said, "fair fight. Wanna give it a go now? No? Then tell me just what in the sodding Hell has gotten into the two of you. Oh, by the way, don't wear matching outfits when you want to sneak up on somebody. We both agree, it's about as conspicuous as can be. But you were about to explain yourselves."

"E's not yr friend, Ted."

"E is, for a number of years now, and a good and trustworthy soul."

"Bollocks!" said the one of them who'd been talking, the one seated next to Spilman, and he pulled on Spilman's watch chain, pulled the Waltham 1883 out of Spilman's vest pocket, shook it at Ted and demanded, "What do you say to that?!" Spilman took this quite calmly.

Ted replied, "I say you should leave talking in riddles to people much more clever than you."

The man shoved the watch back into Spilman's pocket and asked, "Ya remember Smif? Dark-haired fellow, bit of a weight problem, worked as a clerk over at Parliament, liked to dress a bit flashy, liked to drink a bit of whisky, liked the ladies maybe even a bit more than most -- "

"Yeah yeah I know the guy, but why are you asking me whether I 'remember' him? Somefing happen to him?"

"Ask your 'friend.'"

"What'd I just finish tellin' you about talking in riddles?"

"Nobody I know has seen Smif since about a month ago when some coppers chased im through Waterloo Station."

"That big ruckus in Waterloo Station was over Smif?"

"Yeah."

"Dint know it was Smif they was chasin."

"It was Smif. Chased im but dint catch im. Minutes after that, Inspector Raymond's on the case, lookin round the station. You know Raymond."

"All four of us know Raymond."

The man paused, it really seemed as if he needed a while to count how many of them there were on the bench. Spilman and Ted exchanged a glance, Ted with his palms raised in entreaty toward Heaven. The man continued, "Apparently Raymond was trying to find Smif before someone else did and help him disappear. But it seems someone else found poor Smif first."

"Bill, I swear by our dear beloved semi-reactionary Queen, if I have to tell you one more time about talking in riddles."

"The last time anybody saw Smif he was wearing that watch." Bill poked the Waltham 1883 in Spilman's pocket several times.

"Don't touch him again."

"E was wearing that watch," Bill said. "And your 'friend' ere, the high and mighty Mr Spilman, who acts and talks like a gentleman but is just as much a dirty Cockney as you or me, started wearin Smif's watch the day Smif disappeared."

"Bill, to call you a sodding moron would be an insult to sodding morons everywhere. That's not Smif's watch. Charlie Evans just happened to be on the platform when Smif was chased through it."

"The famous idiot."

"Bill, I swear to God, I will kill you just for exercise, and then I'll kill your only friend George just for spite. Shut up now. Spilman here is my friend. Charlie is too. And you're a famous idiot. Charlie's daffy about watches. Can spot one a hundred yards away in the dark for half a second and tell you the brand and model. E saw Smif's watch. My other good friend Albert Latham -- "

"Yeah, the, uh... Charlie Evans works for the Lathams now," George piped up. "They make those posh watches."

"I have worked for the Lathams for a long time, Albert Latham is my boss and also my very good friend. I swear to Christ, shut up, the pair of ya, shut up and listen for once in yr lives, ya... The police called Latham in to talk to Charlie about Smif's watch. That's how Latham met Charlie. Latham brought several watches like the one Smif was wearing, so that Charlie could point out the one looked most like it. He gave that one to the police, and he still had the others in is pocket when he happened to meet Spilman ere later the same day, who happened to be looking for a decent watch, and so Latham gave im..." Now Ted pulled the Waltham out of Spilman's pocket by its chain "...this one. I didn't know Smith'd gotten into trouble."

"I had no idea the man they were looking for there was one of us, was your friend," Spilman said to Bill and George. "I'm sorry."

"Fanks," Bill said. "Sorry about trying to arm you. Bit of a fuck-up there, no doubt."

"Oh, please don't give it another thought," Spilman replied, "it could've happened to anyone."

"Fanks," Bill said, and George nodded his wide-eyed thanks. Neither gave the slightest sign of having detected the sarcasm in Spilman's reassurance.

"I'm sorry about Smif too," Ted said. "I hope he's awright. Good that Raymond was on the case so quickly, I'm sure that gave Smif a better chance. But look, the two of ya. This is a perfect example of why you should talk to other people and get their advice first, before you go off on your own and try to settle things. Was anybody else at all aware of your plans to do Spilman in?"

The two of them were staring at the ground, they couldn't meet Ted's gaze. Bill just shook his head.

"Well I'm not surprised. I'm very disappointed in the two of ya, but I'm not surprised. Did ya learn somethin here? Please tell me ya learned something."

"Ahh," Bill said, and cleared his throat, and said, "talk to somebody first," still staring shamefacedly at the ground.

"Oy. Very good. Now sod off and let me and me friend enjoy this lovely afternoon."

They mumbled several more "sorry"s and shambled off. For a long time Spilman shifted his gaze back and forth between Bill and George walking away, and Ted watching them retreat with his lower jaw thrust out in annoyance. Finally Ted said, "They aven't learned a fucking thing. They never learn anything. They're a perfect example of good intentions paving the road to Ell. What donkey ever initiated them to be two of us?"

"I had no idea that man with all the coppers chasing him through Waterloo Station was a friend of yours. It made the papers: a mysterious chase, and none of the police would talk about it."

"Yeah. Yeah. I had no idea it was Smif. Poor sod, hope he's okay now. More of just an acquaintance to me. Bit of a silly fucker, the way he dandied up like a peacock. For the ladies, just as Bill said. I think maybe the ladies would've liked him more if he'd worried less about is clothes and done a few sit-ups now and then instead. Eh. That depends on which ladies it is, I suppose. Maybe Smif was actually onto something."

"So why was he in trouble?"

"Sod me if I know. Fucked a big shot's wife or daughter, maybe? I've no idea."

"Huh."

"What is it?" Ted asked.

"Raymond's been behaving very strangely lately."

"Yeah, I've noticed that too. So what?"

"Mm... I don't know what. Seems like I had half a clue about something there for a second, and then I lost it again."

"Well, if it's important, chances are it'll come to you again. Sometimes you figure something out as soon as you stop trying to, know what I mean? Tell you what, Spilman, whyn't we have a beer to celebrate your aving cheated yet another completely senseless death."

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Christian Canonization And Ancient Roman Deification

There's been a lot of discussion lately of Christian borrowings of pagan symbols, holidays, institutions, concepts, etc -- some of it interesting and actually informative, a lot of just one more tired, uninteresting, juvenile, inaccurate New Atheist game of "gotcha!" wherein the players, who would much rather score points than be right, take a kernel of scholarly information and carry it far, far into Absurdistan -- and of course there's also been a lot of discussion of today's canonization of John XXIII and John Paul II, but it wasn't until this morning that I started to wonder how many similarities there might be between ancient Roman deification and Christian beatification.

First, let me reassure those of you who are sensible enough to have been disenchanted by New Atheist ravings -- and surely there are a lot of us -- that, although they never miss a chance to blow something out of proportion, there actually are many pagan holdovers in Christianity. For example and apropos of today, when two Popes are being canonized, the title pontifex maximus, which means "great bridge-builder," was applied to a Roman religious official long before Christianity existed, so long that we cannot say when it originated, its origins fading into the mists of fable. The Tiber river winds through the ancient part of Rome and also provided a crucial defensive barrier outside the city, so it's not so odd that the office of bridge-builder came to be seen as sacred. Yeah, so anyway, Christians didn't invent the title of Pontiff, which was held by many prominent Romans including Julius Caesar and almost all of the Western Emperors until Theodosius the Great, who ruled from 379 to 395, transferred the title to the Bishop of Rome. Which means that I've been talking a bunch of nonsense when I've been telling people that the Roman Pontiff didn't attend the Council of Nicea, because the Bishop of Rome wasn't yet the Pontiff. Constantine, who was Emperor of both the Eastern and the Western Empire when the Council took place in 325, was the Pontiff. (I've also been wrong when I've told them that the Pope wasn't there, because the title "Pope" didn't yet refer exclusively to the Bishop of Rome. But the bishop of Roman wasn't there, and he wasn't thick as thieves with the man who moved the capital 1000 miles away from his diocese.)

It strikes me that monotheism and polytheism may not be as entirely different form each other as they sometimes seem, especially when we consider angels and demons and saints. Do they not play roles in monotheism similar to those of gods in polytheism? The similarity is particularly striking today: two Pontiffs are being canonized. In pagan Rome, many Emperors, who were also Pontiffs, were deified upon their deaths.

It's difficult to research this, the search being cluttered not only by hate-filled New Atheists yelling Aha! Gotcha! They stole it all! but also by hate-filled Protestants making the equation Catholic=idolators and pagans=Satan=pure evil. A pox on both of those houses, and a hearty welcome to everyone who wants to learn and not hate. I don't share one bit of the religious fervor of many Catholics about this day, but I feel much closer to them than to all the stupid raving haters.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Because Of Mistakes! pt 18

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7 Part 8 Part 9 Part 10 Part 11 Part 12 Part 13 Part 14 Part 15 Part 16 Part 17

At about 3 minutes before midnight the following Tuesday, the 5th of June, Spilman was wearing the watch Latham had given him early in May. Spilman hadn't reset the watch since Latham had given it to him, and it was currently about 40 seconds fast. Which meant that Spilman didn't know how accurately it was running. All he knew is that it was within 2 or 3 minutes of spot on, without his having adjusted it for a month, and that that was amazing by his standards, and that Latham was a genius whom he was very fortunate to know. And that Latham shared the same condition with Charlie, although he'd been able to hide it from everyone but some of his family and a Swiss doctor with whom he corresponded about it. Latham insisted upon referring to what he and Charlie had as a condition, and was quite distressed, Spilman could tell, whenever anyone referred to it as a disorder. Apparently Charlie's abilities in some ways quite dwarfed Latham's which, in Spilman's view, certainly bolstered Latham's case for not thinking of it as a disorder. Latham also referred to it as a mutation. Although the term held some horror for the uninitiated general public, Latham assured Spilman that mutation could be either good or bad -- although that itself was a subjective call -- and that if it had not been for mutations we would all still be one-celled organisms living primarily upon our own excrement, if, that is, life had ever begun at all.

With some effort Spilman refocused his attention upon the task at hand: interviewing the butler of a Tory MP who for years had been spying as much as he possibly could upon his master, for the sake of their friends. The interview was pretty much wound up, Spilman had filled quite a few notebook pages -- how had he ever lived before Freddie had started giving him these posh notebooks and pens? So many cleverly-made things in this world, kept -- for the most part -- so greedily by a few away from the many, so that most people really didn't even know what they were missing.

The butler had himself made a few notes, to which he'd referred while briefing Spilman. "Okay," Spilman said, and pointed at the butler's little pile of scraps of paper," "I'll have those, too."

"Oh," the butler said, "why?"

"Why?" Spilman replied. "Why do you want to keep them? As souvenirs, perhaps?" The butler said nothing and merely looked nonplussed. "I'm going to take them from you because they're very dangerous to you, for one thing. I'm going to go through them once to check against my own notes, and then I'm going to destroy them." He took the pile and stuffed them into the convenient pocket at the back of the notebook, one of the countless things, pockets like these in notebooks, which the rich took for granted and the poor knew nothing about. "And if I'm in danger of being apprehended myself, I'll throw this whole lot away," he said, holding up the notebook, "Even though I've worked very hard for weeks to get it two-thirds full of notes or so, because this is all very dangerous. Perhaps, if we and people like us are very successful, in a couple of decades we'll be able to keep souvenirs of our work and write our memoirs and be hailed as heroes. For the nonce we're still criminals."

"Are you actually in danger of being apprehended?" the butler asked as they stepped into the alley from the room, attached to a warehouse in Lambeth, which they and their friends occasionally met in when they wanted privacy. The butler had a key to the place; he locked up behind them.

"One never knows. Oh, I'm so sorry, I almost forgot." Spilman handed a page torn from the notebook to the butler, with the name and address of a physician on it. "The man I mentioned. Take that boy from your household to him. My mind's all over the place. If it is pneumonia, God forbid, this man can help the child."

"Thank you. Thank you very much."

"Of course. Whatever are we here for if not for children like him? Just dress the tyke up like a little scion of our betters, and keep him from speaking, and I think you'll have no trouble passing yourselves off as a gentleman and his son. That'll get you past his receptionist and into his examining room, and then you can both be who you are. Don't worry about his nurse, the man's also one of us. And of course there'll be no charge."

"I say, I'm not a pauper, I can pay to visit a doctor."

"I swear to God, my friend," Spilman exclaimed, "for someone dedicated to breaking society's shackles you never seem to pass up an opportunity to lock yourself in them."

"I want to do my part."

"You do your part and several other people's. You work in a fine house, it's true, and get some fine scraps thrown your way, but all you have as your own is a nasty little room. This doctor has a very large house not far from where you work. He wants to do his part as well. Let him."

As he walked back home Spilman did his very best to look in all directions all the time without appearing to and to keep his ears sharp. He hadn't wanted to let it show to his friend, but as a matter of fact, he was a little more anxious than usual about being waylayed, and searched, and maybe killed. Earlier that evening he'd just seen a pair of thugs coming at him, seen them just soon enough to be able to run away. They'd both been very big, both had fit bodies and smashed-up faces. Boxers, or maybe just fighters away from the realm of sport. Spilman was not an exceptional fighter but he was a positively extraordinary runner. After about a mile the two men had given up, and one of them had yelled after him, "That's it, you rat fucker, keep running. We know where you live."

"So do a lot of my friends," Spilman shouted back.

"You don't ave as many friends as you think!" the voice had retorted as it receded in the dark: they'd stopped running, Spilman hadn't yet. At the time he hadn't thought much of the man's remarks, thinking it was only talk. If talking decided fights, a great many fights would've turned out entirely differently. At first he'd thought the man had called him a rat only to signify that Spilman was a small and loathesome creature. But then it occurred to him that "rat" was a piece of American slang, which had begun to cross the Atlantic, for "traitor." Saying he was a traitor would match up with saying that some people were no longer his friends. Of course, doing what he did, there was always going to be a certain amount of confusion among a certain number of people about what exactly he was up to and whose side he was on. And he had been running away from people threatening him harm on a regular basis since he'd been a small fleet-footed boy. Still, he couldn't entirely shake the thought that perhaps something unusually bad had happened, that some of his friends actually did think he'd betrayed them somehow, that perhaps they'd even sent those men to injure or even kill him, all because of some misunderstanding, or maybe because of a lie from an actual traitor. Spilman told himself not to be silly, not to scare himself for no reason. But he couldn't quite shake it. A chill had settled into him.