September 2005

Here’s one that ought to stir the pot:  a study shows that
religious belief may detrimentally impact a number of societal
indicators, including murder, STD rates, teen pregnancy and all manner
of other factors.  In short, a country that claims it has God on
its side is probably just messed up.  As reported in the Times Online:

The paper, published in the Journal of Religion and Society,
a US academic journal, reports: “Many Americans agree that their
churchgoing nation is an exceptional, God-blessed, shining city on the
hill that stands as an impressive example for an increasingly sceptical

“In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a
creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early
adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy and abortion in
the prosperous democracies.

“The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developing democracies, sometimes spectacularly so.”

Gregory Paul, the author of the study and a social scientist,
used data from the International Social Survey Programme, Gallup and
other research bodies to reach his conclusions.

He compared social indicators such as murder rates, abortion, suicide and teenage pregnancy.

The study concluded that the US was the world’s only prosperous
democracy where murder rates were still high, and that the least devout
nations were the least dysfunctional. Mr Paul said that rates of
gonorrhoea in adolescents in the US were up to 300 times higher than in
less devout democratic countries. The US also suffered from “ uniquely
high” adolescent and adult syphilis infection rates, and adolescent
abortion rates, the study suggested.

Mr Paul said: “The study shows that England, despite the
social ills it has, is actually performing a good deal better than the
USA in most indicators, even though it is now a much less religious
nation than America.”

Well!  Now, keep in mind that I myself am of a spiritual
bent.  That said, I am no fan of organized religion and I am
especially no fan of the idea that a religion is somehow a cure-all or
an opiate that can keep the populace subdued.  In my view,
spiritual belief should be a challenge, not a band-aid.  Still, I
think it’s only fair to establish that caveat, and admit that I do not
find enjoyable the idea that a belief in Something Up There is actually
bad for society.

So what does this mean for us, here in the US?

If it’s right, it means we’re fucked.  Of course, we already knew that. (more…)

First off, a big ol’ happy (belated) birthday to Mr. Pink Eyes

Second off, an equally proportioned but significantly less belated happy birthday to Mr. Saturday!

My own birthday was Friday, and I am 31, and I love it so far.  The Boyf made me Red Velvet Cake, and I really can’t express how much I love him.

We had a very busy weekend, including a fantastic meal at Bascha‘s. 
Bascha supplied us with a fabulous gumbo and Mr. Pink Eyes brought
cinnamon-swirl cake.  I tried to make a cornbread recipe I
described to Bascha as “ambitious,” and failed utterly.  It lost
all bread-like qualities and came out mush.  Andy was kind enough
to describe it as “corn pone,” and after it had some time to set in a
tupper ware container it actually turned into a very tasty sort of
lumpy corn thing.  Hell, we ate it, whatever it was.

Also, I have another update to Pigs Are Good People, if you’re reading that one.

Finally, KJ has put up a new photoblog and it is awesome.  You must check it. (more…)

For those following the adventures of Whitten and the Tinker Trading Company, there’s a new update over at Pigs Are Good People. (more…)

I just read this entry in the blog of a New Orleansian who got to return to his house the other day.  I’m sitting here at work all vaklempt.  It’s really, really beautiful.

I am such a softy.

At any rate, I continue to be addicted to’s on-the-scene
reporters who are basically just driving around talking to people,
blogs from the area, etc.  All the stuff about how bad FEMA blew
it and/or the governor and/or the mayor doesn’t really interest me, to
be honest.  It doesn’t surprise me that the Bush administration
fucks things up – does it surprise anyone? – and it sure as shit
doesn’t save anyone’s life, at any rate.  I prefer to take my
disaster response coverage in more personal portions.  I’m sure
there are those who consider it ghoulish voyeurism, but I’d much rather
learn the on-the-ground realities of life in that sort of situation by
watching them up-close-and-personal (comfortably mediated by the
interwebs, of course, because I am a fat-ass American who can’t be
bothered by the ugliness of reality) than by watching the Weather
Channel and seeing all this as some sanitized Science Club presentation. (more…)

Lately, a bunch of us have been getting together to watch Twin Peaks at Katastrophes‘ and Mr. Pink Eyes
place.  It’s got to be, if I’m counting right, at least the 7th
time I’ve sat down and watched the whole show in one go.  Angel is
just as much – if not more – of a Twin Peaks junkie than I, and
we recently concurred that it would be entirely acceptable to line up
all 30 or so hours of it and just watch ’em all in one sitting, coffee
in hand, shaking our way to the very end. 

I love Twin Peaks.

KJ introduced me to it years and years ago, right after it was out on VHS.  We rented it from VisArt and watched the pilot* and I was hooked.  More, I demanded.  MORE
So we watched the whole show sitting in the living room at the Hall, a
few hours at a time.  I was fascinated and horrified and amused
and saddened.  When it ended, I freaked.  I just flat freaked
because I wanted moreDamnIt.

The next summer, we watched it with a crowd.  Again, we were at
the Hall.  We would move all the living room furniture out onto
the back deck and set up an outdoor living room and sit there in the
open air and watch it.  We had coffee.  We had
doughnuts.  We could hear owls in the distance.

The next summer we watched it again, with a larger crowd.

The fall after that, I watched it with Josh in my room at the Hall.

I watched it again before graduating.

I watched about half of it last year with The Boyf.

And now, every Monday, we watch two episodes with yet another group of
friends.  Two episodes per week is an achingly slow pace for a
fanatic such as myself.  I find it almost painful not to watch
three, maybe a fourth – maybe, fuck it, we’ll just run out to VisArt right now and rent the next tape and come home and stay up until four in the morning watching the next set of episodes, right?

Last night we watched Episode Fourteen.  For TP geeks,
that’s a monumental occasion.  It’s when we find out who killed
Laura Palmer.  The scene where it’s not just hinted, as it is more
than once in that episode, but really and truly revealed, where you
watch a scene that refuses to let you pretend there’s some other
explanation, is still riveting.  It is still horrifying.  It
is still terrible and tragic and brutal in its absolute rejection of
your desire to look away. 

On viewing number 7 – at least 7 – I am still sad and shaken
when the episode is over, still feel it well up inside me when Donna
breaks into tears at the Roadhouse for no apparent reason, when Bobby
stares at The Old Bellhop in saddened wonder because he can tell,
somehow, that something terrible has happened.  That simple scene,
in which so many people whose lives have crossed only lightly yet
significantly realize that something is so very wrong, always gets to
me.  I’ve waited weeks – months – to find out who killed Laura and
now I know.  There’s a sense of release, of sorrowful
satisfaction, but for all that I’ve learned at that point, all the
certainty with which I know who killed Laura Palmer, I’m left with an
even deeper dread and apprehension than before. 

I don’t know why I’m so drawn to this show – the portrait of small town
life gone horribly wrong, the sort of weird-ass
somewhere-up-the-mountain characters of the show who, in some cases,
remind me very much of real people from my own small hometown, the
show’s calm acceptance of the darkness that lurks beneath the town’s
picture-perfect surface.  Were I inclined to criticize the show, I
would do so by saying it’s what would happen if HP Lovecraft had
written a Sweet Valley High novel, but then, I would read just such a book. 

I used to say that Horse Shoe was just like Twin Peaks only without all
the murder.  That’s an exaggeration – Horse Shoe is neither as odd
as Twin Peaks nor as free of murder as that makes it sound – but it
still works.  Maybe I’m just pretending it applies, and that’s
fine, but when I watch Twin Peaks I think a lot of my ongoing
fascination with it is, ultimately, its sense of the town of Twin Peaks
holding the world at arm’s length and how that preserves both its
innocence and its shadows, of the smallness of a small town inverting
the heirarchies of what’s important and what’s not, the sense that
while the rest of civilization may be just the other side of the next
ridge, just a few miles, a few minutes, just right over there, that the world is somehow very, very far away.

* has the pilot listed for an absurd $49.99.  Now, this is the true pilot,
without the wacky-ass add-on at the end that has nothing to do with the
actual show and serves only to confuse first-time viewers. 
However, you should be able to find it elsewhere for its more normal
$10 or $15.  The first season can be found as a DVD box-set for a very reasonable price and the 2nd season can still be found on VHS. (more…)

I’ve had two very strange and very vivid dreams recently.

The first, and shortest, is that Bruce molted.  Yes, that
he shed his skin.  Imagine Bruce taking off a fur coat that looks
just like his own fur and being exactly normal underneath.  No
weird, hairless Bruce, nothing odd at all except that he was shedding
an old skin.  Some of the Dream People, a recurring cast of people
I don’t know in reality but who continually reappear in my dreams and
are remarkably consistent from one to another, were trying to help him
get his old skin off.

“What are you doing to him?” I demanded.
“We’re helping him molt,” one said.
“Cats don’t molt.  Cut that shit out!”  I remember bellowing this, and then waking.

The second dream was that I was sometimes watching and sometimes starring in a new George Romero movie.  This one wasn’t about zombies, it was about aliens, though it turned out the aliens were zombies. 
I remember wondering who on earth would be surprised by this turn of
events, but hey.  The aliens looked mostly normal, but upon
achieving their zombie form they retained their intelligence – a
malicious one, at that – and became oddly mottled.  There was a
big press gala being thrown to announce this fact, as though the terror
could be cushioned by some razzle dazzle.  I was in the crowd,
observing, and the scientists hosting the to-do announced they had a
second discovery:  a perfectly preserved ape-man found entirely
intact with none of the mummification-of-nature effects common to
ancient corpses.  They unveiled a sort of stretched-out gorilla,
face-down, limbs still locked in an attitude of fear and escape, the
creature apparently having been in the middle of trying to run away
from something when it was knocked, dead, to the ground, it’s legs
still kicking, its left arm outstretched as though it were trying to
pull itself up or along something. 

I could tell, in the dream, that unveiling this thing was somehow a bad
idea.  Sure enough, it slowly animated, standing to its full
height and grinning at us – I knew that grin from the zombie aliens –
but then it donned a pair of dark sunglasses and started to do a comedy
routine.  The crowd thought this was hilarious but it had a huge,
bony protrusion on its back rather like an elaborate Egyptian headdress
and I remember thinking, Don’t they recognize that as an alien insignia of rank
The gorilla distracted the crowd with a few jokes that were, I remember
thinking with regret, genuinely funny, while in the back of the crowd
the alien zombies started to bite people.  This particular variant
of zombism was fast-acting, and within minutes the whole crowd had
started screaming and panicking as people all around them started to
turn instantly into undead brain-munchers. 

The scientists were in on it, it turned out, and they tried to keep the
crowd calm by making them/us form an all-woodwinds (flutes, clarinets,
oboes, saxaphones) orchestra and rehearse a complicated but relaxing
little piece of music, but one of the Dream People (they were, of
course, in the crowd with me) and I managed to make an escape into an
elevator.  There, we realized that in the time we had stupidly
stood around practicing this song the whole world had been turned into
zombies, the alien zombies now the intelligent masters of their human
victims, and that we were well and truly fucked. (more…)

This is tremendously awesome news
a joint session of the Massacheusetts legislature overwhelmingly voted
NOT to put on the ballot a constitutional amendment that would have
banned gay marriages already legal for over a year:

After less than two hours of debate, a joint session of the House and Senate voted 157-39 against the measure.

157-39 is not exactly a slim margin of victory.  This is awesome.  This is the best news I have heard in weeks
The best part is that marriages – couples who already have licenses and
protections in hand – are preserved by this action.  The second
best part is that so many lawmakers’ minds have been changed by
experience and a little common sense in the year since this initiative
was originally approved.  An example:

“Gay marriage has begun, and life has not changed for the citizens of
the commonwealth, with the exception of those who can now marry,” said
state Sen. Brian Lees, a Republican who had been a co-sponsor of the

6,100 couples’ lives were just affirmed and protected, and someone who
was opposed to it made that final, vital leap:  this doesn’t
change his life, but it does change many people’s lives for the better to grant them equality.  Yes. (more…)

Who wants to bet that title’s going to generate some interesting referrer links?

Anyway, The Boyf and I went to the NC Zoo in Asheboro, just a little stretch down US 64 from here.  We were there with Katastrophes, Mr. Pink Eyes, Bascha, Kath and Pants Wilder to celebrate Mr. Pink Eyes birthday.  Woot!

I took a bunch of pictures. (more…)

For anyone who has seen American Astronaut, offers this:

Ceres has long been considered one of the tens
of thousands of asteroids that make up the asteroid belt between Mars
and Jupiter. At 580 miles (930 km) in diameter — about the size of
Texas — it’s the largest asteroid in the belt, accounting for about 25
percent of the belt’s total mass.

Astronomers had thought Ceres might never have been heated enough to create layers of material.

computer models now suggest Ceres has a differentiated interior — dense
material in the core and lighter stuff near the surface. Possible
configurations include a mantle rich in water ice around a rocky core.

this mantle is composed of at least 25 percent water, Ceres would have
more fresh water than Earth, according to a statement released by the
Space Telescope Science Institute, which operates Hubble for NASA and
the European Space Agency.

So now we know:  they can open a bar there.  Rock.


I’m afraid that, to counter ongoing comment-spam, I have enabled the
“spamquiz” feature of Pivot Blacklist.  In short, to comment, you
must input the correct answer to a short question when
commenting.  This, in the words of Pivot Blacklist, “baffles”
spambots.  My question to you is, is this a pain in the
tuckus?  Should I turn it off?  KJ
was beaten by it once yesterday (the answer is “manly” by the way), and
I don’t want to make people hate me for having added something to the
comment process.  If you’ve been beaten by this, just drop me a
line at:

robustmcmanlypants (at) nc (dot) rr (dot) com
michael (at) metalab (dot) unc (dot) edu

I would also gladly entertain suggests of more obvious questions to post.

I’ve also decided to use the .htaccess generator in Blacklist to
populate some rules that simply disallow any access to the site at all if referred from a domain that includes any of a selection of obvious spam-words.  To demonstrate my own cluelessness, I nearly asked in this post that anyone who couldn’t get to the site at all just email me, as well.  At least the problem with doing so, once I started to type it, became obvious before I was done. (more…)

So, it’s early September, and that means it’s time to start looking towards November.  Oh yes, another National Novel Writing Month is upon us, and I need to decide what I’m going to write.  Here’s the deal – I have three things I want to write.

First up, there’s the buddy-sleuth story about two minor characters from my first NaNo
They’re a cop and a reporter, and I think they stumble into some sort
of supernatural mystery, likely involving ghosts and spectres and other
sorts of restless dead.  I dunno.  I really like the
characters, but I just can’t decide.  It doesn’t need a
supernatural touch, but I would find it fun.

Second, there’s a direct sequel to last year’s NaNo,
which would be about an industrial spy and his videosex-operator shaman
boyfriend chasing religious fundamentalists around the Moon, vying for
control of the world’s first (and entirely accidental) artificial

Third, there’s the ______ Detective Agency.  Yes, my fellow Scourge of Nibelheimers,
I am considering that:  a novel of our detective agency.  For
those not in the know, take the Bloodhound Gang from 3, 2, 1 Contact
and set it in Terry Pratchett’s Ankh-Morpork, if you want a rough
equivalent.  Sam Spade meets Tolkien meets Douglas Adams, if you
want another “pitch” for the idea.  It really appeals to me, but
it involves other people’s characters, and that feels like
stealing.  It would be about how they met and solved their first
big case, and I’m afraid it would borrow rather liberally from other

Regardless, you see what I’m stuck on:  the whodunnit/suspense
story, preferably in “buddy” format.  I don’t know why. 
Those sorts of stories appeal greatly to me, and being almost halfway
through another complete viewing of Twin Peaks has left me hungry for more mystery.  I just can’t decide what I want to do.  I like them all. 

I think the sequel to Shell Access (last year’s book) is a
potentially bad idea, as it wouldn’t present anything in the way of a
shift in creative energy, but I really like Charles and I really like
Ernesto despite my abortive attempt at writing a follow-up in the
spring.  I really like the first idea because Diane and Citizen-Times
(her name is LaVonde, but I never said so in the actual book) as
mystery-solving lovers just appeals to me somehow, and given they had
so very little screen-time in Life, Liberty And… then it
would be something fresh and different compared to the rest of that
book.  The third idea appeals to me because I really, really like
our characters for that game (an occasional fill-in when we can’t get
our game on proper with the full complement of Magnificent Seven,
our regular party) and I really dig the atmosphere of a medieval
fantasy city with touches of the modern, sort of Steampunk without the
steam.  Steelpunk?  I have no idea what to call it. 

Anyway, yeah.  I like all of them.  I have no capacity to
decide, as of yet.  I just need to get it over with and roll some
dice or flip a series of coins or play Rock, Paper, Scissors or something. (more…)

The subject says it all, really:  a new entry up at Pigs Are Good People.  Woot! (more…)

Yesterday I mentioned that folks should check whether their employers are matching any donations, such as those to the Red Cross.  Today I read that the Humane Society of the United States has emergency teams working to locate and rescue
abandoned or separated pets, captive wildlife, zoo animals, farm
animals and strays to try to get them to safety and provide them with
food, water and medical attention, as well as reunite them with
families or find them new families if that proves impossible. 
They are also among those trying to make arrangements at pet shelters
for the refugees turning up in Houston with their pets in tow (the
Astrodome is understandably disallowing pets inside).  The work
they’re doing is very important – they’re working to rescue companion
animals for the sensory-impaired, farm animals
that represent massive potential losses to local economies, not only
pets like yours and mine.  They’re also trying to identify and
relocate dangerous wildlife abruptly relocated to populated areas by
the storm.  If you want to donate to the HSUS Disaster Relief
Fund, you can do so at (more…)

The interwebs are filled with information about Katrina, and Bascha
links to a fascinating National Geographic article speculating exactly
the current situation.  It’s a fascinating read, and highly

I will note, however, that the American Red Cross
has a link to donate specifically to Katrina relief efforts.  I
bring this up only to remind folks that it’s entirely possible your
employers match donations – mine does, anyway.  For anything $25
or over that’s donated, my company will match it
dollar-for-dollar.  I recommend asking your management or HR folks
if your company does something similar.  In my company’s case,
after we’ve donated we have to “register” that donation with the
company so that they know what to match, and odds are your own place,
if they’re matching donations, has a system of their own.  If
you’re planning to donate, it’s well worth checking out. (more…)