Thursday, July 31, 2008

28 Tammuz 5768: The Three Weeks


Worthy causes of the day: “Promote Human Rights in China”, “Don’t let Bush veto our kids’ safety!”, “Take Action: Tell the Senate to Protect Sharks Too!”, “Tell Congress: Reject Endless War and a Torture Cover-Up”, and “Keep U.S. Waters Safe and Clean!”.

Relevant to Divine Misconceptions: “Shas against women”. This gives a good example of a priority violation. Yes, anyone who is sane and decent is all for making marriages work, but one has to keep in mind that in cases of abuse the chances of this happening are slim to none and that the safety, both physical and mental, of human beings takes precedence.

Today’s news and commentary:Today’s H. P. Lovecraft story, in lieu of a weird thing due to the Three Weeks, is “At the Mountains of Madness”.


Theological review of “At the Mountains of Madness”:

This is a story within a story, the outer story being of Antarctic explorers who explore a city of Elder Things, and the inner story is that of the Elder Things themselves.

To his credit, H. P. Lovecraft focuses the emotional manipulation of the inner story on pathos rather than horror, as a result producing something akin to The Last and First Men and The Star-Maker. The Elder Things (see the link above for a picture, because there is no way to describe them as other than “freaky” unless one wants this review to drag on endlessly) colonized Earth hundreds of millions of years before humanity, built a lot of cities, did a lot of biotechnological manipulations, competed with Cthulhu and company and another species known as the “Mi-Go”, and went into decline, eventually going extinct at the hands of climate change and the Shoggoths, creatures they created which can take any shape. The outer story, however, is a low-plot wonder, with the explorers so entranced by the ruins they find, deciphering the inner story encoded in art, that they do not have the sense to immediately run (or rather fly their airplane) away from the dangerous Shoggoth wandering around after it kills some of the human and canine members of their party. The quality of both stories is marred by Lovecraft’s scientific ignorance, e.g., proper dating of the extinct animals mentioned, that extensive past civilizations would have left the planet littered with artifacts, and that no one with at least half a brain would ever consider the possibility that the Elder Things were vegetables. (The lack of leaves and the presence of muscles is a big clue.)

Theologically, this story is just an extension of previous ones. What we learn here is that Cthulhu and company have been around for hundreds of millions of years and being doing devious things during all that time. We also learn of the existence ill-described evil lurking in the Antarctic mountains. The notion of aliens having visited Earth long ago and having an effect on Terran life also recurs (among other places) in the work of the infamous pseudoscientist and pseudotheologian Erich von Däniken (von Däniken, Chariots of the Gods?: Unsolved Mysteries of the Past; von Däniken, Signs of the Gods).

Theological rating: D.

Scariness rating: My pants did not budge. I have a pet Shoggoth in my backyard.


von Däniken, Erich. Chariots of the Gods?: Unsolved Mysteries of the Past. Econ-Verlag, 1968. Trans. Michael Heron. New York: Bantam, 1970.
---. Signs of the Gods. Econ Verlag 1979 under the title Prophet der Vergangenheit. Trans. Michael Heron. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1980.

Up for tomorrow: “The Shadow over Innsmouth”.


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

27 Tammuz 5768: The Three Weeks/National Cheesecake Day


Worthy causes of the day: “Will Your Representative Stand Up to Big Oil?” and “Tell The Senate Judiciary Committee: No More Bush Judges”.

Relevant to Divine Misconceptions:
  1. “Indian politician sacrifices 200 goats to mark win”: Summary: A politician, very grateful to his goddess for victory, sacrifices 204 animals to her; animal rights activists protest. It is the behavior of the animal rights activists that is questionable, not the politician’s. Previously I had only been aware of Americans having a paranoia about animal sacrifice, but apparently it exists in India as well. And I call it paranoia because it is not rational. Notice the lack of any real justification for the objection to animal sacrifice. And what reason is there to object to it? Except for the purest vegans, every one of us benefits from the death of animals in the form of meat and leather, neither of which do we strictly need for health or survival. This is selfish, not to mention that at a slaughterhouse the killing of animals takes place behind closed doors so that whoever eats the meat and uses the leather does not have to deal with the animals’ deaths. Animal sacrifice, on the other hand, is not a mere selfish act to fill one’s stomach; it is an act of worship, and temples are sufficiently public that the sacrificer cannot ignore that animals are being killed. Now, why should an act of honest worship be more reprehensible than something outright selfish and dishonest? Why are these animal rights activists protesting sacrifice and not picketing a secular slaughterhouse instead?
  2. “EU condemns hangings in Iran, calls on Teheran to halt executions”: I find the attitude of the European Union ridiculous, as the logic it uses is unlikely to have any effect. Iran is a Shi‘ite Islamic country, and Shi‘ite Islam (so far as I can tell) is very much for executing people who commit certain crimes, with the death penalty divinely mandated for some crimes and considered theologically appropriate for others. “Human dignity” and the allegedly nonexistent “dissuasive effect of the death penalty” are not arguments that will have any effect because these concepts are not part of Shi‘ite Islam. If the European Union really wants a moratorium on executions in Iran without actually intervening, they need to make arguments that make sense within the internal logic of Shi‘ite Islam.
Today’s news and commentary:Today’s H. P. Lovecraft story, in lieu of a weird thing due to the Three Weeks, is “The Night Ocean”.


Theological review of “The Night Ocean”:

I do not know how this story got into a list of Cthulhu Mythos stories. Neither the Necronomicon nor the Old Ones figure into it at all. This story is the most plotless nearly-no-plot wonder yet, featuring mostly Lovecraftian emotional manipulation. Anyone not amenable to such manipulation, do not waste your time on this story.

Theological rating: I (for lack of relevance).

Scariness rating: It not only did not scare my pants off, but I somehow found myself wearing two pairs of pants at the same time.

Tomorrow‘s story: “At the Mountains of Madness”.


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

26 Tammuz 5768: The Three Weeks


Relevant to Divine Misconceptions:
  1. “Spiritual fast food”. Rav Feldman is completely justified in slamming the Kabbalah Centre, an organization which purports to spread knowledge of the Qabbalah, a Jewish mystical system, to the masses, but is known to engage in exploitative behavior.
  2. “Al-Qaida urges Muslims to kill Saudi king for hosting interfaith dialogue”: Apparently some Muslims also have anti-ecumenical views, too. Apparently they did not see through the public-relations scam nature of the conference, or perhaps they simply do not care.
Today’s news and commentary:Continuing our H. P. Lovecraft series for the Three Weeks, today’s story, originally published appropriately in Weird Tales, is “Through the Gates of the Silver Key”.


Theological review of “Through the Gates of the Silver Key”:

This is frankly the strangest of the lot so far, presenting a conception of reality that is outright mystical.

And if you know nothing of mysticism, you may want to stop reading this review and go on to tomorrow’s Lovecraft story. Really. Mysticism can be very harmful to one’s belief system, both in its pure form and in watered-down forms for the masses, leading to heresies and unjustifiable behaviors. So if you wonder what your author is talking about, ask yourself if you really want to know first, because you will have to do some research to find out.

Randolph Carter, a scholar of the arcane, makes use of a magic key to ascend to higher levels of existence, meets his guide, and does the rites and makes the proper signs to ascend even higher. Those who read the books of Gershom Scholem will have heard of such journeys. What he finds at the end of the journey, beyond the final gate, is akin to Advaita; he is not the single person he thought he was, but as the atman is part of the Brahman, he finds himself an amazingly powerful being present in multitudinous forms throughout all time and space. He is finally freed from maya. As it is written:
The Man of Truth is beyond good and evil,” intoned the voice that was not a voice. “The Man of Truth has ridden to All-Is-One. The Man of Truth has learned that Illusion is the One Reality, and that Substance is the Great Impostor.
If this were a story about enlightenment, Carter should be reveling in moksha, but such an ending is too happy for Lovecraft. Rather than joy, Carter’s reaction is terror. (What else would anyone expect from Lovecraft?) He wants to go back to Earth and his human life, but by some plot-hole, he is trapped in an alien body on an alien world which has an infestation of giant burrowing monsters. And his human facet and the facet of himself native to this body do not particularly like each other. And to make things even worse, the piece of parchment with the magic formula on that can make him human again has been left behind on Earth. Thus any possibility of Carter doing anything on a higher level of existence is chucked out the window so he can be the monster of the week/alien invader pretending to be a human. Why the publisher of Weird Tales let him get away with such an obvious waste is beyond your author.

There are two things to note about Carter’s mystical trip:

  1. Carter never became one with or found himself to be the Brahman, thus escaping a mystical trap which is easy to criticize.
  2. If I may quote a relevant passage:
    He [Randolph Carter] was shown the smallness and tinsel emptiness of the little Earth gods, with their petty, human interests and connections—their hatreds, rages, loves and vanities; their craving for praise and sacrifice, and their demands for faiths contrary to reason and nature.
    Your author is not clear whether or not this reflects Lovecraft’s own religious views—or what Lovecraft’s own religious views were. However, it does reflect the nature of gods of the Cthulhu Mythos so far very well. The Old Ones, as mentioned previously, are low on the scale of deities, so weak they depend on humans to accomplish their goals. People often say that humans “create”, as it were, gods in their own images; “envision” would be a better term. This is exactly what Carter’s guide seems to be doing. Being small himself, he projects this smallness on the gods that humans actually worship. And indeed humans often envision gods as nothing more than magnified humans, acting just as pettily as those who worship them. But the guide is no better, only bestowing secret knowledge upon those that perform for him—and only for him—the right rituals, displaying no care for sentient life in general or interest in morality. It never occurs to him that besides the small gods, many humans worship big gods, gods who are not selfish, gods whose interests are beyond themselves, gods whose characters are rich without being petty, gods who find worship and ritual in the absence of moral behavior repugnant, and gods who value reason and accept that a human can be righteous while still living the life as a human. Intuition suggests the guide’s attitude may be connected with that of Anton Szandor LaVey, who in The Satanic Bible and The Satanic Rituals shows every sign of always assuming his opponents’ gods are small and never big.
Theological rating: D.

Scariness rating: My pants mock this story.

Next up for tomorrow:  “The Night Ocean”.


Monday, July 28, 2008

25 Tammuz 5768: The Three Weeks/National Drive-Thru Day/Singing Telegram Day


Worthy cause of the day: “Tell your elected representatives to stand firm when they are asked to turn over special areas to the oil industry” and “Justice for LaVena”.

Relevant to Divine Misconceptions: “Yale hosts high-level Christian-Muslim dialogue”. This is a huge waste of time. Islam has a policy of lying to members of other religions (taqiyah), which means that religious dialog with them is not reliable. Furthermore, none of the participant groups should be expected to be representative of their religions anyway. Keep in mind that except for some cults in which the word of a single person is believed to be the unquestioned truth, any religion on many issues is going to have not a single, sharply defined view, but rather a range of views. One naturally expects the sort of people who show up for anything ecumenical to be only from the pro-ecumenicism factions of their religions. Since those who are against ecumenicism or are neutral about it do not show up, their views are not aired, and so the true range of views of any participant religion is unlikely to be represented or communicated. Please note that the article has the participants representing their own views as the true views of their religions and discounting the views of those who would never be caught dead at an ecumenical conference, even when they acknowledge the existence of such views. Even more dishonest is the tendency of participants to lend validity to each other, even if anti-ecumenical members of their own religion would consider that heresy, as it says:
"The common understanding here is that we have different theological languages but the ultimate object of our discussion is the same," the Turkish philosopher said. "There is only one God but we approach God with different languages."
Note that the differences between the Christian Trinity and Allah and between Christianity and Islam are more than just terminological. In short, the only ecumenical conference worth anything is one where the participants walk away hating and disagreeing with each other.

Today’s news and commentary:Today’s installment of my H. P. Lovecraft series is “An H.P. Lovecraft Anthology: The Dreams in the Witch House (Weird Tales, 1933)”.


Theological review of “The Dreams in the Witch House”:

H. P. Lovecraft was a man very much in touch with his nightmares, using them as inspiration for his stories. And so it is no wonder that he plays upon this notion by creating a character, Walter Gilman, who has his own nightmares and eventually finds his nightmare-life mixing into his waking-life—a context violation which ought to spook many readers. Unfortunately, this story is marred by Lovecraft’s usual means of playing upon emotions, including making many of his ominous antagonists (an old woman, a black man, a big rat) so clichéd that early 21st-century readers will find them more quaint or offensive than actually scary. Making the old woman a genuine witch tried for witchcraft at Salem does not help either. Lovecraft also seems to understand less about mathematics and science than he believes he does—or underestimates the education of his readers—which rather hampers suspension of disbelief with already jaded readers.

Theologically there is little new. The Old Ones are still behind the scenes, with monstrous creatures as their servants. It is not clear why they are trying to pull Walter Gilman into their domain or why his actions should stop them—but that sort of thing never stopped Lovecraft anyway.

Theological rating: D.

Scariness rating: My pants stay on, and I yawn.

Suggestion for anyone writing a horror story: Be original. Do not use anything people normally consider scary. Find something few, if any, find scary and make that scary!

Tomorrow’s story: “Through the Gates of the Silver Key”.


Sunday, July 27, 2008

24 Tammuz 5768: The Three Weeks/Parent’s Day


Relevant to Divine Misconceptions: Back when I was a kid (1987), there was some New Age nonsense about a “Harmonic Convergence”. All the planets would (allegedly) be on one side of the Sun, and this event was supposed to herald a new age of peace and harmony. Obviously it did not actually work out like that. The person behind this bad idea, José Argüelles, is unfortunately at it again, this time promoting another bad idea, the 13-Moon Natural Time Calendar, which divides the year into 13 “moons” of 28 days each, plus one “day out of time”.  Allegedly by adopting this calendar, the whole planet will enter a new age of peace and harmony. To walk through the problems the hard way:
  1. We already have a single planetary calendar.  The Gregorian calendar, while originally the calendar of the Catholic Church, has been adopted as the primary calendar or international auxiliary calendar of probably everyone on the planet who is not a member of a severely isolated group.  Anyone checking the news knows that having a single calendar has not made Earth a peaceful planet.
  2. The 13-Moon Natural Time Calendar is clearly an inferior calendar.  The year length seems to be a uniform 365 days.  No provision seems to be made for the fact that the solar year is about a quarter day longer, so this calendar would get out of sync with the seasons even more rapidly than the Julian calendar.
  3. There is nothing natural about the 13-Moon Natural Time Calendar.  There is no natural division of the year into 13 parts plus a single day, and natural events in the year, the solstices and equinoxes, are not noted.
  4. Calling a 28-day period a “moon” is inaccurate, since a lunation is actually about 29½ days.  And while the human menstrual period may be 28 days, it has nothing to do with the moon, and that period can only be expected to be an average.
  5. The fact that this calendar is allegedly derived from Mayan religion is irrelevant.  Most people do not believe in the Mayan religion, so one cannot expect that the premises of the Mayan religion are necessarily shared by them.
  6. The seven-day week is an inherent part of the Abrahamic religions.  It is irrational to expect a prophetically dictated cycle to ever be suspended for an extra “day out of time”.  The alternative, putting religiously observant members of the Abrahamic religions out of sync with everyone else on the day of the week, is a recipe for causing anything but peace and harmony.  See next item for more.
  7. The proposed calendar reform which was advocated in the United Nations but was rejected due to religious objections appears to be the World Calendar, which is not as badly constructed as the 13-Moon Natural Time Calendar, as it has leap years.  The World Calendar also alternates the month length between 30 and 31 days, something Argüelles considers “disharmonious”, and he is being untruthful in claiming it is essentially his own calendar.  What doomed the World Calendar is the presence of Worldsday and Leapday, which were considered outside of the seven-day week (much as the 13-Moon Natural Calendar’s “day out of time”), something that naturally caused much religious objection.  Since the never-ceasing seven-day week is religiously mandatory and not subject to human tampering, arguments for days outside the seven-day week fell on deaf ears, and this calendar reform proposal never got anywhere.
Today’s news and commentary:Continuing our Lovecraft series for the Three Weeks, today’s story is “The Whisperer in the Darkness”.


Theological review of “The Whisperer in Darkness”:

H. P. Lovecraft finally comes up with something sort of creepy, but disembodied brains and what Albert N. Wilmarth finds at the very end of the story will do that to you. On the other hand, the plot is a step down from “The Dunwich Horror”; the narrator should have been Henry Wentworth Akeley, the man being directly haunted by alien pseudo-gods, rather than Wilmarth, who is a college professor with whom Akeley corresponds. The scientific implausibilities suggested by Lovecraft with regard to space travel do not help either, though arguably at least some of what is suggested may be half-truths or complete falsehoods.

Theologically there is little new here except we learn there is a pseudo-deity colony on Yuggoth, a planet (full-size or dwarf) which may be Pluto. Since they already have a world, what use they have of Earth becomes even less clear.

Theological rating: D.

Scariness rating: Sort of creepy, though my pants stay on.

Up for tomorrow: “The Dreams in the Witch House”.


Friday, July 25, 2008

22 Tammuz 5768: The Three Weeks/Merry-Go-Round Day/Sysadmin Day/Day-Out-Of-Time


Worthy cause of the day: “Help Protect Land Conservation Program”.

Today’s news and commentary, some of which Barry is responsible for:Today’s H. P. Lovecraft story, in lieu of a weird thing, is “The Dunwich Horror”.


Theological review of “The Dunwich Horror”:

Finally H. P. Lovecraft tries for a decent plot! The abnormal and loathsome Whateley Family are working towards bringing the Old One Yog-Sothoth into our world. Yog-Sothoth intends to wipe humanity off the Earth and use it for his own fiendish purposes, and it is up to Dr. Armitage of Miskatonic University to prevent this evil plan from going too far. We also get a glimpse at the history and intentions of the Old Ones and the Necronomicon.

Unfortunately, Lovecraft is still stuck with the same sorts of problems previously complained about. He gets himself in severe trouble for equating the unusual with evil and immorality, making his human villains physically sick, malformed, mentally ill, developmentally disabled, and inbred—people who are unlikely to be effective minions. To get around this obvious problem, Lavinia Whateley bears Yog-Sothoth’s child, Wilbur Whateley, a Satan-like hybrid, creating the new problem of how a human is supposed to produce live offspring with an Old One when human-great ape hybridization (something much more expected to be viable) does not work. (It was tried in the Soviet Union.) The Old Ones are still stuck on the “loser” level of pseudo-deities, being dependent on humans to complete their schemes. Getting very stale, we still have no idea why the Old Ones want the Earth. All in all, one step forward, two steps back.

Theological rating: D.

Scariness rating: Plastic skeletons are scarier than this.

Next up: “The Whisperer in Darkness”.

Shabbath shalom


Thursday, July 24, 2008

21 Tammuz 5768: Pioneer Day


Worthy cause of the day: “Tell Congress: Reject Endless War and a Torture Cover-Up”.

Today’s news and commentary:Continuing our H. P. Lovecraft series, today’s story is “The Call of Cthulhu”.


Theological review of “The Call of Cthulhu”:

Yet again Lovecraft forgets that stories require plots to be good and relies on emotional manipulation instead. This “story” works better as documentation of the quasi-deity Cthulhu and other members of his species, known collectively as “the Old Ones”, and the cults which worship them. The operative phrases in this novella (and much of the rest of the Cthulhu Mythos) are:
In his house at R’lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.
That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons even death may die.
And their meaning is this: The Old Ones are extremely powerful alien creatures predating humankind. The died off, but their death is not permanent. While their bodies lie in their tombs in the sunken city of R’lyeh in the southern Pacific Ocean, the mind of at least one of them, their priest Cthulhu, is still active, reaching out to human minds and driving them mad. Those who do not commit suicide tend to form (racially delimited) cults, performing rituals repulsive to European-American Christians, the goal of which is to ultimately revive the Old Ones. Indeed, the final section of the story documents an encounter with Cthulhu in which only one person on a ship survives.

Frankly, as a malevolent deity, Cthulhu is a failure. For one thing, he is not a real deity. In every real religion your author can think of, every deity is either the original immortal creator deity, a descendant of the original immortal creator deity, or a mortal who has been elevated to being a deity; the Old Ones show no evidence of any of these. Secondly, even if one concedes that Cthulhu qualifies as a deity, he is an inferior one, as he seems to be dependent on humans to achieve his goals; to be dependent on lesser beings is a weakness, as the wiser of lesser beings can potentially frustrate his plans. That he needs to use psychic powers to get anyone to worship him is particularly pathetic, considering that no deity worshipped in a real religion seems to have any need to resort to such a tactic. Thirdly, his malevolent actions are very limited in scope, affecting only isolated groups, indicating highly limited power. Any of the Asuras in the Vedas and Mahabharata—themselves inferior malevolent deities—could easily beat up Cthulhu without breaking a sweat.

Theological rating: D (for inferior pseudo-deities).

Scariness rating: In his house at Charleston live Aaron waits for anything that will scare his pants off.

Next up: “The Dunwich Horror”.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

20 Tammuz 5768: National Vanilla Ice Cream Day/Hot Enough For Ya Day


Today’s news and commentary:Today’s H. P. Lovecraft story, in place of a weird thing due to the Three Weeks, is “The Festival”.


Theological review of “The Festival”:

This is the story of someone who goes back to his ancestral town to celebrate Yule, only to find his relatives there are a bunch of weirdos who use the Necronomicon as a sourcebook for the ritual. This is another nearly-no-plot wonder, and no one does anything worthy of scariness. There is also nothing here of particular theological interest.

Theological rating: I (for lack of relevant material).

Scariness rating: I, still wearing my pants, mock this story.

In the queue for tomorrow:  “The Call of Cthulhu”. If you get annoyed by only one Cthulhu Mythos tale, get annoyed by this one!


Job application stupidity of the day strikes back


I am unemployed, and I am going to kvech about it.

I am beginning to think that human resources at the company I applied to today really is collectively stupid. Despite me giving up on their indecent forms when they tried to get me to agree to run a credit check on me—something which they have no business doing, especially since this is not a financial position—one of their recruiters wrote back and asked for further information:
1. Have you obtained a post graduate degree in Epidemiology, Biostatistics or another related public health field?
2. Have you previously worked in this field?
3. Do you have experience with using statistical software? If so, briefly explain
4. This position is located in [OMITTED] and may not provide relocation. Does this change your interest?
5. What is your current compensation?
6. What is your anticipated compensation? Please do not indicate flexible/negotiable.
This is an unambiguous proof that either 1) the recruiter did not read my curriculum vitae (which would have revealed the answers to the first three questions) or 2) the recruiter sent a form letter without any thought as to whether the questions were applicable.  Either way, I seem to be dealing with a human resources idiot, doing his/her best to drive away all competent applicants.  With stupidity like this, it is no wonder so many people are out of work.

Aaron, gaining expertise in how not to be a recruiter

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Job application stupidity of the day


I am unemployed, and I am going to kvech about the sorts of stupidities I have to put up with in order to get a job. I am pretty sure the job application form I am working on right now was designed by either an idiot or the Marquis de Sade. First it asks for my résumé/CV, which I was happy to give it. It then sent me a nice E-mail thanking me for my application—and also took me to the next page of the form. I therefore am presented with the contradiction of having applied and having not applied. Said next page has some real lulus in it:
  • Asking for information that would normally be in a résumé/CV, such as education and employment history.  Makes me wonder why I gave them my CV in the first place.
  • Asking for three references, but failing to give fields for certain relevant information, such as where these people work or their E-mail addresses.
  • Here’s an idiocy I don’t think I've ever encountered before:  “(if more space is needed, attach additional sheets)”.  Exactly how am I supposed to do that in an electronic form?
If anyone out there is in the job application form business, HIRE ME TO CLEAN UP YOUR FORMS!!!  If I have to put up with such travesties of programming, I ought to be paid to do it!

OK, back to wrestling with the Form from Hell...


19 Tammuz 5768: The Three Weeks/Pi Approximation Day


Worthy causes of the day: “Tell the House Judiciary Committee to hold Karl Rove in contempt and send him to jail” and “Power America with Cheap, Clean Energy in 10 Years? Yes We Can!”

Relevant to Divine Misconceptions: “Jewish-Muslim spat sours Saudi interfaith meeting”. The spat centers on Zionism. (Anyone with a link to the relevant video, please let me know. The details given are few.) But apparently at least some people are seeing through the sham nature of the Saudi interfaith conference held unimpressively outside of the arch-intolerant Saudi Arabia:
Rabbi David Rosen of the American Jewish Committee had said earlier the event would be little more than a photo opportunity unless it led to a follow-up in Saudi Arabia with Israeli Jews.
The article also notes that no followup conference is currently planned.

Today’s news and commentary:In lieu of a weird thing, today’s Lovecraft story is “The Hound”, with the review below.



Theological review of “The Hound”:

This is the story of two people who rob graves for kicks and receive posthumous retribution when they steal an unusual jade pendant.

This is a variation on “The Doom That Came to Sarnath”, only on a smaller scale. Instead of an offended god manifest in an idol, there is an offended dead magician. And instead of leveling a whole city, the magician sends bat monsters after any of the living in whose possession the pendant is. The story comes off just as lame, only more theologically unbelievable. There is nothing intrinsically impossible about a god acting self-centered and cruel. The dead acting self-centered and cruel is another matter entirely. Someone dead acting in this world as a dead person is a cliché out of ghost stories which is never satisfactorily explained when the dead are supposed to be compelled by a deity, karma, or the laws of physics to go on to an afterlife, be reincarnated, or disappear into oblivion. One could claim that the dead magician uses magic to keep him out of Hell or from becoming truly nonexistent, but if he has such phenomenal powers, why does he remain as a corpse lying in a grave rather than living a presumably more pleasant human existence?

More notable is that this story, unlike “The Doom That Came to Sarnath”, securely links itself with the Cthulhu Mythos by claiming that the pendant is decorated with symbology from Abdul Alhazred’s Necronomicon, the dreaded book of dead names which recurs in Lovecraft’s stories. At the moment the Necronomicon is just morbid reading for the grave-robbers; only in other stories do the dangers of this book manifest themselves.

Theological rating: D (for lack of originality, plausibility, and mechanism).

Scariness rating: My pants remained firmly in place.

Next up for tomorrow: “The Festival”.

Monday, July 21, 2008

18 Tammuz 5768: The Three Weeks/National Get Out of the Doghouse Day


Today’s news and commentary:In lieu of today’s weird thing is the second installment in our H. P. Lovecraft series for the Three Weeks, “The Nameless City”.


Theological review of “The Nameless City”:

This is the story of a traveler’s visit to the ruins of a city in Arabia held in dread by the natives. This story is carried almost entirely by emotion, being virtually without a plot.

The maltheism encountered in “The Doom That Came to Sarnath” is continued here, only more lame fashion. The city, we are told, is where Abdul Alhazred (of Necronomicon fame) long ago wrote the famous couplet:

That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons death may die.

The traveler walks the ruins and interprets the pictures of inhuman creatures found on the wall, seeing in the story of the prospering and decline of a civilization. Eventually, hearing many strange sounds and encountering a “phosphorescent abyss”, he realizes that the the inhabitants never died off and actually sees many nightmarish creatures. He has the heebeejeebees scared out him.

The message: what is strange and not human is evil. Considering that the message is carried entirely by emotion and has no rational aspect to it, it is an utter failure for anyone the emotional language does not affect as desired. Furthermore, the strange creatures do not actually harm the traveler, so judging them as evil is not justified.

Theological rating: D (for insufficient evidence).

Scariness rating: My pants remained on the entire time I listened to this story—twice.

Next up for tomorrow: “The Hound”.


Sunday, July 20, 2008

17 Tammuz 5768: The Fast of Tammuz/Moon Day


Today is the 17th of Tammuz, a fast day beginning a three-week period of semi-mourning.  Five tragedies (listed in Qiṣṣur Shulḥan ‘Arukh 121:4 and elsewhere) are said to have occurred on this day:
  1. The tablets on which the Decalogue were written were broken.
  2. The daily offerings in the Temple stopped.
  3. The walls of Jerusalem were breached, the beginning of the end of the Second Temple.
  4. The wicked ’Apostomus burned a Torah scroll, the first time such a thing occurred in history.
  5. An idol was set up in the Sanctuary by Hellenists.
While none of these things is particularly good, even worse is why much of these occurred.  Four of these are connected with the destruction of either Temple, the Second Temple in particular.  The Second Temple Period was a formative period in Judaism, during which there was a huge amount of intellectual activity and rational analysis of tradition, creating a foundation on which subsequent Judaism has been built.  It was also a time during which many competing groups existed, groups which often fought bitterly for less than honorable reasons.  The senseless infighting is directly linked with interference by the Syrian-Greeks and the Romans, leading to revolts, oppression, the destruction of the Second Temple, and the Diaspora.  It is no wonder that since sin’ath ḥinnam (“free” hatred) caused such tragedy, many are now pushing the opposite, ’ahavath ḥinnam (“free” love—and to avoid unjustified misinterpretation, that is caring for others whether or not they have earned it), as a solution.  Certainly such a solution is worth an attempt.

Relevant to Divine Misconceptions:
  1. “Texas State Board of Education approves Bible course for high schools”. I do believe that everyone should read the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, even if they do not believe in either of them, as they are two of the most important collections of works that have ever had an impact on human history. Given that, the Texas State Board of Education is indeed walking a thin line, and it is very easy to see how the course proposed could violate the Constitution. I pray these people do not screw it up.)
  2. “The Demise of Islam?” (This is an interesting perspective on the long-term viability of Islam. Certainly Islam is set to loose a lot of influence and prestige as soon as the oil runs out.)
  3. “Groundbreaking interfaith meeting shuns extremism” (Not only was this meeting not held in Saudi Arabia, where it would have really mattered, but no Israeli rabbis were invited. Who is Abdullah trying to fool?)
Today’s news and commentary:As I mentioned on Friday, for the Three Weeks I will be doing something different with weird things.  This is a time of sadness and mourning, not a time of fun.  Therefore, I will tap into the spirit this period and tackle one of the great unfun jobs necessary for work on Divine Misconceptions:  The Cthulhu Mythos stories of H. P. Lovecraft. These are meant to be horror stories with a peculiar religious bent whose influence is apparent in the rituals of LaVeyan Satanism and possibly the mythos of the Buffyverse. Now, I describe this job as “unfun”, because 1) I am not a fan of horror, 2) I do not care for the Lovecraft material I have already read, and 3) I did not find said material scary—absolutely not something that should ever happen in a horror story. (Possibly #3 is a side effect of the horror genre having penetrated sufficiently into our culture that we are desensitized to it.) But despite the unfun, Lovecraft has to be covered, so suffer through it I shall.  Therefore:

In lieu of a weird thing, today’s Lovecraft story is “The Doom That Came to Sarnath”, published in 1920.


Theological review of “The Doom That Came to Sarnath”:

Depicted are two idolatrous societies, one of which (Sarnath) destroys the other (Ib) for no good reason.  Bokrug, the idol of Ib, takes his revenge by destroying Sarnath, after which he reestablishes his cult.

1) The story seems to be taking the position that the idol itself is the god, though this is not entirely clear.  I am not clear on whether any actual idolators take such a precarious position.

2) The theology depicted is seriously maltheistic.  Bokrug does absolutely nothing to save the Ibians who worship him, even though he has the power to level Sarnath.  Bokrug therefore apparently does not care for his worshippers at all.  The only thing that matters to him is himself, and anyone who offends him shall feel his wrath.  This sounds like a stereotype and not a god anyone would actually want to worship.

Theological rating:  D.

Scariness rating:  My pants showed not the slightest sign of coming off.

Next up tomorrow: “The Nameless City”.


Friday, July 18, 2008

Worthy cause of the day: “Power America with Cheap, Clean Energy in 10 Years? Yes We Can!”


Today’s worthy cause is “Power America with Cheap, Clean Energy in 10 Years? Yes We Can!”. Please sign and make a statement that you want the United States to get 100% of its energy from renewable sources within ten years. Such a task may be difficult, but it is feasible and worthwhile. Thank you.


15 Tammuz 5768: National Ice Cream Day


Note:  The next three weeks, starting Saturday night, are a period of mourning for the Jewish people.  I am going to try something a bit different in place of the usual weird thing during that period.

Today’s news and commentary:Today’s weird thing is The Condiment Packet Gallery. (People will collect and display anything.) Enjoy, share the weirdness, and Shabbath shalom.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

14 Tammuz 5768: Shark Awareness Day/Wrong Way Corrigan Day


Relevant to Divine Misconceptions:
  1. “Review Finds Slurs In '06 Saudi Texts”, which demonstrates the Islamic practice of taqiyah, i.e., lying to unbelievers. Years from now, the school administrators will “still” be working on removing incendiary language from textbooks, with no evidence of progress. This is much like the Saudi government “still” making progress towards freedom and democracy, with zero evidence of progress.
  2. “Saudi king opens Spain interfaith conference with call for unity”: This would be much more convincing of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia held the conference in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is well-known to have extremely low tolerance for any religion other than strict Sunni Islam, and apparently King Abdullah has no plans to change that.
  3. “Mormon Church and polygamists battle over language”: The names groups use to describe themselves are not arbitrary labels.  Names represent how groups view themselves and how they want others to view them.  In this case the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) and the other Latter-Day Saints movements (“fundamentalists”) are arguing who gets to describe themselves as “Mormon”, a term indicating being part of the tradition that stretches back to Joseph Smith, Jr.  Both parties to the dispute do have some claim to being part of that tradition.  The LDS Church has been the biggest faction ever since there was a schism in the tradition, while the fundamentalists may hold fast to aspects of the tradition which the LDS Church abandoned, particularly polygyny.  Since the LDS Church considers the fundamentalists heretics, it is quite understandable that the former does not want them generally considered Mormons.  However, this is coming off as something comparable to Catholics trying to claim that Anglicans are not Christians.
Today’s news and commentary:Today’s weird thing is a computer case mod known as “Jules Verne”. Enjoy and share the weirdness.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

13 Tammuz 5768: National Personal Chef Day


Worthy causes of the day: “Take Action: Protect the Lionhead Recommended Wilderness” and “Share Your Story”.

Relevant to Divine Misconceptions: “Symposium: Confronting Islamization of the West”. In this article, the vision of Islam as a religion of peace is unmercifully torn to shreds by citing authoritative Islamic sources and actual Islamic history.

Today’s news and commentary:Today’s weird thing, submitted by Barry, is “No can talk. In time-out.” Enjoy and share the weirdness.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Job application annoyance of the day: Wrong URL


I am still unemployed, and I will gripe about it. Today’s job application annoyance is one ad which gives two URLs to the site on which one is supposed to apply. The one actually set up as an HTML link, of course, sends one to a nonexistent server. The one left as plain text in the ad, of course, is the address of a real computer. Go figure.

While I am at it, I am also annoyed when, as in this ad, one is told which site to go to and what the unique identifier of the job is, but it is somehow too much trouble for whoever wrote the ad to include a link directly to the job’s page on the site where one is supposed to apply. This is stupid because 1) the applicant gets the message that his/her time and effort are not valuable, which reflects badly on the company and 2) every time anyone wants to apply for a specific job, they must do a search, which consumes much more in the way of resources than going straight to the correct page. Shame, shame, shame!


12 Tammuz 5768: International Dadaism Month/Saint Swithin’s Day


Worthy causes of the day: “Tell your Senator that NOW is the time to abolish the HIV Travel Ban!” and “Help Unleash a New Energy Future Today”.

Relevant to Divine Misconceptions:
  1. “What does the pope do on his day off?” Nothing actually wrong here. It basically notes that popes are human, too.
  2. “UZBEKISTAN: Fifteen year sentence for reading 'prohibited' Christian literature?”: This is one of many articles coming out these days on persecution of people for their religion, often any religion, in the former Soviet Union and China. I am getting severely disgusted at the constant bureaucratic/political games being played, often taking the form of determining what is and what is not legitimate or necessary in someone else’s religion.  This is, of course, unjustifiable, especially when the party making the decisions is a hostile party.  On a planet which practically every country has supposedly agreed to support religious freedom, it is inexcusable that such travesties should still be happening.
Today’s news and commentary, some of which Barry is responsible for:Today’s weird thing, submitted by Barry, is “Parental IQ versus Child’s Age”. Enjoy and share the weirdness.


Monday, July 14, 2008

Job application annoyance of the day: “We don’t care that you already have a résumé; you have to create a new one from scratch”


I am still unemployed, and I am going to gripe about the idiocy I encounter when trying to get employed.

Today’s annoyance are sites which demand that you “build” a résumé, rather than upload one. The people who came up with such a boneheaded idea clearly have no idea that you put time and effort into putting together a résumé or curriculum vitae, which is grossly disrespectful to all job applicants. Adding injury to insult, they force the applicant to wade through a series of dreadful forms, reentering every single piece of information. They may also further alienate the applicant by asking for a precomposed résumé or curriculum vitae at the very end. Shame on all human resources departments which take this time- and effort-wasting approach! You deserve to be catastrophically understaffed!

Note: This post, as are all posts in this series, is dedicated to George W. Bush, who has done everything he can to strangle research funding, squelch science, and wreck the economy in such a way to his supporters in the short term.


11 Tammuz 5768: Bastille Day


Worthy cause of the day: “Stand Up Against Big Oil!”.

Relevant to Divine Misconceptions: “Study attacks Euro-centric view of worldwide religious decline”.

Today’s news and commentary, some of which Barry is responsible for:Today’s weird thing is a Truly Awesome Steampunk Mouse. Enjoy and share the weirdness.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

10 Tammuz 5768: Embrace Your Geekness Day


Worthy causes of the day: “Speak Out Against Logging that Threatens Martens and Other Wildlife” and “Stand Up for Prevention and Public Health!” (skimping on healthcare is a recipe for disaster).

Relevant to Divine Misconceptions:
  1. “Man Claims God Uses Him To Cure Cancer, Raise Dead; Thousands”:  This is an article about a Pentecostal faith-healer.  It is a good sign that even fellow Pentecostals are skeptical about his claims of miracle cures.  Lack of evidence is a warning sign that something fishy is happening.
  2. “Man sues church, claiming spirit forced his fall”:  This does not sound so much like a religious fallacy as it does a failure to act responsibly.  If someone has a tendency to fall over when having a deep religious experience, does it make sense for him to continue having such experiences standing up?  It is perfectly possible to experience ecstasy while sitting down.  That the claimant blames his church for his own error suggests that these religious experiences have utterly failed in their function of making him a better person.
Today’s news and commentary:Today’s weird thing is the My Little Cthulhu Vinyl Figure . (If you don’t understand it, you probably don’t want to know anyway.) Enjoy and share the weirdness with a fan (or anti-fan) of H. P. Lovecraft.


Friday, July 11, 2008

8 Tammuz 5768: National Slurpee Day/World Population Day/Day of the Five Billion


Worthy causes of the day: “Object to Privacy-Invading FISA Law”, “Stop the Polar Bear Whitewash”, and “World Leaders Must Fulfill Their Promise”.

Relevant to Divine Misconceptions:
  1. “New legal threat to teaching evolution in the US”: Apparently some people do not understand the concepts of critical thinking and academic freedom or are willing to indulge in Orwellian distortions of language in order to encourage belief in creationism. If I have not said it before, I will say it now: religion is supposed to be about truth. It is hypocritical to lie in order to get people to believe what is allegedly the truth.
  2. On Wednesday, I explained that “if it is natural, it is good” is a moral fallacy.  Also relevant to the discussion of sexuality and morality is “Bisexual Species: Unorthodox Sex in the Animal Kingdom”, which discusses the prevalence of homosexuality among non-human animals in the wild and in captivity and the reasons for its existence.  Noted also is the fluidity of human sexuality.  While it is common these days for people to pigeonhole themselves and others as “heterosexual”, “homosexual”, “bisexual”, and certain less-popular categories, these categories at best only approximate people’s actual behavior; people do not always behave in accordance with the category by which they classify themselves or others classify them, and the lines between categories are regularly crossed in certain situations.  One cannot therefore assume one is permanently fixed in a specific category, which has two moral consequences:  1)  One cannot make the plea that one is predestined to behave strictly according to one category.  Granted, few, if any, humans can switch categories solely at will, and many may never switch, but the potential for change may be there.  2)  One cannot assume one will never find oneself tempted to do anything in a forbidden category.  Granted, temptation is not the same thing as acting on temptation, and many will never be seriously tempted to do certain actions, but the wise are aware of their own potential weaknesses so they may guard against them.
Today’s news and commentary:Today’s weird things are Mark Melchior's Cigar Box Guitars, a much better use for cigar boxes than holding death sticks. Enjoy, share the weirdness, and Shabbath shalom.


Wednesday, July 9, 2008

6 Tammuz 5768: Martyrdom of the Bab


Worthy cause of the day: “We Can’t Afford to Wait for a Clean Energy Economy”.

Relevant to Divine Misconceptions: “We may allow gay unions: COI head”. If I may quote:
The head of the Church of Ireland has said if homosexuality is proven to be biologically predetermined then his church would have to allow gay unions.

"If such comes to be shown, it will be necessary to acknowledge the full implications of that new aspect of the truth," said Archbishop Alan Harper.
Now, granted that Archbishop Harper said “If”, nevertheless he is making a classic mistake:  the naturalistic fallacy, i.e., the belief that if something is natural, it is therefore good or right.  To illustrate why this is a fallacy, suppose someone has a natural inclination towards pedophilia.  Do we therefore blindly assume that this person has no choice is whether or not he/she will commit acts of pedophilia?  Do we give our approval to any acts of pedophilia he/she might commit?  Of course not!  The moral codes that most of us live by and most of our consciences highly disapprove of pedophilia.  We expect that anyone with inclinations towards pedophilia to keep him/herself under control, and we demand that anyone who commits pedophilia be punished severely—and we really do not care whether the act was natural or not.  In fact, there are many acts that are frequently considered wrong which are arguably natural for humans:
  • Murder
  • Infidelity
  • Rape
  • Theft
  • Dishonesty
  • Ephebophilia
  • Prostitution
  • Infanticide
  • Violence
  • War
  • Xenophobia
  • Promiscuity
  • Tyranny
  • Politics (in the negative sense of the term)
  • Cruelty
  • Misogyny
  • Spousal abuse
  • Social injustice
  • Slavery
This list is composed of acts known to occur widely among humans (whether sanctioned or not) since ancient times or among humanity’s closest relatives (chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans).  The fact that these acts may be natural does not in any way make them any less morally abhorrent.  In fact, quite the opposite.  Moral codes are meant to regulate behavior, and the sorts of behavior that one would expect to receive the most mention, whether being praised or condemned, are ones that are actually likely to occur—including ones that are natural for humans to do.  In short, the fact that something is natural does not morally justify it.  The Archbishop should get off this line of reasoning and base his position on homosexuality on something more relevant to Christianity, such as what Jesus would have to say on the subject.

Today’s news and commentary:Today’s weird thing is “The Dalek School of Surveillance”. Enjoy and share the weirdness.


Monday, July 7, 2008

4 Tammuz 5768: Father & Daughter Take a Walk Day


Relevant to Divine Misconceptions:
  1. “Doctors told to defy parents and save child’s life”:  If I may quote:
    Doctors had to ask for a court’s help to give a six-year-old girl a life-saving blood transfusion. Her parents were refusing to give their permission to the procedure on religious grounds. The family are Jehovah’s Witnesses.
    Jehovah’s Witnesses are well-known for refusing blood transfusions. Their official Web site lists three sources for this (in “How Can Blood Save Your Life?” under Jehovah's Witnesses—The Surgical/Ethical Challenge):  Genesis 9:3-4, Leviticus 17:13-14, and Acts 15:19-21.  Genesis 9:3-4 (my translation) reads:  
    Every creeping-being that is alive, to you it will be for food, like the vegetation, grass, I have given to you all.  But flesh with its life-force, its blood, you will not eat.
    I.e., the prohibition is eating meat from a living animal, not transfusion.  Leviticus 17:13-14 (my translation) reads:  
    And every man from the Children of Yisra’el and from the convert who dwells among them who will hunt game of a wild-beast or a fowl that will be eaten, he will spill its blood and he will cover it with earth.  For the life-force of all flesh, its blood is in its life-force; I said to the Children of Yisra’el, “You will not eat the blood of all flesh, for the life-force of all flesh is its blood; all who eat it will be excised [a form of Divine punishment].”
    Likewise, there is nothing about transfusion here.  Eating blood is prohibited, and the blood of a hunted animal must be covered up with earth, but transfusions are not discussed at all.  Acts 15:19-21 (New American Bible) reads:  
    It is my judgment, therefore, that we ought to stop troubling the Gentiles who turn to God, but tell them by letter to avoid pollution from idols, unlawful marriage, the meat of strangled animals, and blood.  For Moses, for generations now, has had those who proclaim him in every town, as he has been read in the synagogues every sabbath.
    Now, blood transfusions are an extremely recent phenomenon, not performed in ancient times.  It is hardly likely that James has transfusions in mind when he speaks these words.   Just as the other matters he referred to are contemporarily relevant, so to the prohibition on blood he referred to is probably contemporarily relevant.  Thus James is most likely referring to consuming blood, not transfusions.  In summary:  all the verses used to support the notion that blood transfusions are prohibited are irrelevant, providing no support whatsoever.
  2. “When a tombstone reads 'Light of the World'”: Lots of wisdom in this.
  3. “The disaster for Christians in Iraq”: Why are the Christians of the World doing next to nothing to protect and save their coreligionists? Whatever happened to Christian brotherhood?
Today’s news and commentary, some of which Barry may be responsible for:Today’s weird thing is NetRacer, an Internet multiplayer racing game—for the Commodore 64. (That is not a typo. People are still using Commodore 64s and even connecting them to the Internet. Go figure.) Enjoy and share the weirdness.


Sunday, July 6, 2008

3 Tammuz 5768: National Fried Chicken Day


Worthy cause of the day: “Smog Leading to Loss of Smell and Premature Death in Mexico City”.

Today’s news and commentary, some of which Barry is responsible for:Today’s weird thing is something silly from Emily’s collection, included below. Enjoy and share the weirdness.


Why did the chicken cross the road?


The problem we have here is that this chicken won't realize that he must first deal with the problem on 'THIS' side of the road before it goes after the problem on the 'OTHER SIDE' of the road. What we need to do is help him realize how stupid he's acting by not taking on his 'CURRENT' problems before adding 'NEW' problems.


Well, I understand that the chicken is having problems, which is why he wants to cross this road so bad. So instead of having the chicken learn from his mistakes and take falls, which is a part of life, I'm going to give this chicken a car so that he can just drive across the road and not live his life like the rest of the chickens.


We don't really care why the chicken crossed the road. We just want to know if the chicken is on our side of the road, or not. The chicken is either against us, or for us. There is no middle ground here.


Now to the left of the screen, you can clearly see the satellite image of the chicken crossing the road...


We have reason to believe there is a chicken, but we have not yet been allowed to have access to the other side of the road.


Although I voted to let the chicken cross the road, I am now against it! It was the wrong road to cross, and I was misled about the chicken's intentions. I am not for it now, and will remain against it.


That chicken crossed the road because he's GUILTY! You can see it in his eyes and the way he walks.


To steal the job of a decent, hardworking American.


No one called me to warn me which way that chicken was going. I had a standing order at the Farmer's Market to sell my eggs when the price dropped to a certain level. No little bird gave me any insider information.


Did the chicken cross the road?
Did he cross it with a toad?
Yes, the chicken crossed the road,
but why it crossed I've not been told.


To die in the rain. Alone.


Because the chicken was gay! Can't you people see the plain truth? That's why they call it the 'other side.' Yes, my friends, that chicken is gay. And if you eat that chicken, you will become gay too. I say we boycott all chickens until we sort out this abomination that the liberal media whitewashes with seemingly harmless phrases like 'the other side.' That chicken should not be crossing the road. It's as plain and as simple as that.


In my day we didn't ask why the chicken crossed the road. Somebody told us the chicken crossed the road, and that was good enough.


Isn't that interesting? In a few moments, we will be listening to the chicken tell, for the first time, the heart warming story of how it experienced a serious case of molting, and went on to accomplish its life long dream of crossing the road.


Imagine all the chickens in the world crossing roads together, in peace.


It is the nature of chickens to cross the road.


I have just released eChicken2008, which will not only cross roads, but will lay eggs, file your important documents, and balance your checkbook. Internet Explorer is an integral part of eChicken. This new platform is much more stable and will never cra...#@&&^(C% ........ reboot.


Did the chicken really cross the road, or did the road move beneath the chicken?


I did not cross the road with THAT chicken. What is your definition of chicken?


I invented the chicken!


Did I miss one?


Where's my gun?


Why are all the chickens white? We need some black chickens.