Saturday, November 1, 2008

Bathroom Monologue: Four Invisible Feminists Walk Behind a Bar…

There were a lot of things they could have done with this invisibility. They could have worked for the Pentagon. They could have made millions in corporate espionage. The pranks they could have pulled in this small town would have been legendary.

But they got their higher calling from a CNN story out of Afghanistan – a place two of them hadn’t even heard of them before. A place where a raped girl needed four witnesses to prosecute, and if she failed to produce them, she’d wind up in jail for fornication. The four could pass through any border or checkpoint and walk into any back alley, any hut long after dark, any dirt road just out of earshot of town. Or, they could say they did. In a court of law. In many courts. In every court. As many times as it took.

Friday, October 31, 2008

A ‘While Walking Addendum’ to "Do you believe in ghosts?" asked by Carlos in Devil's Backbone

I don't normally publish follow-ups to my own monologues, even though they happen startlingly often. They seem too indulgent. But when you're out in the middle of the woods like I am right now, with a weak flashlight beam like I have, you're likely to get attached to what you feel. The "believe in ghosts" problem is such a neat one because it taps on how many kinds of belief there are. Belief, non-belief and disbelief barely all make it into a reputable dictionary. But how many phases of matter are there?

Most would answer three: solid, liquid and gas.

(Okay, most would answer, "Huh?")

A slightly snarkier demographic would answer four, and add plasma to the list.

But there are more than four. Vapor is the phase state in-between liquid and gas. Fluid is a phase state in-between liquid and solid. There are states in-between the commonly recognized ones. These are much more amorphous states, as while it’s easy enough to call something solid, everything from molasses to the glass in your windows are fluids. And then there are plays on phases of matter, like smoke, a solid so tiny and fine it's lighter than gas. It baffles the pedestrian mind.

So when I look through this narrow flashlight beam in the woods at midnight, I think there may be fluid and vaporous belief. Maybe even smoke belief (or smoked belief – delicious). That agnostic leaning towards thinking there's nothing behind what he sees. And in most cases, I'm willing to bet there's a fluid belief that's agnostic leaning upon suspicion, with traits harder to observe and often denied. That’s how so many people are left thinking glass is a solid.

I invite anyone who reads this to go grab a weak flashlight and trot out half a mile from your car in the woods. Find a flat stretch of ground like I'm on right now, without too many bumps, so it's safe to turn off the light while you’re walking.

Then do it.

See how far you make it without turning it back on, and see what your instincts conjure up. We've hunted wolves and coyotes to the verge of extinction nearly anywhere you can drive a car, so don't pretend there's a rational threat out there. And don't blame it on movies. Yes, Hollywood has suggested some things that could go bump in your night, but making up a far smaller fraction of our storytelling consciousnesses than what the settlers had around campfires. If anything in our age of high skepticism you ought to be the most immune to worrying about werewolves or whatever.

Yet if I turn this thing off for two seconds I'm sure there's some hulking Grendel in front of me with teeth that have outgrown his lips and hair that's outgrown his hide, ready to leer in my face the instant I turn the light back on.

Me, who reads Scientific American and The Economist.

Then again, I do love the Blair Witch Project.

But it's a worthwhile experiment for the skeptical believer, or the believable skeptic. Get away from the labels, from the ideology of epistemology. Come out here at night with no one around and little light, and see what you really feel, not in hypothesis, but in events. Much as you take a man out of his environment and see how he behaves to see his real philosophy rather than what he put together in a term paper or a lecture, you can come out here any time. I know I have, because while I love my scary stories, I've spent a hundred times the hours sitting out here and hiking than I have watching Horror movies.

Right now I don't feel ghosts swirling overhead or Grendels in the bushes. Instead I’m feeling that people are going to say they felt nothing, or felt stupid, or felt like they were wasting their time. I know because I have that reflex, too. I could say that and cover for the other things I felt. Perhaps lying helps quicken you away from the transitional phases and back to the simple, safe big three of gases, liquids and solids.

And a thousand apologies to anyone actually mauled by a wolf in this experiment.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Bathroom Monologue: "Do you believe in ghosts?" -Carlos in Devil's Backbone

“You know, I'm not sure these things break down to belief, disbelief and non-belief. I've never seen a spectre and they haven't been isolated in scientific tests, so I don't believe in them the way I believe in electrical current and heartbeats. But could they be out there? Sure. Could they be on a whole plane of activity and existence that bares no logical resemblance to the motivations and means of ours? It would explain a lot. Fundamentally, though, it transcends traditional belief and disbelief. Those people running in the famous video clearly hadn't believed the World Trade Center would be attacked. They were confused and terrified, their comprehension challenged even as they were fleeing from a life-threatening explosion. I don't know if I would have believed it, and I don't know if I believe in ghosts, but I think if one showed up I'd be pretty casual. I believe enough that if it doesn't materialize swinging a meat cleaver I'll be able to adjust - and I may not have to adjust at all. Won't know until one shows up.”

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Bathroom Monologue: Original Piracy

Wall Street was suddenly and unexpectedly attacked today by internet pirates. A galleon was somehow able to navigate out of the harbor and onto New York's busy streets. Authorities were perturbed but unsurprised to find the unusual ship was designed by Google. A spokesman from that company says it was still supposed to be in Beta Testing, and regrets having left it in open source. The pirates stole two twelve billion shares of miscellaneous stock that had previously not been issued ownership certificates but existed only as records in e-trading databases. Authorities say their lack of physical existence explains why three overweight pirates were able to carry so many of them in one trip.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Bathroom Monologue: The Monopoly of the Abyss

Humans and the other animals of earth are much more alike than they are different. No, I don't have fins or wings, but the bones in fins and wings are remarkably similar to those in the human hand. Certainly more similar than a planet or a chunk of ice. If you haven't noticed, that's what makes up most of the other matter in the universe. Comets, moons, asteroids, planets and stars are really dissimilar to a fish or a human. I am indisputably more similar to a carp than I am to a burning sphere of plasma. Furthermore, I'm more similar to a carp than I am similar to nothing. Nothing actually makes up the most of the universe. Emptiness. The void is the overwhelming majority of this universe. The earth is roughly 12,715 kilometers in diameter. That's taller than me, but we are 149,600,000 kilometers away from the sun. We are 41,000,000 kilometers away from the nearest planet, Venus, which is itself only 12,100 kilometers in diameter. Compare 12,100 of something to 41,000,000 of nothing. That's a lot of nothing at all. Nothing and nothing and nothing within a solar system, of all things. In comparison to that infinite emptiness, that simplicity that is too simple to be simple at all, I'm not like it at all. In comparison to a 1.7-meter gorilla, well, I see a lot more resemblance.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Bathroom Monologue: “Would you kill your son if God told you to?” –Penn Jillette on youtube

“Kill who…? But I don’t have a kid.”

Josh looked around to see where that voice had come from. Instead all he saw was his sofa and TV.

And a six-year-old boy now sitting on that sofa, playing videogames on that TV.

“What the Hell?!!”

“When’s dinner?” The boy asked without looking away from his game. “I want pizza rolls.”

Josh’s face contorted. Even as he was shocked by the appearance of a child in his living room, he was remembering why he hated children.

Then something else caught his eye. Sitting on the other end on the couch from the boy, his miraculous son, was a hacksaw.

“I’m hungry!” the boy stated like it was a demand.

Josh picked up the hacksaw and looked it over.

“Well he’s not actually mine, and I do hate kids.”

He carried the saw into the kitchen to think this one over. He was bad at theology.

“Bring me a soda!” came from the living room.

“And I would hate for God to be mad at me…”

Josh smirked.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Bathroom Monologue: Things to say right before laughing maniacally.

-“Oh, you were right! The button for the airlock isn’t over there. It’s right… here!”
-“A three-fingered gunslinger?”
-“Consider the European Union... annulled.”
-“I’m afraid the director’s cut was straight to the neck!”
-“You are Tyler Durden!”
-“It would be terrible if someone laced her M&M’s with cyanide. Yes… terrible.”
-“We have nothing to fear… but this grenade!”
-“They’ve pinned their last hopes on two hobbits?”
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