Friday, January 20, 2006

religion and weakness

The Maverick Philosopher drops this startling gem of an insight as a mere example while making another point:
Jesse Ventura: “Religion is for the weak!” Religionist: “No it’s not!” Such knee-jerk opposition avails nothing. Ventura is in fact right. What Ventura doesn’t appreciate, however, is that we are all weak. The correct response to Jesse the Body is not one of diametrical opposition but one of ju-jitsu-like concession.

We are all weak relative to a standard of true strength. We are weak in body, in mind, in will. We vacillate in our affections. A body that can lose its strength in a split-second due to a brain aneurysm, say, is only relatively, contingently, and temporarily strong. Such strength is nothing to brag about. Or is Ventura’s strength so awesome that it is proof against every contingency? Can he maintain it indefinitely? Is he causa sui? If not, then why is he so proud of his prowess?

The great religions teach the simple truth about our weak and indigent condition. (Whether these religions provide a genuine solution to it is another question.) The proper counter to Ventura is to point out to him that the sense in which he thinks that religious people are weak is not the sense in which they know that we are all weak. Religion is not a projection of the merely contingent weakness of some of us, but a sober recognition of the necessary weakness of all of us. Religion doesn’t exist to make good the deficiencies that we can and must make good by our own efforts, but to ameliorate the deep-going deficiencies that none of us can ameliorate individually or collectively.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Rampage in a spa

Throwing discretion to the winds, I have decided to regale you with the horror of my spa visit. The story wasn't originally all that exciting so I didn't know how I would be able to keep the reader's interest. But then I caught James Frey on Larry King Live, explaining how a story can be True even if a lot of the things in it didn't actually happen. So I decided to use Frey's new enlightened standard of Emotional Truth. The following is a 100% emotionally true account of my visit to a spa in Morocco.

I didn't really want to go to the spa. I had mentioned back pain and asked my tour "guide" if she might be able to recommend a local spa where I could get a massage. My "guide" then decided that two days later (when the back pain had passed) we would visit this upscale hot spring spa on the way to our next destination. I told her that I didn't find the idea very appealing and she said we could talk about it the next day. The next day, we started off for parts unknown and I found myself at the spa, sans discussion. It seems that she found the idea appealing.

Well, we were there and I thought I might as well try it. Hot spring spas are a part of my culture after all, and in case I ever wanted to write about them I should visit at least one. At least it would be a lot cheaper in Morocco so I wouldn't be annoyed at how much money I had spent for a huge waste of time.

Overall, it might have been a relaxing visit except that my "guide" was there. As she was speaking with the spa person, I became horrified to realize that she was talking about some sort of two-person package. The last thing in the world I wanted to do was spend a "relaxing" couple of hours in the company of my annoying "guide".

I tried to intimate as much, and at least got everyone to acknowledge that we weren't any sort of group for purposes of the spa visit. Still, it turned out that the organization of the spa was such that my "guide" was able to pursue me throughout the facility.

I had to borrow a swimsuit because I hadn't planned on a spa visit. I went into a tiny room to try it on, and as I looked at myself in the mirror I was astonished at the change that two days of hardship had wrought, leaving my body lean and cut (this is where the "emotionally true" part starts). Also, all the hair on my stomach had moved to my previously hairless chest, giving me a more manly and less gorilla-y look. As I strode from the dressing room, a bronzed god in a speedo, I was immediately accosted by beautiful attendants. "Oh, Doctoor Rampaj," they begged with their cute French accents, "Let me be ze one to massaj you after ze baths."

"Girls, girls," I told them with a flashing smile, "No need to fight; there's enough of me to go around." This brought cascades of delighted giggles from the girls and allowed me to get on with the serious business of spa-ing.

As I headed for the first station, a fizzing bath, I was assaulted by the sight of my "guide" in a tight, lumpy swimsuit. It looked as though she were smuggling a dozen huge angry weasels into the spa. "Let me know if you need anything." she told me as I tried to avert my eyes from the hideous sight. "Do you need me to explain anything?"

"No, no, I'm fine," I told her as I retreated to the private room with the tub. The tub was filled by a cute attendant and I demanded the water scalding hot. "But Doctoor," the pretty little bath attendant protested, "Even such a strong, powerful and sexy man as you cannot survive such temperatures!"

"Fear not, little honey dove," I assured the damsel, "For I bear a Ring of Fire." I displayed the gleaming gold band and she gasped in amazement. "This magical periapt grants unto its wearer the control of fire and protection from all extremes of temperature. Not the cold of intergalactic space nor the the heat of the very Sun herself could discomfort me while I wear such a talisman of power."

As I luxuriated in the boiling sulfur water, I was tempted to Change but I knew that my were-form, an enormous cave bear, would be too large for the tub. I resisted the urge with difficulty. After perhaps twenty minutes of bathing, I exited the bath and was shown to the second stage, a couch on which to relax and recover from the hot bath. A lessor man would have been near fainting from twenty minutes in such hot water, but I was as strong as a werebear and the bath had only weakened me a small bit.

I lay on the couch to recover my strength, my eyes closed in relaxation. Then I heard a voice with the timbre of fingernails on chalkboard above me "Was the bath hot enough?" I opened my eyes in shock to see my nemesis looming above me, the weasels engaged in some sort of disturbing struggle beneath her suit. "Do you want to move to a couch in the sun?" She continued obsequiously, "Was the floor too slippery? Can I get you some water?"

By now it was apparent that my "guide" intended to pamper me herself, leaving no room for the attractive young attendants to do so. I was not at all pleased with the prospect so I rose from the couch, incompletely rested, but anxious to leave the woman behind. But somehow, the woman managed to get out of the room ahead of me and my attendant took her instead, so that we switched attendants. I had started out with the cute, friendly one, but after her little maneuver I ended up with the not-so-cute surly one. "One more evil deed to her account," I thought to myself.

The next trial proved to be a dip in a hot pool. The infernal emissions of sulfur seemed to dampen the powers of my ring. I found myself weakening further, but the pool was large enough that I could avoid my nemesis by paddling around outside of her evil reach. This led me to linger too long in the hot water. Eventually, I was so exhausted by the heat that I tried to sneak out the far side of the pool when my "guide" wasn't watching. I lay down on a couch to rest, but within minutes the "guide" was there, looming over me and nagging me with obsequious questions again. I escaped, still exhausted, to the next station where they turned a sulfur-water fire hose on me. The reason for the fire hose baffles me to this day.

In the steam room I was trapped. It was a long room with a door at one end and a rail along the middle of the room so that you could walk in a continuous path up one side of the room and then down the other. As I was walking around the room, my nemesis entered. "How are you doing?" she asked obsequiously. "Do you need anything? Is there enough steam for you? Was the hot pool hot enough?"

I wanted to shout in agony, "Leave me in peace, harridan. I need none of your aid to lounge about in hot water." But I am too polite, curse my phlegmatic temperament, and so I demurred courteously and turned about. When I got to the other end of the steam room, I moved to the other side of the rail and there was my nemesis right in front of me again, "Are the attendants being helpful? Do you need a dry towel? Is the floor too slippery for you?"

"I'm fine!" I cried out in agony, retreating back to the other side of the rail, trying to avert my eyes from the angry weasels, "Don't need a thing! You just enjoy yourself and don't worry about me!"

I managed to lose her in the steam and made another circuit of the room at a fast pace, recklessly expending my energy in the effort to avoid further aesthetic assault. I walked the circuit back to the doorless wall without seeing the woman. Where had she gone? Was the steam really thick enough to have hidden her? I breathed a deep sigh of relief coughing a bit on the thick steam. When I turned, she was suddenly there before me, rising out of the steam like some hideous and annoying demon of hell, "Are you thirsty? Do you need to rest? Is the temperature good?"

I wilted backward, weakened from the heat, unable to focus or concentrate. The weasel woman seemed to grow larger as she backed me against the far wall of the room. "I'm good!" I pleaded, "Don't worry about me ... just leave ... me ... alone ..." I stumbled back against the wall, weak, exhausted.

Suddenly five tentacles shot out from the weasel woman's back. They attacked me, wrapping around my arms, legs and throat, binding and choking me. I struggled mightily but in vain, her tentacles were too slippery to grasp and tear off and I was too weakened by her relentless pursuit through the spa. In desperation, I called upon the power of my ring and blasted the evil tentacled monster with a bolt of hellfire. She laughed it off and pulled my feet out from under me with her tentacles. I crashed to the floor, stunned. As I lay on my back fighting, being slowly strangled, I saw the fire sprinklers above her and had an idea. My next blast of fire tore open the water pipes, deluging the evil monster with cold water.

The monster screamed in agony as she was washed away in the flood, her slimy tentacles thrashing. I struggled to my feet and headed toward the door. Suddenly, the monster rose from the water with a scream of outrage. She swung all of her tentacles at me, hitting me with such force that I went flying and crashed through the wall into the next room. Injured and enraged, I began to Change. My eyes turned green and I growled as my body began to swell. If I'd been wearing any clothing, it would have ripped, but the swimsuit didn't rip because I'm never left pantless by the Change. Also, oddly enough, I always seem to get bashed through a wall or otherwise be out of sight when I Change so that no one ever sees who the werebear is.

I crashed back through the wall as an enormous cave bear and tackled the surprised monster. My gaping maw completely enclosed her head as I tried to rip it from her body, but the taste was really bad and so I spit it out unripped. As I sat there in disgust, trying to paw the awful taste from my tongue, the monster grappled with me, trying to tie me up with her tentacles. We struggled for several minutes until I got an opening, and then with one titanic swipe of an enormous paw, I sent her flying through another wall.

I hulked through the hole she had made, widening it further, my eyes a blazing and furious green as I determined to make an end of this hideous creature, bad taste and all. She looked up at me with obsequious hatred and then without warning her swimsuit burst and a dozen giant weasels exploded forth to attack me.

"I'm blind!" I roared (although no one understood me because I was speaking in cave bear). The giant weasels attacked me with all the fury of a dozen furious giant weasels. I spent the next few minutes fighting them, too distracted to see what the monster was doing. When I had torn the last weasel in half, I looked about and the monster was gone. Was she dead? Was her life bound up with the weasels? Or were they just evil minions to distract me while she escaped? I didn't know.

So I Changed back into a human and went to towel off. I mentioned to one of the attendants that it looked like there was a bit of water damage in the steam room and they should take a look at it.

The final phase was a massage which turned out to be mediocre at best --too soft and too short. After the massage, I got dressed and went out to see ... my "guide" waiting for me, "How was the massage? Was it soft enough? Do you need any water?"

So that was her game. Maybe she believed that I had gotten amnesia when I was hurled through the wall and that I didn't remember that she was really a tentacled monster that wanted to kill me. Well let her think that. And since she didn't know that I was a werebear (remember the convenient bashing-through-a-wall thing that always occurs before my transformation), I had a double advantage. I wanted to finish her now, but I was too weak to continue the fight. I would have to hope that I had time to recover before her next evil attack.

We walked out of the facility side by side, my head drooping with depression as she droned on, "Do you want some coffee? Did the attendants do a good job? Was the shower strong enough?"

But she would pay. Oh, yes, she would pay.
I've made a few changes for dramatic purposes such as having my "guide" ask a bunch of different questions instead of constantly repeating herself. But except for such minor editorial changes, the story is emotionally true, even if some of the things reported didn't happen. I stand by this story.

taking on a thug

Long-time blogger Keith Burgess-Jackson has started a new blog specifically to hold professor Brian Leiter accountable for his thuggish debate tactics (link from Maverick Philosopher).

Keith is very talented at analyzing and arguing about argumentation and logic and so far his new blog is quite good.

Monday, January 16, 2006

other views of Fez

Riadzany has collected several bloggers writing about Fez and Morocco.

God or Not

Back of the Envelope is hosting the God or Not Carnival this week, for those of you that can never get enough of athiest/theist disagreement.

Storyblogging Carnival XXXVI (I think that's 36)

Welcome to what should be the thirty-sixth storyblogging carnival if my information is correct. Number 35 was here.

We have eleven exciting entries for your reading pleasure. The descriptions are all by the authors, so don't get on my case if one of them sounds a bit unflattering.

The next Carnival will be back home at Back of the Envelope.

With that out of the way, let the stories begin:

A Memoir
by Audrey Violet Kaminski , Age 78 of Our Mother's Memoirs: Audrey Kaminski's Stories
rated G, 1000 words
Many years later my childhood home at 2632 Pennslvania Ave. was torn down and that time in history is gone forever, but it will always be somewhere in the back of my mind.

by Rhiain O'Connell of 2143 Project
rated PG, 5,549 words
A young girl runs away from her homeworld to join the interstellar peacekeeping force.

Forgotten, Part Seven
by Andrea Graham of Adam's Blog
rated PG, 1326 words
Blinded while protecting his flocks from a lion, Josiah Bar Natan is forced to seek refuge with his Uncle Benjamin in Jerusalem during the days of Christ's ministry. His uncle's servant girl, Rachel, is assigned the daunting duty of convincing a proud Josiah to accept her help and his condition, as Josiah has vowed to fast and pray until the Lord restores his sight.

A New World Order
by Tom Harrison of Monday Evening
rated G, 540 words
The Illuminati find themselves with a temporary liquidity problem.

the child Part 3, Chapter 12 and 13 (beginning here)
by Sheya Joie of Tales by Sheya
rated PG or PG-13, 4724 of a 113,089-word mini-trilogy in progress
The efforts to rescue people from the enemy's dungeon continues, with Lucy and Linda finally making contact with Ginger - while Stone shows up for the second daily report with a painful surprise.

And yes, it is finally getting towards the end now.

Trials, Chapter 15 of Fire (the complete story here)
from Donald Crankshaw of Back of the Envelope
rated PG-13, 6,953 words of a 90,110-word novel
Victor, still a Dominus-in-training, is ensnared in the political war
between his uncle and his enemy, Kulsin.

eight minutes
from Curtis Schweitzer of empty rhetoric
rated PG, 5,877 words
Alan Lightman's book "Einstein's Dreams" proposes a world where everyone knows that the end of time is coming and serenly faces it, united. Of course, in reality such a thing would never happen, and although Lightman's dream is beautiful, it lacks the realism that I seek in my own writing. "eight minutes" is a story along the same vein- proposing a disasterous event wherein the whole of humanity knows that their destruction is coming. It is not the ideal end of Lightman's story, but it is, I hope, still beautiful. In it, I reflect on three groups' reactions: children, ordinary people in a grocery store, and in an airplane flying high in the atmosphere. It is, ultimately, about the power of Beauty, Truth, and Goodness (manifested in love).

PETA Party #2
from Peace Moonbeam of The Peace Moonbeam Chronicles
A stupid story, poorly written.

A shadow of his former self
from Goemagog of this page for sublet
419 words
the non-life of a ghost, g.

Rampage in Fez
by Dave Gudeman of Doc Rampage
rated PG, 1190 words
A sordid tale of greed, revenge and treachery in the cold alleyways of an ancient city except that it's really not all that sordid and there isn't any particular greed, revenge or treachery.

Britannia 19 & 20
by Andrew Ian Dodge of Dodgeblogium
The cyberpunk tale in a crumbling European Union continues...

Sunday, January 15, 2006

what is Iran really up to?

Michelle Malkin has a great round up of discussions on Iran's nuclear build-up and the international (non-) response (link from Patterico).

Has it occurred to anyone that President Ahmadinejad of Iran is pretty stupid to go around threatening to destroy Israel as he works on producing atomic weapons? But no stupid man could get to be president of Iran. I wonder if something else is going on. Is Ahmadinejad playing a bit of redirection? After all, what is really more of a threat to the Mullah's regime in Iran: Israel, or the two budding democracies on Iran's border, Afghanistan and Iraq?

If I were living in Afghanistan or Iraq, I would be enormously concerned about the possibility of Iran building nuclear weapon. Iran and Iraq have recently engaged in a long, vicious war, and Iran has supported insurgents in both countries. If I lived in one of those countries and I thought that Iran was about to get a huge technological advantage, I'd be thinking seriously about a preemptive strike.

"But wait! That wacky president Ahmadinejad is just a crazy Jew hater! He isn't going to use the weapons on us, he's going to use them on the Jews! Well, bad luck for them, but is it really any of our business? No need for us to get involved in that crazy Mullah vs. Zionist war."

So next year Iran successfully tests an atomic bomb and then moves a provocatively large army to its border with Iraq. "What are you Americans going to do about it, huh? And if the Americans are scared, what are you Iraqis going to do about it? Hey, you know that Iraqi city near the border? I think that's really an Iranian city."