Saturday, 23 December 2017

Last Night

25 DEC AT 2:12 AM
Evan
where are you

Deborah
sorry, I couldn't sleep. I didn't want to wake you, so I went out for a drive, to look at the Christmas lights.

Evan
we are you comign back

Deborah
Soon.

Deborah
Have you been drinking? You can barely string a sentence together.

Evan
im not old enough to drink

Deborah
lol what are you talking about?

Deborah
Lila?

Deborah
Lila, are you on Daddy's tablet?

Evan
yes

Deborah
What are you doing up? Go back to bed, sweetheart.

Evan
why is daddy on the couch

Deborah
Daddy's on the couch?

Evan
yes he's sleeping

Deborah
Maybe Daddy couldn't wait for Christmas, so he went to sit by the tree.

Evan
he's not on that couch

Deborah
Daddy's in his study?

Evan
Yeah

Deborah
I'm not going to be home for a little while, can you go back to bed, okay?

Evan
no

Deborah
No? Don't you want to wake up on Christmas morning?

Evan
I can't sleep i herd a noiss

Deborah
What kind of noise, honey?

Evan
a bang on the roof

Deborah
It was probably just the possums, sweetheart. You really should get back to sleep.

25 DEC AT 2:21 AM
Evan
it was not a possum nose it was lower it was santa

Deborah
It wasn't Santa, sweetheart. Santa already came, there are presents under the tree, remember?

Evan
may be he camw back

Deborah
It's not Santa, Lila. Trust me. Maybe it was Daddy, looking around in the kitchen.

Evan
it wasn't daddy he's very asleep

Deborah
Very asleep?

Deborah
Oh, I see . . . well, Mummy will have a talk with Daddy when she gets home.

Evan
Where are you?

Deborah
I'm out seeing a friend, Lila. Now, just go back to sleep for me, okay?

Evan
no

Deborah
Lila, do as you're told.

Deborah
It's very late, Lila.

Evan
I can't sleep

Deborah
I'm sorry, I'm coming home now to tuck you in. But, if you go lie down, you might fall asleep on your own.

Deborah
You’ll see your cousins in the morning.

Evan
I don't want to sleep I want to see santa

Deborah
LILA

Evan
look its santa

Evan

Evan

Deborah
Don't play with the camera, Lila.

Evan
santa is outside

Deborah
Lila, Santa is not outside.

Deborah
It’s late, you’re just overexcited, okay?

25 DEC AT 2:26 AM
Evan

Deborah
Go to your room.

Deborah
Lila, are you still there? GO TO YOUR ROOM

Evan
I don't want to go to sleep

Deborah
LILA PLEASE

Deborah
Go to the study, okay

Deborah
Can you go to the study for Mummy, please?

Deborah
Lila?

Deborah
Lila, are you listening to me.

Evan
im in the study alredy

Deborah
Good. Now, can you lock the door for me, sweetheart?

Evan
yew

Evan
yes

Deborah
Now, I need to make a phone call. Please be quiet for me, okay?

Evan
okay

25 DEC AT 2:29 AM
Evan
why do I have to be quite

Evan
he's banging on the roof agan

Evan
I thick santas stuck

Evan
looking for the chimmey

25 DEC AT 2:31 AM
Deborah
Okay, help is on the way, honey. Just stay there, okay?

Deborah
What do you mean by banging on the roof?

Evan
I can hear he's feet agin

Deborah
He's walking on the roof?

Evan
yes

Deborah
Okay, Lila. I'm getting in the car, but I can't type while I'm driving. Do you think you'll be okay?

Evan
okay

Deborah
Just, don't unlock the door, okay?

Evan
why

Deborah
Because it's not safe.

Evan
What about santa

Deborah
Lila, that's NOT Santa

Evan
hees lookg for the shiny

Deborah
Lila. Santa ISN'T REAL. That's not santa, that's just someone trying to break into our house!

Deborah
Now STAY IN THE STUDY, okay? I'm on my way

Evan
santa is so to real

Evan
mummy

25 DEC AT 2:43 AM
Evan
why did you sad he wasn real

Evan
you said he was but he is he said so

Evan
says he has speshal presents for me

Evan
mummy

25 DEC AT 2:47 AM
Deborah
I'm here now

Deborah
Lila?

Deborah
Lila, tell me you didn't let that man in our house.

Deborah
Lila, ANSWER ME!!!

25 DEC AT 2:53 AM
Deborah
Lila, I’m sorry

Deborah
Please, open the front door for me, honey.

Evan
What the hell is goig on?

Deborah
Lila?

Evan
No Where are you?

Evan
Did you let Lila play with my tablet?

Deborah
I’m in the driveway. Can you let me in?

Evan
Why are you texting if your home!

Evan
Get in here add help!

Deborah
I can't.

Evan
I’m not doing this. I know you can hear her crying from out there. If you want to talk to me come and help me with Lila and talk

Deborah
I can’t, I threw my key away.

Deborah
That man tried to grab it, so I threw it over the fence.

Deborah
It’s my fault Lila’s crying.

Deborah
She was watching through the door when I came home.

Deborah
She saw everything.

Deborah
Evan, PLEASE answer me.

Deborah
The police will be here soon, I need to explain what happened.

Evan
Did you tell Lila that Santa isn’t real?

Deborah
I HAD to.

Evan
On CHRISTMAS?! She says you killed Santa.

Deborah
That’s not what she means.

Evan
What kind of heartless person tells her daughter Santa isn’t real on Christmas?

Deborah
If you hadn’t been blackout drunk, none of this would have happened!

Evan
I was ASLEEP

Evan
its THREE IN THE MORNIGN

Deborah
Please, just open the door.

Deborah
Don’t be alarmed by the blood.

Evan
You’re bleeding?

Deborah
no I’m fine

Deborah
Hold on, the police are here.

Deborah
Just tell Lila that I love her and wanted to keep her safe

Deborah
and Merry Christmas

MESSAGE COULD NOT BE SENT ⚠
Evan
What? Deb, what's going on?

MESSAGE COULD NOT BE SENT ⚠
Evan
Deb, what happened?

MESSAGE COULD NOT BE SENT ⚠
Evan
Deb, what the hell did you do?!

Monday, 18 December 2017

Your Muse sent you a Message . . .

Earlier this month, I was helping out with some gardening and as usual I left my mobile phone in my pocket. For some reason - probably due to the heat, my posture or both - my phone's screen cracked and the touchscreen stopped working right. I tried resetting it, but the screen went black. My phone . . . was dead.
R.I.P. Samsung Galaxy S5, 27/09/16 ― 08/12/17
But, I need a phone, so I went and bought a new one. It has some useful features, it has a bit more space and a faster CPU and it even comes with an app called Samsung Smart Switch, so I could move all of my old applications and data onto my new phone. However, when I first started using the phone, I did not know this, so I was just downloading new apps and games.

When I was looking for games for my phone, I wanted to get something new, since I had a bit more space on this phone, and in my search I found a collection of apps all with the same basic idea. They were databases for stories written in the style of an Instant Messenger program - in particular, Facebook Messenger, an app that many people have on their phone. This style intrigued me . . .
I don't "do" subscriptions, since it seems like a waste of money to me, but I accessed the free trial subscriptions for several of these apps, including Hooked, Tap, Cliffhanger & Seen so that I could see what the big deal was. Ultimately, it wasn't what I was expecting, but I figured it was perfect to write a blog post about. I'll get to the specifics of those apps in a moment, but first I want to talk about electronic literature in general.

When it comes to literature, fiction and writing, there are some amazing ways to read and to write. And, when you throw in the modern world with modern media and electronics, you get even more. For starters, I'm aware of some amazing ways that basic chat programs have been used in fiction.
To begin with, in the book John Dies at the End, there is a part of the story where, to show how powerful the big, bad monster is, the main characters read a transcript of a chat program with several people who are friends with one of the victims of the main story's conflict, and it just . . . I won't spoil it except to say that it does not exist in the Film of the Book, so even if you've seen the film, I still think you need to check out the original story for this one, it's rather well done.
Chat programs seem to lend themselves quite well to horror in fiction. I remember Noah Antwiler (aka 'Spoony') talking about Renraku Arcology: Shutdown, an RPG story setting that used in-world transcripts of chat programs for world-building, and because the characters involved were all top-shelf hackers it showed just how corrupt and dangerous the world was becoming.
I can also remember A Series of Poor Decisions, also known as "The Twitter Song", which used the "Newest First" layout from Twitter to inspire a song whose narrative was sung in reverse order. Unfortunately, the original video seems to be missing, so the only version I found online was on the Russian social media site VK.com, and the original CareWhatIThink Twitter profile still exists, but the song is worth checking out.
Speaking of Twitter, I have to mention a book I saw in my local bookstore called Twitterature. Written by Alexander Aciman & Emmett Rensin, this retells classic literature, through tweets, written from the viewpoint of the main character or other relevant characters. Of course it's very silly, since it tells stories like Beowulf, Dracula & Hamlet even though Twitter clearly didn't exist back then and uses a very crude vocabulary. Personally, I didn't like the way it was done, but it's an interesting idea nonetheless.
Also, one of my favourites is Digital: A Love Story. an indie visual novel where you play the main character and control the game through his computer. The story is told through e-mails with the love interest and by searching different websites. I haven't played in a while, but I found the story very enjoyable. Also, the game is available online, for free at the creator's website.

Different technologies have inspired all kinds of different stories and recently I've discovered one of the newest kind to join the gang, the aforementioned chat story.
Unfortunately, unlike "twitterature" or "electronic literature", chat stories don't have a cool name. Well, not yet . . .
Personally, I like the idea of calling them immemoirs. See, a memoir is a form of writing that memorializes experiences of the past from one person's perspective. Similarly, these chat stories tend to have one fixed perspective, but because it's fictional (therefore not written from memory) it's immemorial. Also, as these are written with chat programs and instant-messaging programs, also known as "I.M. programs" the title reflects how these are I.M.-memoirs. Well, I thought it was pretty clever. Unfortunately, it hasn't caught on yet, but maybe I can encourage others to utilize it.
In fact, let's make that our Word of the Day: 'IMMEMOIR'

Immemoir /i'memwah/ n. 1. A piece of fictitious writing which emulates the style of an instant messaging program, or SMS messages. 2. A work of fiction written within an instant messaging program. Also, Epistolary novel.

As a writer, I am intrigued by the potential of these immemoirs, but as a reader, so far, I've been left wanting. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't be this excited about this style if I didn't see something in those originally stories that I found inspiring. However, there were niggling issues that prevented me from truly enjoying the original immemoirs that I've read.
I won't reveal the titles, since I don't want to name and shame a bunch of writers who are trying to find their feet in a new medium, but the first story I read had a plothole involving blood in a bathroom sink, and the second one had issues with formatting, since it had a character talking to two different people in two different phone conversations, despite both appearing on the same screen.
Most unfortunate of all is that some of the apps involved included some features which totally ruined the story. On several occasions, partway through an immemoir, I was given the option to choose between different responses in a story. I'm sure it makes it harder to write the story, especially if it diverged significantly, but from my perspective this ruined the story's immersion.
See, for me, part of the interest in these stories is the inherently voyeuristic nature of it. Most, if not all of us, write chats with our friends and family using instant-messenger programs, and so reading someone else's chat is both familiar and foreign. It's different enough that we're interested in knowing more, but similar enough that we can empathize with the people involved.
By changing the perspective and saying "oh, you're the one making the choices", it rips you out of that spectator role and puts you in the driver's seat, but with very limited control, only then to force you back into a spectator role.
Another major issue is when these stories ignored their own format for the sake of a plot point.
In one of the stories, the writer included an epilogue. But, since these stories are written in separate chat-lines, like in a messenger program, the way they moved time forward was to use a non-character "narrator" bubble to say:
<three weeks later>
And I actually stopped reading to check my own Facebook messages. Not just because it ruined the immersion, but to check the facebook chat template and see - yep, messages do in fact come with the occasional timestamp when there's a long gap between messages.
So, why break the story immersion for the writer to essentially slap me in the face with a wet fish with the words "TIME IS PASSING" tattooed on its scales?
I've seen other stories do this as well, where to show character actions, the writer just writes:
<*character sighs heavily and lowers the gun*>
It seems like such a waste?! Why bother writing in an IM style, if you're not going to exploit the style?!!

It was all very disappointing . . .
BUT, these issues are not inherent in immemoirs. In fact, these are just little issues, which could be easily avoided. Not to mention, there was one aspect of the immemoir that I found very impressive. It was used twice, for great effect, in two different horror immemoirs that I read, but my favourite was the story called "Where is She?"
In the story, on several occasions, the character took pictures on her phone, because . . . well, because, why not? People do that all the time, in real life. I see something hilarious, and say "You HAVE to see this weird doll I found", then snap a picture and share it in the middle of a chat.
And in a horror story, it was incredibly effective. Especially because, like in some IM programs, whenever a picture appeared, it started as a blank, white square that said "click to download image". Which meant, when a character says "there's something in the basement", then snaps a photo, if I want to know what they saw, I have to click the image to reveal it. It was very good at making me second-guess myself.

Also, stuff to do with plotholes, unnecessary interactivity and poorly-executed time-jumps, revealed with telling instead of showing - all of that is very easy to avoid, with a little care.

So, I am interested in writing an immemoir of my own. In fact, for Christmas, I want to put one on this blog. But, even more than that, I want you to write an immemoir, or some twitterature, or some other form of electronic epistolary novel.
I want to try it for myself, but I also want other people to try it for themselves. Getting the chance to read some really good electronic literature this christmas would be one heck of a gift.
And hey, since it is so close to Christmas, here is a gift from me to you.
If you're interested in writing an immemoir for your blog (or, you're just interested in playing around with the format), here is the format for my own instant-messenger story template:


MON AT 9:00 AM
He
Message text

FRI AT 3:00 PM
She
Reply text

This is the code that I used to create this:

<table align="left" style="background: #eeeeee; border-radius: 5px 50px 50px 25px; display: inline-table; margin-bottom: 10px; padding: 10px; text-align: left; width: 75%;"><caption style="color: grey; padding: 0px 0px 0px 100px;">
MON AT 9:00 AM
</caption><tbody style="font-size: 15px;">
<tr><td><div style="color: black; text-align: left;">
<span style="font-size: 17px;"><b>He</b></span></div>
Message text
</td></tr>
</tbody></table>
<br />
<div style="text-align: center;">
</div>
<table align="right" style="background: #cccccc; border-radius: 50px 5px 25px 50px; display: inline-table; margin-bottom: 10px; padding: 10px; text-align: left; width: 75%;"><caption style="color: grey; padding: 0px 100px 0px 0px;">
FRI AT 3:00 PM
</caption>
<tbody style="font-size: 15px;">
<tr><td><div style="color: black; text-align: right;">
<span style="font-size: 17px;"><b>She</b></span></div>
Reply text
</td></tr>
</tbody></table>
<br />

You can change the colours of the message bubbles rather easily, and even change the position or direction of the "sharp" corner on the chat bubble edges. You can write whatever you want within these tables, and they will adapt to fit your content. You can also include images, although I think you need to make sure their width is less then 500px . . .
Just be aware that I am not a perfect programmer, so if you type text underneath the bubbles (outside of the table elements), you will end up having the text wrap around the cracks of the table. I don't know how to fix that except with borderless, 100% width tables, to hide the text-wrapping, but if you know anything about html, maybe you can improve upon my efforts here. Just select the contents of the table, copy them, and paste (without formatting) into your own html, to play around with this for yourself, and write your very own immemoir on your blog!
Go crazy!

I found this format pretty inspiring, if you want to learn a bit more about it, you could check out some of those "Chat Story" apps I mentioned before, but much more than that, I recommend that you check out some of the free apps. Four that I have are TapTap, Scary Chat Stories, TapTale & Addicted. They have ads, but that's just so that you don't have to pay subscriptions, and these don't seem too glitchy, the stories seem alright . . . feel free to check out those links, if you have a compatible phone.

I'm the Absurd Word Nerd, and until next time - get typing, get tapping, and explore some of the ever-evolving ways that we tell stories.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Only 61.6% Equal

At the moment, my grandmother is in hospital. She is staying with us after she fell down due to chronic bradycardia - her heart wasn't beating hard enough or fast enough and she collapsed when there wasn't enough blood in her brain. She was given a pacemaker as a result, but because of the risk of her heart misbehaving again, she had to go into care.
My mother was willing to become her carer, so she now lives here. However, a few weeks ago, partially due to the fall and partially due to knee surgery in the past, she had exacerbated a kneecap fracture which started to cause her pain and swelled up like a balloon, so she's in hospital with a splint on her leg.

She is okay, in no pain, but she's very very bored. Hospitals are not fun, so we spend time with her when we can to give her something to get her mind off the fact that she's unable to stand up on her own.
Now, I love my grandmother, and I think she's fun to talk to, but I don't like visiting her in hospital because I'm bored too. The only things we can talk about are either how she's healing (which she doesn't like talking about, because it's boring and she doesn't like dwelling in her own fragility), or all the stuff she can't do since she's in hospital (i.e. pretty much everything else). So, we just end up talking about stuff she's seen on TV, current events, or stuff I'm doing.
Last time I went to spend time with her, it was the 10th of November, just three days after the marriage equality postal survey results had been tallied. So, I talked to her about that.

I thought it was interesting, because she said she voted 'Yes', because she think people should just keep to themselves, and also "Now your brother can get married, I guess". I thought that was pretty sweet. She doesn't really "get it", but she did it for her grandkids, that's cool. But, after we spoke about it, she said.
  "But, it is kind of weird, isn't it?"And, I felt kind of sorry for her. No not in the "pity the close-minded fool" way, but more . . . I really couldn't relate. She wanted to understand, and she was being kind by doing the best for the future, her family and her grandkids even though she herself didn't understand how it helped. But, she still didn't "get it", and didn't know how.
To me, homosexuality just is, it's about as weird as blond hair or vegemite sandwiches - but she's in her eighties now, for the vast majority of her life "gay", "faggot", "sissy" and "nancy boy" were abnormalities to be avoided, or insults to be slung at the weak and the pitiful. I wanted to make her understand, but as much as I can sympathize with her confusion, I can't empathize. I never lived that life. So, I just said to her:
  "I can see how it could be weird to you . . . but, to me, it's not that weird. I've grown up with it just being a part of life. I guess that's all it is, another part of life."
I don't know if that was a satisfying answer for her, in fact I'm pretty sure it wasn't, but it's the best I could do.

So, I get that people may have "issues". Maybe it's weird to some people; perhaps some people don't like the idea of their kids being gay & perhaps some people just don't think the definition of marriage is something that ought to be determined by law instead of retroactively non-polygamous religious terms.
These people are all wrong, but at least I can sort of understand where they are coming from. If I squint, I can see what the issue is. But their issue is not my issue. Their issue can be solved by checking out a dictionary. And since that's something I do quite often on this blog, allow me to indulge you. The Word of the Day is: 'MARRIAGE'

Marriage /'marij/ n. 1. Any of the diverse forms of interpersonal union established in various parts of the world to form a familial bond that is recognized legally, religiously, or socially, granting the participating partners mutual conjugal rights and responsibilities. 2. a. Also called opposite-sex marriage. the form of this institution under which a man and a woman have established their decision to live as husband and wife by legal commitments, religious ceremonies, etc. b. This institution expanded to include two partners of the same gender, as in same-sex marriage; gay marriage3. The state, condition, or relationship of being married; wedlock: They have a happy marriage. 4. The legal or religious ceremony that formalizes the decision of two people to live as a married couple, including the accompanying social festivities: To officiate at a marriage. 5. A relationship in which two people have pledged themselves to each other in the manner of a marriage, without legal sanction: Trial marriage. 6. Any close or intimate association or union: The marriage of words and music in a hit song. 7. A formal agreement between two companies or enterprises to combine operations, resources, etc., for mutual benefit; merger.

But, my issue with the recent vote isn't the definition or the political/legal/religious ramifications. See, my issue with this vote was that it was entirely pointless. At the end of the day, do you know what this vote is essentially changing? Time for a minor history/politics lesson . . .
Once upon a time, in 2004, the Marriage Act in Australia was amended specifically to exclude same-sex marriage from the definition of marriage in Australia. Marriage didn't have a legally binding definition before then, so the Amendment redefined marriage as:
  "The union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life."
And, just to be a dick, even added the caveat of disrecognizing foreign same-sex marriages:
  "A union solemnised in a foreign country between: (a) a man and another man; or (b) a woman and another woman; must not be recognised as a marriage in Australia."

At time of writing, there is a 2017 Marriage Act Amendment Bill going through parliament, supposedly as a direct result of this postal survey. However, ALL that this bill is going to do is change five words to just two:
  "marriage means the union of 2 people to the exclusion of all others . . ."
That's kind of it. Apparently, they will also be getting rid of the "same-sex marriages in foreign jurisdictions" line - not that they need to, since it's meaningless by all intents and purposes - and makes allowances for religious celebrants to marry as they see fit.
So, someone added an amendment to the Marriage Act, and we are adding another amendment to remove the effects of that amendment. Cool, but why did we have to spend so much money on this Postal Survey?

Well, it's so that we could finally have the numbers in, right? Isn't that what the survey was for? To determine that we really wanted it? . . . Uh, no.
To begin with, we have known that the majority of Australians have been supportive of gay marriage since 2007. this new result isn't new to me:


The last time we recorded a majority "opposed to marriage equality" vote was the 38% Support, 44% Oppose results found by Newspoll in June, 2004. But, we have known for a damn, long time that most Australians support marriage equality.
Yeah, these numbers fluctuate since they're sample-sizes between 1,000 and 200,000, and they were several years apart in some cases. But, 61.6% . . . this isn't news to me. The numbers fit right into the expected outcomes of every other poll we've had over the last decade.

Okay, sure, maybe we just needed the exact numbers. This is an official, government-sanctioned survey which will affect political outcomes after all, so we need it to be perfect, right?
Yeah, no, that's not true either . . . this was a non-binding postal survey. Do you remember that bill I mentioned, to amend the Marriage Act? The reason it's coinciding with the election results is because of political maneuvering, the actual survey didn't affect it whatsoever. Like I said, it exists to change five words. If the result had been 'No', the bill would have been proposed anyway, because people have been proposing amendments to the Marriage Act ever since they brought in that same-sex exclusive definition, with two separate bills being struck down by the Gillard government in 2011.

So, at the end of all this, after spending over 100 million dollars, what have we gained?

As far as I'm concerned, because I am an incredibly bitter and curmudgeonly sod, all I think we've really gained from this is hardline proof that 38.4% of Australians are Opposed to Equality. Yes, 61.6 is greater than half, more than 50, and that's technically majority; but, 38.4 is greater than a third, more than 33.3. So, over a third of people, when asked if they support same-sex marriage, said No.
Over one-third of the people that live in the same country as me do not believe that people deserve equality. This post is written for those people, because that's the thing that has been bothering me for the last two weeks.
See, even though we've "won" the vote, as it were, these people still exist, and as much as gay marriage proponents would like to think that these people don't matter, and that their discrimination is just impotent rage at this point, they're wrong.

See, do you remember how I mentioned that the law makes allowances for celebrants to marry as they see fit? There is more to that little nugget than I've divulged, and this is part of the Bill which (at time of writing) is currently pending before the Senate.
The Bill proposes to has change the definition of "discrimination" to allow for "ministers of religion, religious marriage celebrants and bodies established for religious purposes" to refuse to provide goods, services or facilities for a marriage ceremony.

Not exactly "marriage equality" when you need to change the definition of discrimination to allow religious people to treat same-sex couples differently, is it?

Nobody should have the right to deny anyone their lawful marriage, that's disgusting - and the law even agreed with me, until the government decided to amend those particular laws.

But, you may think that churches and religious organizations should have the right to practice their religion as they see fit. After all, these are sincerely held beliefs, and nobody should have the right to tell a private institution how it should operate.
Now, you might have a point there . . . however, churches are not private institutions. Religious organizations are not private businesses, they are public businesses, because the government decides who and what is a "religion" by granting recognized religious institutions with tax exemptions. Just as the government provides tax exemption to endorsed charities, not-for-profit businesses & culture, health, science and education organizations - churches are granted tax exemption because they are seen as providing a benevolent, public service. The Australian Tax Office even calls such organizations: "Public Benevolent Institutions"
So, if a church is a "public", "benevolent" institution, it should follow the letter of the law in regards to any government-subvented institution, including those which state one cannot discriminate against anyone, due to their gender, race, age or sexual orientation. To do otherwise is nothing less than institutional discrimination.
If we stop granting churches tax-exemption, then maybe I would change my mind, and treat them like private organizations. I wouldn't like it, but they would have a right to discriminate silently, non-violently, privately and passively - just as I would have the right to publicly boycott them for such discrimination.

I don't see how any church can call itself "benevolent", yet continue to inhibit the safe and healthy relationship of two people in love, all based on Bronze Age bigotry, but much more than that, I don't see how our government could condone, and even support it, financially.

But enough about how we should separate Church and State . . .

What I do want to talk about are the people, those private citizens who I do feel have the right to discriminate. I don't agree with thoughtcrime, and I think that it's good to be able to let people voice their opinion no matter what. I even have some controversial opinions regarding people shouting fire in a crowded theatre, I think that it should be protected, free speech.
You have Freedom of Speech, and Freedom of Thought.
So, I want to say to you . . . to everyone Australian whom, when they received their Marriage Equality Postal Vote, ticked the box marked 'No'. Or, to those who wished they could have voted 'no', but where from another country or too young. Or, those who are upset at the majority 'Yes' vote. Or, even just to those who marked 'yes' for some reason other than the belief that same-sex couples out to have equality.
To all of you, I say, I disagree with you. But, not because I think you're stupid or simple or evil or cruel. I disagree with you because you're wrong.
That's not just my opinion, it's based on the fact that homosexuality is completely harmless in every sense of the word, and the fact that every argument I have heard in opposition to that claim of harmlessness, or against homosexuality in general, or just the freedom of such to marry, has been scientifically, logically, factually or sociologically wrong.
If you claim that homosexuals are paedophiles, you're wrong.
If you claim that homosexuality is a sin, you're wrong.
If you claim that homosexuals all have anal intercourse, you're wrong.
If you claim that homosexuality is what gives you HIV/AIDS, you're wrong.
If you claim that homosexuals have a naturally shorter lifespan, you're wrong.
If you claim that homosexuality is unnatural, you're wrong.
If you claim that homosexuals can be cured, you're wrong.
And, if you think I am unwilling to listen to your views, you're very wrong.

I am willing to explain my point of view, and I am willing to listen to yours, because I understand that a lot of this comes from fear and loathing, or by being convinced my those who seek to confuse you for their own political or religious ends, or a lack of understanding of the relevant facts.
There do exist people, like my grandmother, who want to understand, but can't find an appropriate format by which to voice their concerns. Either they're worried that they'll be singled out for being "homophobic" or "bigoted"; or, they just don't know the appropriate forum to express their opinions - well, try me. I have a comments section, and other various chatting programs such as Hangouts, Kik & Messenger. You may even try to send me a message through Tumblr.
I only ask that you come with an open mind - and if you want to learn how to do that, my last blog post explained the very simple process of doing that.

I'm the Absurd Word Nerd, and this might seem kind of bitter and negative, but it's just how I feel after this whole Marriage Equality Postal Survey result. I'm sorry if this seems unnecessary to some of you, but the fact of the matter is, when it comes to equality, I don't think that 61.6% is good enough . . .

Monday, 30 October 2017

Skepticism 101: Don't Be Stupid

If you are not a Skeptic, you are an Idiot.

Before I get into the explanation as to why, I want you to think for a moment - how does that make you feel? I just called you stupid, how does that make you feel? Most people, when called stupid, feel insulted. They get annoyed, sad, upset or angry. Even if that particular comment didn't upset you, is that always the case? When someone confronts your intelligence or conflicts with your knowledge, how do you feel, usually? What about when it really matters, or what about if it's something that you care about? Do you usually get upset?

Most people do; some of us do all of the time, but all of us do some of the time. The fact of the matter is, even if you are a skeptic, you are ALSO an idiot. Everyone is an idiot. That’s the point I need to make, we are all simple, flawed humans and we all make stupid mistakes for stupid reasons.
The Word of the Day is: 'SKEPTIC'

Skeptic /'skeptik/ n. 1. A person who questions the validity or authenticity of something purporting to be factual. 2. A person who maintains a doubting attitude, as toward values, plans, statements, or the character of others. 3. A person who doubts the truth of a religion, especially Christianity, or of important elements of it. 4. (cap.) Philosophy a. A member of a philosophical school of ancient Greece, the earliest group of which consisted of Pyrrho and his followers, who maintained that real knowledge of things is impossible. b. Any later thinker who doubts or questions the possibility of real knowledge of any kind. ♦adj. 5. Pertaining to skeptics or skepticism; skeptical.

The basic idea is thus - as we are evolved creatures (just like every living thing), we are primarily motivated by death and sex - kill others before they kill you, and procreate before you die. Our larger brains evolved due to a few random mutations that allowed greater neuroplasticity, excess neuron growth and greater skull capacity. However, these mutations survived because it allowed those of us with these mutation to better adapt to dangers.
The capacity to imagine, to build, to speak - these are not selected for because “gee, wouldn't higher thinking be cool?”. These survived into our current species, because the ability to imagine includes the ability to foresee events before they happen, cooperate with others in our tribe, preempt consequences and plan for the future. This was an evolutionary advantage.
We currently use our brains for all kinds of things, it was not designed for - admittedly, that's because it wasn't designed at all, it was just a beneficial trait because smarter creatures were more careful, and so could live longer.

However, despite this, we still use our lizard-monkey brains for complex processes, from software to surgery to science. Don't get me wrong, due to our brains’ magnificent capacity it is very much CAPABLE of doing all that, but the system is not perfect. Just like using a razorblade as a kitchen knife, sure, it can work perfectly fine, but if you aren't careful, you'll end up with blood in your bolognese.
See, when your main goal is just to survive, “truth” doesn't matter, “truth” is useless.
When you see two eyes staring at you from behind the grass, it doesn't matter if that's actually a predator, or if it's a butterfly with convincing camouflage, because if you run away every time you will always survive. It doesn't matter whether the bitter vegetable is actually deadly or just an underripe turnip, all that matters is that if you avoid it just in case, you’ll never die from its poison. It doesn't matter if the bull/alpha/male is actually weaker than you, all that matters is that if you can make him back down, you get first dibs on the sex and food every time.
This is survival of the fittest. Not the fastest, not the strongest, the "fittest". it's not a square peg through a square hole, it's more like a semi-circle through a circular hole - it doesn't need to be the best, it just needs to "fit".
So, when we struggle to think critically and fail, it’s all just a result of us thinking like simple, imperfect animals. And, can you blame us? We are animals. When the goal is “survive”, truth is irrelevant, so when you use these same thought processes to find truth or attempt to determine reality, it's the metaphorical razorblade attempting to peel a metaphorical pumpkin. Not impossible, just not as easy.
But it does mean that “common sense” is fundamentally flawed. Sure, it makes "sense" that water looks blue because it reflects the blue sky; it makes “sense” that the sun goes around the Earth; it makes “sense” that blood in your veins is coloured blue; it makes “sense” that sugar makes children hyperactive & yes, it does make “sense” that that these simplistic ways of thinking are due to us having evolved from a less-developed lizard-monkey brain. However, not a single one of these things is actually true. The world is more complicated than our singular common sense allows. That's why we invented science, because we realized that a sometimes we are wrong. Science and other methodological enquiry is designed to curtail these stupid mistakes by slowly and carefully removing human error from the equation.

This is Skepticism 101: Remember that you are very capable of being very stupid. Even with the greatest education, the best of intentions, an astounding track record for efficiency and even if you have a desire to be a skeptic, you can still be wrong. So, you must accept that anything you do not know can be wrong. Even things you think you know can be wrong. Here's a perfect example:
  You are currently reading my blog post.This seems like an obvious thing to say, after all, if you weren't here to read it, then you wouldn't know what it says, right? Surely, this is true.
Well, not necessarily. For instance, who is to say that this blog post is mine? It's posted on "blogspot", and I don't know who owns this website domain. I am under the impression that the ownership for my blog falls under my intellectual property, but this may not be "my" blog post, I might be wrong there. Also, I do offer a translation function within this blog, for people who read languages other than English. If you have translated these words, perhaps these words are not precisely mine, but those of the translation program, so it may not be entirely mine.
Secondly, how do I know that you are reading it? Some people have some very clever text-to-speech programs, perhaps you are listening to this blog post, from some program, or perhaps a carer, parent or guardian is reading it to you.
Also, the word "currently" is ambiguous. Currently, from my perspective, I am the only one able to read this post, because I am still writing it. You won't read it until I have posted it. Although I wrote that sentence so that the meaning of the sentence was supposed to imply a current time contemporaneous to its perusal, but I can't assume that a reader would accept that implication.
Even a sentence which, according to common sense, is very much right, every single word in it is up for debate.

Now, of course, a lot of this might sound tiring. Do you really have to doubt everything?! Well, Yes; but pragmatically speaking, the goal is not to be mired by doubt and "accept nothing". Doubt is not the same thing as disagreement, and it is not believing the "opposite". It just means that when presented with something for which you do not have empirical data (which is to say, that which you have witnessed or investigated for yourself), that it very well could be wrong. Similarly, if you do not know something to be true and are not willing or able to investigate, then the correct answer must be "I don't know".
Remember, the goal is not to "never be incorrect", it's to be the most-correct that you can be. No, you can't always be right, but with some intellectual rigour, you can be less-wrong.

Sometimes, this can be as simple as giving more information. For example, I met a woman today that told me she had a rooster that laid an egg - this is not just an example, this is a true story, a hen wandered into our garden, so I went to a local lady who sells eggs to ask if the hen belonged to her. She came to have a look and determined, no, the chicken is not hers since it was a maroon chicken and she didn't own any red chickens, but she said she would take care of it and look for the owner herself. We had a bit of a chat, and she said she had some cheeky chickens, and one particular rooster that surprised everyone by laying an egg.
I asked her what she meant, and she claimed that it was most-likely intersex (my word, not hers, she said "had both parts"), but some researchers at the local university were interested in having a look, to see if it was fertile.

Now, this is a very unusual claim, but there are some factors that make it appear more plausible in my eyes. There is a local university nearby, and I know that many university students are required to write papers in order to pass their grade (and an intersex chicken would certainly be a paper worth writing). I also know that intersex creatures, although rare, do occur, and because of the various curiosities that come with intersexuality, determining its fertility is not only an interesting conundrum, but could help to determine the nature of its particular sex.
However, obviously, there is reason to doubt it. After all, roosters and hens don't have sexually dimorphic genitals like humans, but rather chickens of either sex both have a cloaca, so this could be a simple case of mistaking a hen for a rooster. Also, although it would be an interesting case if it were true, I don't actually know how or why a local university would become aware of this hen/rooster, since I'm not aware of any universities that go out on "anomaly" hunting missions. It's most likely the woman called them herself, and if it is the case that she did called them herself, then I can't understand why this university was inclined to take her claims seriously. Not to mention, science with a sample of 'one' isn't widely applicable, so I don't know why a university would consider such a case so interesting.

So, as a skeptic, what is the answer? Is there really an intersex chicken out there? a kind of hen/rooster hybrid? A 'hooster'?
Well, the only possible correct answer, as a skeptic, is . . . "I don't know".
I think she was telling the truth, but that's not very meaningful, because even if she's not lying, she could still be mistaken, so it doesn't answer the question of this chicken's sex. Also, whilst I do believe this is plausible, that's not very significant, because many things which do not happen are 'plausible'. I just don't know.

Do I need to go and investigate this case? No, not really. If the opportunity arises to look into this, I would if I had the time, but I am happy not knowing the truth about this chicken and it's chromosomes because this truth isn't relevant to me.
But, as much as it sounds like common sense that this is just a lie, should I really bother being so persnickety? Surely, I should accept that this woman was lying and move on with my life, rather than remain in doubt. However, I can't do that, because although irrelevant to me, this may be relevant to someone else, and I am not prepared to mislead them, just because it is "fit" for me to ignore the reality here. Also, in either case, I would rather be unsure, and conscious of that, than to claim certainty and be ignorant of my own stupidity.

That, you see, is why I am talking about Skepticism in this final day of the Halloween Countdown. Skepticism, by design, counters human error - and ignorance of reality, truth and science is a fundamental human error.
This is what makes Ignorance,to me, so scary. Although I spent this blog post explaining it, the basis of skepticism really is this simple:
  1. Accept that you can be wrong.
  2. Try not to be.
Most people get caught up on the first one, and those that don't often don't know how to accomplish the second. As to that, well, there's science and logic and methodological empiricism. But, so long as you are comfortable with step one there, recognizing that you are not perfect and can make mistakes, and you can be stupid, then you can start being less so.

Despite how simple this is, people still hurt and kill one another over stupid beliefs; they fight over problems that fighting cannot resolve; they harm themselves and others, due to misunderstanding and lies & they justify their own ignorance by claiming that others are ignorant of what they believe to be true.
Just like being an alcoholic, the first step is realizing you have a problem - most of humanity is in denial when it comes to accepting how bad we are at thinking . . . ironically, because they don't want to think about it.

I'm the Absurd Word Nerd, and I hope you have a very fun Halloween tomorrow. I know it can be a scary time, but there is nothing to fear. That's the beauty of Halloween, we recognize that our fear is yet another human flaw, that we are oversensitive to potential dangers and can react fearfully even to things which are not at all dangerous; but Halloween exploits this simple flaw, so that we can have fun. So, to all of my readers, I wish you the best of fun exploiting your over-active fear response for fun and entertainment, and I hope you have a safe and not-too-stupid time this Halloween. Goodnight.