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Blue Ridge Parkway and Appalachia

May 29, 2012 Leave a comment

Jen and I and the dog took a week off to head down south. There wasn’t much of a plan beyond finding a cabin in the woods for a few days and then poking around the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Appalachian Trail for a bit. We didn’t do much serious hiking; just the few-miles-out-and-back walks in the woods to see some waterfalls and overlooks.

We managed to find a great cabin south of Asheville that was nice and cozy, and could actually have fit another half dozen people. It was part of a little private drive that was filled with empty lots, so we had the area all to ourselves. It had a wrap-around porch circling the entire cabin, with the most scenic section being screened in so you could sit outside but avoid the rain and bugs. We weren’t quite roughing it, but it was nice and relaxing.

(pic stolen from home-away.com)

We got a little freaked out when we read the lone one-star review that said all seven vacationers got full-body staff infections from the hot tub. Yikes. We played it safe and steered clear of that cauldron of disease, just in case. The managers assured us everything was ok, but something about rotting flesh simmering in a fetid bubble bath didn’t appeal to me. Besides, just sitting on the porch overlooking the mountains and thunderstorms was plenty to keep us occupied.

We, of course, went up to the Biltmore Estate because we’re both big Hannibal Lecter fans. We did the tour and went to the wine tasting room. Most of the wines were, how do you say, rather shitty, but I purchased a bottle for the in-laws, then promptly dropped it after the cashier completed the sale. I tried to catch it on the way down in a flail of arms and it bounced once unscathed, but shattered on the second impact. They gave me another bottle out of pity, so I commend them for that, but my original point still stands. Their wine tastes like fermented Welches; like Jesus. You know, vile communion wine, this is my blood and all that rubbish. It’s that bad. My only regret is that I broke just one bottle.

That was by far our cleanest day. The remaining days were spent walking miles and miles on mountain trails, applying layers of bug spray and suntan lotion on top of sweat, dirt, and deodorant. We dragged Piper with us everywhere, and she was quite a trooper. She never complained, but I found out that she does have this bad habit of trying to kill you if you happen to trip or stumble while having her on a leash: She bolts, so as soon as you commend yourself on the fine job you’ve done of staying upright, the frantic dog has just reached the end of her thirty foot leash and jerks you forward with the clear intention of avenging gravity’s recent loss. Other than that, she handled the mountain trails like a champ.

We hiked up several thousand stairs to Chimney Rock (near Bat Cave, NC. AWESOME), saw plenty of waterfalls and back-country along the Blue Ridge Parkway, and hiked up to McAffee’s Knob near Roanoke. We camped for a few nights at random rustic campsites along the Blue Ridge Parkway and I was glad my wife didn’t wake up to the sound of coyotes howling, because they sounded too close for comfort.

All in all it was a pretty relaxing time. A friend asked me, a bit confused, “So, what is it you plan on doing? Just walk around in the woods?” Yes. Absolutely. I would love to someday do the entire Appalachian Trail; to get away from it all for a few months of mind-numbing serenity. If that ever happens, I’ll be sure to write about it here.

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Categories: dog, travel

My Dog is a Luddite

March 16, 2012 Leave a comment

Piper spontaneously developed a new and unfounded fear this past week as Jen and I were watching The Time Traveler’s Wife. She wasn’t frightened by the complexity of the narrative, or by pondering the nature of the lead character’s debilitating temporal handicap, or even by the thought of knowing the time and place of your own death. No, it was the mundane explosion of an on-screen firework which startled her from her sleep, awakening her to an entirely terrifying world in which nothing would ever be the same; a world dominated by a big-screen TV and loud, unearthly noises emanating from the walls.

Her acknowledgement of the TV has changed her life forever. Up until this firework explosion, Piper never quite got the concept of TV. No matter what was showing or how loud the speakers became, she never paid it the least amount of attention. This goes for computer screens too. While Jen and I were away for a few months in California, we would Skype home occasionally, and Piper would be immune to our faces and barely register our voices. This has all now changed.

She has now become a quivering wreck of a canine whenever we watch a movie or play a video game on the big screen. She’ll spend the duration of the movie trying to force her face between your leg and the couch, often stretching her facial skin beyond what even Barbara Walters’ face could handle. She’ll hide under the end table with only her nose peeking out, wide-eyed and panicked at the large, moving images coming from across the room. Several times, she has sneaked up from the side and half-climbed up onto the back of the couch before we shooed her down, at which point she just runs to the front of the couch where you barely have enough time to snap your legs shut before she stabs her head into your crotch.

It doesn’t even matter what’s on the TV. The fireworks freaked her out, so we tried out a nature documentary showing whales and a bunch of fish. Who wouldn’t be soothed by the lush and calming voice of David Attenborough? My dog, apparently.

Instead, she finds comfort in unfathomable things. Like tonight, I see her happily sitting on the rug with both arms outstretched, merrily nuzzling the ground between her elbows; licking and peeking at the space between her arms over and over again, content as could be. I figure she’s got a disemboweled toy down there, void of stuffing, as she so often entertains. This goes on for a good fifteen minutes before curiosity overcomes my placidness, and I take a look at what she’s doing. I’m horrified to see a spider; really, half a spider, covered in saliva and mushed into the carpet. She’s so proud of her new friend that I just leave her to finish the dirty business. I mean, come on! A freaking spider?!? And a slow painful death for the thing? What, did my dog love the feel of those eight, then seven, then six legs scrambling against her tongue? What kind of monstrosity is this? I certainly didn’t teach her that.

It’s yet another one of those differences I’m finding between my dog and me. For example, if I were to be suddenly awoken by a gummy fruit snack hitting me in the head and landing on the ground, I would have a few questions; like, who the hell is throwing fruit snacks, why would you waste them like that, and where has this tainted gummy snack been prior to bumping into my head? Piper has been observed to take no more than one second to come out of a deep and sublime sleep to being alert enough that she eats the fruit snack without question, hesitation, or chewing. I think she gets that part from Jen. I’ll have to test that theory the next time Jen is napping.

Regardless, I’m coming to realize that there is a large distance between my dog and me that goes beyond our oft-attempted but always failed attempts at verbal communication. We may never cross that divide. She’s going to continue to be utterly freaked out by romantic dramas and nature documentaries while being hypnotically entranced by the possibility of a live arachnid on which to slowly feast, or by the occasional magic fruit snack falling from the sky like a sweet, chewy gift from above. Despite her wildly illogical idiosyncrasies, she’s a lot of fun, very entertaining, and keeps the house mostly spider-free.

Categories: dog

Intelligent Design vs. Evolution, the Board Game: An Analysis

January 9, 2012 20 comments

I finally got my hands on the board game, Intelligent Design vs. Evolution! I bought it as a gag gift for my brother a few years ago but the ungrateful little prick never actually got around to doing anything with it.

Slightly more fun than an aneurysm

I’m positively giddy with anticipation! This game is going to be unbelievably fun. To start off, I noticed that the box included a DVD called The Science of Evolution. I love science! Let’s see what we’ve got!

Wait a goddamn minute. I thought we were talking about science. Why the bloody hell is Ray Comfort heckling four high schoolers about their knowledge of evolution, with the sole intention of calling out every time they stutter and say maybe, probably, I don’t know, or get the hell away from me? What does that have to do with science, other than to point out the fact that our nation’s science education, specifically in the area of biology, has turned to a stagnant wasteland in large part because of festering sores like Ray Comfort?

Strike one. There’s still hope. Ok, time to get to the science. And, no, wait, awwww, damn it! They’re going through that blasted Way of the Master bullshit again. You know the drill: Hone in on an unsuspecting lout waiting for the bus and barrage them with petty holier-than-thou insults: You’re a liar, a thief, a hamburglar, a goddamn blasphemer, and an adulterer, and Jesus frowns upon you and your shenanigans!

Another strike. But wait! I’ve found redemption. Kirk Cameron shows up with his coup de grâce! In some of his finest acting to date, Cameron goes head to head with an orangutan to illustrate how we can share similar facial characteristics with primates, proving that there must be a common designer! You need to see it for yourself? You’re welcome:

It got weird, didn't it.

They have a little more fun with this rented orangutan in the movie; trying to buy it airline tickets and trying, rather successfully I might add, to make it eat a salad. It ate three. Take that, science? The closest they get to science is a train wreck of quotes mined to misrepresent folks like Stephen J. Gould. It’s like they stumbled upon the talkorigins.org article about common quote mining tactics and thought it was a brilliant idea.

But I’m way off track here. I haven’t even played the freaking game yet.

The Freaking Game

It says right on the box, Brains Provided. Fantastic! I’ve already left mine at the door. I won’t be needing it any longer.

The game-play seems simple enough. There is a stack of brain cards and it appears that whoever makes it to The End of Time (yes, really) with the most brain cards wins.

You roll the die and move a squishy, rubbery brain game-piece over the cutest board I’ve ever seen, and as you land on each square, you either get insulted and chastised with statements like, “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord”, and “Whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Well said, Banana-Man. If you’re lucky, you can land on a square marked with “God’s Grace (unmerited favor)” and you get to take one brain because that’s just how God rolls. Fall on a sinful space and God takes away your brains, you filthy deviant.

Along the way you’re graced with pictures of famous scientists and preachers. I love the placement of Albert Einstein and Charles Darwin immediately after the In The Beginning starting line, sandwiching a No-Brainer space. Get It?!? No-Brainer! Zing!

Somebody's grumpy

But that’s not half of it! In order to advance on the board and build up your supply of brain cards, you get to answer a bunch of questions, Brain Teasers, jam-packed with misinformation. I wonder what’s in store…

Playing Against My Relative

In the accompanying DVD, Comfort and Cameron really try to hammer home the our rented orangutan is just as human as us because science says we’re related idea. In the spirit of clinging to this straw-man argument, I’ll be playing this enlightening game with my dog; besides, my wife just shakes her head when I ask her to join me. Oh well. We have to split up into two teams. It’s me against Piper. Human intellect (brain substituted with that in the box) against canine ingenuity (she tried eating her game-brain).

You're really gonna make me go through with this?

Here we go. First brain teaser.

Sourced by the definitive reference for candle lovers

True or False? Ramapithecus, once widely regarded as the ancestor of humans, has now been recognized as merely an extinct type of orangutan.

ANSWER: True. [wickipedia.org]

Did they just reference Wikipedia as a source? Did they just misspell Wikigoddamnpedia? Is the intern typing out these cards? Can’t they get a proof-reader? Jesus Christ.

I laboriously took a few seconds to pull up the Wikipedia entry on Ramapithecus and even it sources an Encyclopedia Britannica article. Regardless, yes, Ramapithecus was once thought to have been a human ancestor but, through the miracle of science and further findings, was later categorized more appropriately under Sivapithecus, a predecessor to the orangutan. Score one for evolution.

Piper got that one right. A wagging tail means true. She goes again. Next card:

Is the Church filled with hypocrites? (A.) No. (B.) Yes. (C.) Only in certain denominations.

ANSWER: (A.) No. There are no hypocrites in “the Church”. The Church is made up of genuine believers. Hypocrites aren’t believers – they are pretenders who will be sorted out on Judgment Day.

I thought the whole point of this Intelligent Design movement was to distance themselves from at least appearing like they’re a bunch of Bible believing fundamentalists. They appear to be devolving. I think I’m going to keep a side tally going along with these questions. This falls under what is known as the No True Scotsman fallacy.

And yet my dog got it right. A quizzical expression means A. Next question.

Which well-known publication said, “In extraordinary ways, modern archeology is affirming the historical core of the Old and New Testaments, supporting key portions of crucial biblical stories.”? (A.) Time. (B.) Newsweek. (C.) Reader’s Digest.

ANSWER: (C.) Reader’s Digest. [June 2000]

And this matters, why? Is this just filler? They couldn’t find a better place to quote mine than Reader’s Digest of 2000? I’m getting this bad mental image of Ray Comfort sitting on the toilet and thumbing through the Reader’s Digest, grimacing with exertion, until he comes across this gold mine of a quote. I hope he didn’t jump up in elation.

It’s not that I doubt someone said it (it appears to have been said by the author of Is the Bible True? Jeffery L. Sheler), it’s that I just don’t see what could possibly be educational in touting the fact that some loony fundamentalist wrote some Bible-affirming bullshit in the least respectable publication of the three choices presented. This is a game of trivia but I can’t see any benefit to having this trivial piece of minutiae either memorized or worth remembering.

Piper coughed. That means she chose C. I’m never going to get to go. Next card.

QED.

True or False? The Bible calls a professing atheist a “fool.”

ANSWER: True. [Psalm 14:1]

The Bible is not above ad hominem attacks. Neither is namby-pamby Ray Comfort or monkey-face Kirk Cameron.

Next Card. I don’t know how long I can take this.

True or False? The Bible doesn’t speak of a literal place called Hell. It is merely symbolic of the grave.

ANSWER: False (see Luke 16:19-31). Your eternal salvation may depend on your understanding of this truth. If you answered incorrectly, give two brains to the opposing team.

I’ve long given up hope that I might learn something about Intelligent Design or Evolution, but I am constantly entertained by all the pop-shots it takes at non-fundy versions of Christianity. Here we have a jab to the face to anyone questioning the existence of hell (I’m looking at you, Rob Bell). There are also a number of cards attacking Anglicanism or kicking Catholicism squarely in the balls because a prior pope said evolution was just fine with him.

What makes this card even more priceless is the fact that, if you answered incorrectly, you’re punished and have to give up two of your precious brain cards.

What is the basic idea behind the Second Law of Thermodynamics? (A.) Everything is wearing out. (B.) All matter contains heat. (C.) All matter is becoming more complex.

ANSWER: (A.) Everything is wearing out.

True. This game has worn me out. When you bring up the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics in a discussion about biological diversity, that’s an automatic disqualification.

I’m giving up. I quit. I’m forfeiting to my dog, who was already doing quite well. She kicked my ass. Look at all those brains!

Come on, really? Another ad hominem attack card?

Conclusion

If you’re the kind of person who likes bleeding out your ears, then this could be the game for you. I’m already feeling a little faint from the mind-numbing exertion of trying to stick with it.

The cards can generally be broken up into the following categories:

  • Alleged Fakes – Contains a few genuine historical hoaxes but also a number of instances where scientists changed their mind to reclassify fossilized remains. There’s even a card attacking the reclassification of Pluto’s status as a planet. Science has a built-in mechanism to further hone in on the truth and weed out fakes. This is portrayed as a detriment.
  • Fill in the Blank – Most of these are a variation on the following: 
    • Fill in the blank: _________ Sucks. (A) Evolution (B) Jesus (C) God
  • Riddles – Random riddles that have nothing to do with anything, except for the fact that they reinforce the notion that advanced biological lifeforms are advanced. Go figure.
  • Verses – References to verses, even asking how many times in Genesis 1 occurred the phrase, “And God said…”. Truly imperative information
  • Who Said It – Nothing but evolutionist quote mines and religious arguments from authority.
  • Just Plain Bullshit – This overlaps with most other categories

The largest overall theme of the game, besides the Just Plain Bullshit category, is that of the argument from authority. Reasoning is absent. We are told that things are true because The Bible or Some Guy said something or other; we’re often hit with quote mines from legitimate scientists where it attempts to attack evolutionary theory by intentionally taking things out of context. Punctuated Equilibrium quote mines abound. My take on this is that, since fundamentalists take the word of prophets verbatim, they think that by tearing down the, uh, “prophets” of biology, they strike a blow. Science does not work that way.

While many of the cards cite their sources, they don’t really seem to understand the notion that it helps to have a reliable, respected source, otherwise you just look like a buffoon. Some of the more entertaining sources include wickipedia, World Net Daily, The Answers Book by Ken Ham, Reader’s Digest, and The Evidence Bible, by Ray Comfort (coauthored by God). I love Wikipedia as much as the next guy, but if anything, it’s only a place to get a general idea about a topic and gives you a rabbit trail to follow to find more legitimate sources. And if you source something that you yourself wrote as evidence, that’s the same thing as masturbation. And it’s a sin.

The DVD was a laughable mess of logical fallacies and sales pitches for The Evidence Bible and Way of the Master toilet paper. I was ready to write down the number to the Rent-An-Orangutan place, but they didn’t bother sharing that with us. That’s a service I could use quite regularly.

To wrap it up, I’ll just give you one more card. It sums up this game quite nicely.

True or False? We can never be certain as to whether or not man and dinosaur ever co-existed.

ANSWER: False. The Bible tells us that God Created all the land animals on the sixth day of creation. As dinosaurs were land animals, they must have been made on this day, alongside Adam and Eve, who were also created on Day Six (Genesis 1:24-31). [The Answers Book, Ken Ham, 1990]

Anyone wanna play?

Halloween

November 3, 2011 Leave a comment

I love this time of year, when the leaves change color, the air gets cooler, and everything gets spooky. It’s a time for bonfires and hard cider; a time for carving pumpkins and seeing how many cats we can fit inside of them.

No cats were harmed in the making of this photograph

It’s an old Gilbert tradition. It never works, but it’s fun to try.

This year we had an extra huge pumpkin grown from radioactive seeds in the in-laws backyard. It was a bit warped and it would only stand upright when upside down, and it’s far too heavy for the neighborhood kids to bother with. Other houses have already had their gourds demolished on the road, but our huge pumpkin is too imposing for the little neighborhood punks. Smashing pumpkins just hasn’t been as thrilling since that shitty band forever tainted the name. Kids just don’t put any real effort into it anymore.

Halloween came and went. Jen worked that night and so I was in the awkward position of having to hand out candy to kids all by myself. I lasted about a half hour into it before it just got too creepy. Not the good, spooky kind of creepy. More like I was a creepy version of Mr. Rogers, alone in my house handing out candy to the neighborhood kids. It’s fine when my wife is there and it’s a team effort, but I’m just not into it enough to go it alone. Piper and I fled to a nearby park so she could run free in the grasses at dusk, and I could stumble around blindly, tripping on branches and ruts.

Halloween brings out the best in people

I love this time of year. We’ve been devouring every cheesy scary movie we can find on Netflix. A few weeks ago, we went to Pittsburgh to visit my brother and his wife, and went to one of their haunted houses, which was much bigger than anything we’ve had here in West Michigan. Now, my wife and I have a different view on these things. I love them but I’m not sure why. I scratch my head, wondering how anyone could be truly scared in one of those things. I mean, you pay people money to have them jump out at you, and you know they’re not allowed to touch you. Knowing that dulls my flight or fight response and I just walk through the thing with a stupid grin on my face, commending the actors on their great performances. My wife, on the other hand, is one who will forever be freaked out by people jumping out and banging on walls, even if she pays them money to do exactly that. I don’t get it. So then she just tails behind me, yanking and stretching my shirt with her little claws and when I scold her for that, she grabs onto my hands and twists my thumbs in directions nature never intended. She may have been the scariest part of the whole ordeal.

It’s November now. Halloween is over and we’re rolling into the holiday season, where we’re all expected to bend over and get sodomized by Father Christmas yet again. Bah-humbug. This year, Jen’s got some time off at the end of November, and we’re going to swing out to Steamboat Springs for some skiing, assuming that it snows. In the meantime, I have a picture of Piper wearing vampire teeth that will be my buffer against Christmas for the next few months.

She's not one of those lame sparkly vampires, either. She'd tear out your throat just as soon as look at you... er, no, she'd probably lick your hand and smell your butt until you petted her. The plastic teeth and scowl are just for show.

Litter Critters

October 2, 2011 Leave a comment

That’s it. I’m getting a separate gate so the dog can’t go in the cat’s room. I was calling Piper and she wasn’t coming, which is out of the ordinary. I found her in the cat’s room and it was immediately evident that she was unable to hear my request for her company because she was presently disposed, head deep in the cat’s litter box, happily chomping away at the delicate morsels found therein. Crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside.

When I yelled at her in horror, she immediately retracted, bumping her head on the side of the box as she made her exit. In her haste she dropped a half eaten nugget in the middle of the floor on her bolt towards the door. I scolded her and she gave me the pouty face telling she was aware not of the severity of the situation, but only that I was horrified and disturbed. There would be no puppy kisses tonight. Instead, she finished the remains of the delicacies still within her maw, chomping and smacking her lips in guilty delight.

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