Hey! I read a book, for fun!

Whilst unwinding the past few days, I picked up some light reading, a horror story, The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires. Recommended!

I was concerned when I started because the protagonists weren’t people I immediately empathized with: it’s a group of Southern ladies, somewhat upscale, getting together to discuss Great Novels in a monthly book club while sipping tea from the good china. But then it splinters, and a subgroup decides they’d rather discuss grisly true crime books, and then a vampire moves in down the street. You’d think they’d be primed to recognize the behavior of a serial killer, even a supernatural one, but it instead triggers some intense internal conflicts. A good Southern matron is always polite, even to blood-sucking fiends. When the stress gets too intense, one of them suggests her strategy: vacuum the drapes. Work twice as hard to keep the house clean and proper, because that’s the women’s job. Their husbands are all useless, even joining in money-making deals with the vampire, who has quite a bit of capital, all cash, stuffed into gym bags.

Also, at first, the vampire focuses on eating young black children in the poor part of town, so it’s easy to close their eyes to the horror…until he starts eyeing their children. Then, finally, they wake up to the sexism and racism in their traditional lives, and band together to fight the evil.

Over half the novel is about social consciousness and how blind they were to their own failings, which evil exploited and flourished upon, so my fellow social justice warriors will appreciate it even as you get pissed off at the characters screwing up because getting their kids into a good school was a higher priority than dealing with the blood-sucker in their midst. But there is also stuff for horror fans in there: the vampire is the slimy repulsive kind who summons rats, not sparkly at all (although he seems to blend in well with Southern bidnessmen), and there is a fair bit of gore and death and even undead rape, so it does get somewhat squicky, especially near the climax. There is also a scene where they explore the vampire’s attic in which the author dwells a bit too much on how awful all the spiders are, so it’s not quite perfect.

If you’re on a beach or on a plane, though, it’s a fast entertaining read, but only if you like the horror genre. It doesn’t compromise on the vampire nightmare stuff, and also doesn’t condescend to the Southern ladies in the story. They’re tough, and they do what needs to be done in the end.

Forever fringe

Now that we’ve paid off our share of our legal debt, I’m getting all these questions about why we didn’t press on for Richard Carrier to pay our legal costs, or for damages, or for punishment. Let me give you the reasons all in one place.

  • Just shutting down his SLAPP suit cost us a quarter million dollars and three years. Going after more would probably take another quarter million that we wouldn’t get back until the suit was over, and then only if we succeeded. The legal system is a gamble.
  • Even if we did win, we’d already been through discovery, and we knew what Richard Carrier was worth: diddly-squat. He’s an itinerant classics scholar who’d been living off his wife’s income (now divorced because he’d cheated on her multiple times, so that’s gone), who had latched on to the Jesus mythicism grift to sell books and get atheist speaking gigs and to pump up his Patreon account with misogynist resentment money. He’s poor. He makes a bit more than he would if he were working for minimum wage. We’d be squeezing blood from a stone.

  • What about teaching him a lesson? You know he wouldn’t. He has nothing to lose, so slapping him hard with a financial punishment wouldn’t cost him much. He doesn’t have an academic reputation, so we wouldn’t be affecting that. He does have a favorable reputation with the right-wing grievance squad, and he’s been milking that for a while now — punitive damages would make him even more of a hero to them.

  • What about just shutting him up? No, that would put us on his level. Remember, the whole point of his SLAPP suit — Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation — was entirely to silence us. If he’d succeeded, a $2.1 million judgement would have shut down Freethoughtblogs, the Orbit, and Skepticon, and would have reduced the named individuals in his suit to penury (we aren’t rich, either). We’d rather deal with bad speech with more good speech, which is why an important part of the final settlement was his total capitulation and the absence of any gag order. We can talk about what an asshole Richard Carrier is all we want!

    Ironically, Carrier was supported in his suit by a lot of Free Speech Warriors.

  • We just wanted it over so we could get back to our ordinary lives. Wasting a couple more years on the courts would be a distraction and deprive us of valuable time that could be better spent…chasing spiders, for instance.

  • It’s enough that his own legal shenanigans have now cemented his reputation as a sex pest, rather than as a serious scholar. No legitimate academic institution is going to touch him — one quick google will label him as radioactive — and he’s going to be forever on the fringe.

Gone almost a week, and nothing has changed

It was a good 5 days. I’m an internet junkie, but my laptop died a few days before my flight, and while I considered bringing along an old clunker of a netbook, I eventually decided to be strong and go mostly cold turkey and hang out with the family. I had my phone as one slender lifeline to keep in touch with Mary, and that was it. So I visited my mother, my two sisters, my two brothers, my son and his wife, my grandson, and went to the beach and went fishing. I went for walks and looked at spiders. I went to a church, once. I didn’t do much of anything, actually.

I got home early evening last night, and was finally able to shuffle some money around on the internet and make the big announcement, but then I just hit the sack and slept in until 7am. I got up this morning and finally, after that respite, plunged back into the internet and…

AAAAAAAAIAIIIEEEE.

Nothing has changed. The right wing is still ginning up a culture war, and they look even more stupid when you haven’t been desensitized by the continual barrage. I mean, look at these two idiots:

The Left’s War on Hydroxychloroquine Continues? What? Hydroxychloroquine is a dangerous drug that shows no effectiveness against the coronavirus — it was tossed out to the media by chickenshit politicians (like Ron Johnson there) as cheap snake oil to shut gullible people up. The “Left” didn’t buy it. Now we’ve got safe, effective vaccines, we lefties are happily lining up to get those while the righties are inventing conspiracy theories to avoid them. There never was a “war on hydroxychloroquine.” Johnson and every loudmouthed liar on Fox News can go gargle bleach if they want.

It only takes a little distance to see that the way these quacks operate is to tell an outrageous lie, and the first time you hear it, you think “That is the dumbest thing I ever heard.” The second, third, and fiftieth time they say it, you roll your eyes and tune it out. The hundredth time you think, “Am I gonna have to go dig into the scientific literature and read a bunch of papers?” The thousandth time you begin to have doubts and wonder, “Maybe I missed something? Should we fund another clinical trial?”, and then they’ve got you. Trust me, your first impressions were probably correct. Bullshit isn’t turned into science by a thousand Fox News morons churning it over.

Sometimes they even admit what they’re doing. Here’s Chris Rufo outlining their strategy against Critical Race Theory: they just lie about it, misrepresent it, and if they hammer it hard enough at the public, they’ll start to associate the lies with the real thing.

You just have to turn up the volume on your bullhorn and be really, really repetitive and you too can get any nonsense you want drilled into the discourse. If you can’t get on Fox News right away, there’s always Sam Harris and Joe Rogan to act as pre-amps and get you started on your program to purée everyone’s brains via mass media.

I strongly recommend the clarifying effects of watching ocean waves roll in for a while. Unfortunately, I have to warn you of the spectacular downer you will experience when you get back from the shore.

The BIG announcement!

One big announcement is that I got home safely, and now get to relax after a long day of travel.

That isn’t what you expected? Not enough?

In June of 2016, almost exactly 5 years ago, our legal saga began when we announced an investigation into one of our bloggers, Richard Carrier, who’d just been banned from a conference for slimy sexual behavior. Then he announced that he was quitting before we could investigate, so we said fine, bye. Then more scandal erupted as other orgs followed suit, in particular SSA. Carrier then, in September of 2016, shrieked that he was going to SUE everyone for $2.1 million and a bunch of us got lengthy legal documents in the mail. We hired a good lawyer. Alarums and excursions followed until finally, in November of 2019, Carrier’s stupid lawsuit collapsed, he retreated in ignominious defeat, and we were victorious. There’s a timeline, if you want the details.

We celebrated a grand victory, but then we had to pay the lawyer. We had to pay the lawyer about a quarter million dollars, which is less than $2.1 million, but still a fine big chunk of change. James and Rebecca Hammond came to our rescue and paid off the lawyer (Hooray for the Hammonds!) and then basically gave us an interest free loan and divvied up the debt among the various victims of the wretched Carrier. We’ve been plugging away at out part — witness the various fundraisers we’ve put on — and then, in the last few weeks, we received some substantial donations from various anonymous and wonderful donors, including one for $8K, and … we paid off everything we owed.

THANK YOU EVERYONE!

It feels great to have that burden off our shoulders, but we aren’t quite done yet. There are other defendants in this suit, and we figure we can still help them out, and we’ll have more to say about that later.

For now, though, Freethoughtblogs is 100% debt free!

And I get to take a shower and go to bed early and get back to work tomorrow morning.

The only way you’ll get me into a church is to support my family

Julie Lynn Bjornsson Myers — 1961-2021

It says something about my brother’s character that he marries well. His first wife, Karen, was the sweetest, kindest young woman you’d ever think to meet, and they had a long and happy marriage until she was killed by melanoma.

A few years later, lightning struck a second time, and he married Julie, a marvel and a saint, former Peace Corps volunteer, health care worker, and just general all-around joy to be with. Yesterday I met friends who’d known her for over 50 years, and were still loyal and loving her. She was active in her church, and was a critical part of the glue that held the congregation together.

She had a secret, though: bouts of severe clinical depression. It killed her earlier this year.

So I sat through a church service yesterday and listened to her friends, many if not all of them equally devout, sing her praises, entirely deserved from all I knew about her. She was someone they knew was in heaven.

All I could think was that my brother was a better person than their god, and God didn’t deserve her.

Bounty of the sea

I wake up early here, still on Minnesota time. Four AM. That’s when my Dad would shake us awake summers at the shore, and we’d blearily make our way to the harbor and, first stop, a dark restaurant full of shaggy-bearded men in flannel and wool hats and dark green oilskins. A tall stack of buckwheat pancakes sloppy with butter and syrup, and we’d start to come alert with bellies full of hot starches and sugar. Then off to the docks and rows of charter fishing boats, and then the whole fleet would charge off to sea in a cloud of diesel fumes and salty spume.
It was cold. The boats were small and rolling fiercely. After an hour or so of sitting on benches, hanging on when they’d suddenly drop beneath us and rise up again, we’d arrive at some heaving patch of ocean just like every other, and we’d start baiting hooks and dropping lines, watching our poles bend and straighten until there’d be a sudden arrhythmic jerk, and it was time to reel in some angry 20lb salmon. Occasionally there’d be a series of squawks from the boat radio, and we’d stop and go chugging off to some other spot in the ocean, where the fleet had found a hungry school.
My Dad was extraordinarily competent at all this. The boat boy would have an easy morning of it, because Dad would bait our hooks and untangle our lines and whisper to us how deep we should go. We’d almost always catch our limit early, and then we’d drop our lines especially deep to catch halibut and cod, and then we’d head back to the docks by early afternoon. The boat boy would sit at the back, gutting fish and throwing offal overboard, with clouds of frantic seagulls following along behind.
It wasn’t unusual that we’d go home with a hundred pounds of fish in our ice chests. Dad would whip out his long filleting knife — sharp as a straight razor, with a wicked needle point — and cut flawless fillets, shaving the meat off the bones, leaving cartoon fish skeletons with at best a thin membrane of flesh between the ribs. Then he’d chunk them into tidy squares of rich red salmon.
I grew up thinking the crisper compartment of refrigerators, the deep shelf, was for brining salmon, nothing more. Ours was always full of water so salty it was thick, and further made viscous with pounds of brown sugar. The fish would soak in that for days before being stacked in the smokehouse with smoldering chips of apple- or cherry-wood.
While we waited, if we got a good low tide, we’d spend a daycc be at a favored beach on the Sound. It may not have been the kind of beach most people imagine. It was rocky. The sand was black and silty. Seaweed was draped over everything. We’d hike way out on the arms of a bay, carrying buckets and shovels as we clambered over boulders and driftwood. Then we’d hunker down and start digging.
Well, to be honest, Dad would do most of the digging. We kids were easily distracted, but our main purpose I think was to provide a number of legal limits. Dad, Mom, and 6 kids meant Dad could shovel up 8 legal limits worth of butter clams and horse clams, and he would. I’d help. A bit, but this beach was so rich with life that I’d end up exploring instead. Digging through rocks was fine, but I’d keep turning up amazing marine annelids like slimy ropes, and the waters of the bay were shingled with furry purple sand dollars with spider crabs stalking among them and jellies floating transparently in the surf. Dad was a clam-digging machine.
Eventually we’d have to hike back carrying big buckets heavy with clams. That was less fun.
The next day would be something different, though. After washing all those clams overnight, Dad would put on big pots of water and start steaming clams. Clams are easy — a little boiling water in a 10 gallon pot, throw in lots of clams, put a lid on, and let them steam for a few minutes until their shells open, and then snatch out hot clams, trying not to burn your fingers. Easiest recipe ever.
The important part was calling all his friends and our relatives to come on over. Old family friends, neighbors, aunts and uncles would show up at our door and Dad would invite them all in, while he’d be telling jokes and stories the whole time. The spirit of the potlatch was upon him.
I understand that part of the culture of the Pacific Northwest Indians. Seafood was plentiful; you had to break your back harvesting it, but when you did, you’d have so much that you had to share, and with that sharing you were swapping more than just calories, you were exchanging culture and building community.
Today I engage in a pale shadow of that tradition. My sister bought a half salmon — a large one — and told me that I get the job of cooking it this afternoon (I think I’ll bake it — it’s another seafood that’s easy to prepare), and then this evening a few nephews and nieces and kids and grandkids will be stopping by. Tomorrow we go to the ocean for an even bigger family get-together, a celebration of life.
We really need my Dad here to do it right, but this generation is diminished, and we’ll just try our best.

Moving through time

Hello, world. I’m in the Pacific Northwest, feeling pacific, enjoying the mild weather, and reconnecting with family. I’m not doing much, which is rather soothing, and just watching the days go by, as one does in paradise.
So yesterday my sisters sprung a surprise on me — a gigantic box containing the battered remains of the old balsa wood model airplanes I used to build in middle and high school. This really was a huge surprise, like the dead rising from the grave to walk and remind me of my past sins. I had told them to get rid of them years ago, and honestly thought they’d been trashed, but no, my sister Tomi had wrapped them in bubble wrap and stashed them in her house. She had not needed to do that.
In my teens, I’d had a solitary hobby. I’d build these Guillow balsa and tissue paper model planes. I’d get one, take it up to my grandmother’s attic where she had some space, and spend a few months carefully assembling it. I didn’t fly them, and I didn’t put them on display at modeling shows. I’d finish them, put them in a jumble with the others, and move on to the next.
It was the process. I’d cut out the ribs and forms from balsa sheets and glue them together on sticks and struts over templates. I liked the engineering of the airplane skeletons, and enjoyed the finicky work of, for instance, carving and sanding the wing leading edge to get a perfect curve. Sometimes I’d go outside the instructions and shave the ribs down so I could overlay them with a sheath of 1/32nd inch balsa, just because it was more form fitting and stronger.
I spent hours with an X-Acto knife and the finest grade of sandpaper, making sure there were no bumps or deformations. They were beautiful bones.
Then I’d clothe them in tissue paper, lightly moistened to shrink as it dried. Layers and layers of dope would be applied, until the surface was smooth and shiny like metal. But it wasn’t. It was perfect when you could tap the taut surface and it sounded like a snare drum.
Then painting. Hours of painting, many coats. I’d research the planes and pick one exemplar I’d mimic.
Once it was done, it was done. I’d throw it in the pile in the attic; at that point, I only scrutinized it for its flaws (there were always lots) and plan to do better with the next one. But I never planned to fly them or show them. The joy was in the building, in the process of becoming, and I didn’t need them beyond that.
It was a zen thing, I guess. Every teenager should have a zen thing.
Time passed. I moved away. I went to college. I got married. I had kids. Sometimes, when I visited my grandmother, the kids would go up to the attic to look at the airplane graveyard their weird dad had built. More years passed. My grandmother died. Her house was being sold. What did I want done with my model collection, I was asked, over the phone, far away. I don’t care, I said, stomp on ‘em, set ‘em on fire, I finished them years ago.
They didn’t! I guess there was such obvious care as detail in the models, that they thought there must be some value in them, but no. The value was all in quiet hours alone, thinking and shaping and painting, in Grandma occasionally bringing up a plate of cookies, in clean breezes when I opened all the windows while doping, in the satisfaction of seeing wood come together in flawless joints, in the quiet rasp of sandpaper. The important part was done and gone! It’s memories now, not objects.
It was a nice surprise to see the objects again yesterday, but I’m unattached. They can go.
My three year old grandson came to visit. I let him play. He wasn’t trying to wreck anything, but as you might expect, he snapped a wing off; he stepped on a tail plane; he wrenched off landing gear and tried to stuff it in the cockpit. He tried to make them fly, but I never built them to fly. Bits snapped off.
I was actually gratified to see how well they held together—the major structural elements were strong, despite being nothing but hollow shells of soft wood and paper. I built well. It was fitting to sit there with my son and watch my grandson bang them against the pavement, 50 years after I built them. It’s all part of the process, you know. Half a century ago I began a habit of quiet contemplation and today I watch my handiwork become a plaything for a grandchild. It turned out pretty well, I think. Fourteen year old me would even say it came out perfect.
That’s all the news from the family homestead, I guess. I have no plans for today, which is excellent. This weekend the whole clan is heading off to the ocean for more memories, and Monday I fly back to rejoin my other half in Minnesota and get back to living in the now.

Entering the void

I’m just about completely packed up for my exotic journey on an airplane, and will be leaving shortly for the airport. Unfortunately, my links to the interweb will be tenuous. I’m bringing an antique Windows XP netbook which will only be good for casual web browsing — no way will I be using that thing to connect to anything sensitive. I won’t even use it for email, which is moot anyway, because it outright gags at any attempt to connect to anything googlish. I will have my up-to-date phone, but it’s not great for typing, and has a postage-stamp sized screen. It’s gonna feel like 1995 again.

I guess I’ll have to focus on family, and looking for Pacific Northwest spiders. Instead of a useful computer, I’m bringing my camera and a small range of lenses. I decided to bring my 55-200mm lens just in case I wanted to look at something bigger than a spider (my 50mm prime would be ideal, but I have to cut way back to fit it all into a single bag), and a couple of macro lenses for things that are about the size of a spider. Hmm…I just realized that my metric for evaluating size is no longer a breadbox, but a smallish arachnid. Also packing a half-dozen 128GB SD cards, which might get me through the weekend.

I’ll be back on Monday, with BIG NEWS. We here at Freethoughtblogs have a major announcement to make then, so be sure to check in for that!