Archive for the ‘science’ Category

Recent advances in theology

March 6, 2012

A fragment from the desk of Abel Caine, freelance theologianist:

Science has found God. Scientists just call Him “dark matter”. They don’t know what they’re seeing, because they look at it through a telescope, not the Bible. And “dark energy”? The host of angels, ready for the End Days, when the Great Star Beast Satan rises from the Galactic South, when the alien Angels of God’s Wrath descend from the Heavens, their bowels writhing full of the judgments of God! The First Bowel to be loosened will color the waters of this Earth brown, and “woe” is written on that bowel’s plug in letters of fire—

* * *

(Excerpted from an article by Vagua and Travail,
in “PINS: The Journal of Important Theology”,
332 (2011), 209–2011.)

“In His image He made them,
man and woman He made them.”

It is a longstanding problem of advanced theology whether the quote above implies God to be both male and female, and how this is possible. (According to bulla Et Gallus of Pope Narcissus XI, the answer is “No.”)

Advanced computer simulation has suggested that since “God sees all”, it is metaphysically impossible for God to have a back of head, a back, et cetera. (Though it is crude and false to say God has a body, He has a body-form, that is to say, He is incorporeal but not in-corpo-formoreal. To assert the incorpoformity or even the informocorporeality (!) of the Divine is the monstrous heresy of the Hochpferdites.) Hence God’s body has only front sides, a male side on one side, and a female side on “back side” of the male side. (See Helen Frau’s definitive “The REVELATION: God has ten fingers, but twenty fingernails!”)

This confirms the saying, “Devil is the dog’s bollocks”, seeing as the body of God (having no back) has no buttocks, the buttocks being an invention of the Great Enemy, for the reasons of sitting down in idleness and buffering in anal sex. See “Devil likes big butts and always lies”, by Hammertime Youth Ministries. (Note that “dog” is here the usual aversionary byword for “God”, similar to how traditionally the Enemy is called “tac” and Richard Dawkins “elcnu s’yeknom”.)

Research is underway on the matter of the Divine Rectum, viz. whether there is one or two. Father Theo Brown of the Trirectal Confessional has even gone as far as to say there are three: the Voider, the Shunt, and the Holy Gush.

In other news, these theological developments have nailed shut the coffin of atheism; one smart-arse after another has been struck speechless by these subtle arguments! To quote Hoveryn Needle, notorious Internet atheist, “Wow. I… I got nothing. Nothing. I mean… there’s nothing I can say.”

* * *

GNOMA

by Ruprecht Gawdman

It has been revealed to august, serious theologians that some strident atheists have rejected the theory of NOMA, the “Non-Overlapping Magisteria Attack”, as “just a theory”.

To counter this senseless and monstrous rejection, a new theory is here proposed: the GNOMA (The Great Non-Overlapping Magisteria Assault). The problem with NOMA theory has been, according to these pissant bastards, “that religion intrudes on the magisterium of science anyway”. The GNOMA theory acknowledges this as a valid though crude criticism, and introduces the agent of magisteria maintenance, the gnoma.

For example: the healing power of prayer is strictly in the magisterium of religion. If a scientist (magisterium of science) intrudes, with a ruler or some other instrument of science, a gnoma appears and maintains a fractal border separation, ensuring the magisteria are kept apart. The prayer-miracle pipeline remains intact, while the ruler experiences entanglement and dilatates around a black hole. The gnoma operates below Planck length, between chunks of Planck time, unobserved and uncollapsed; the scientist can no more catch the swiftly juggled theo-particles in his pincers than a frail older atheist-type person can outrun a pack of vigorous young Mormon missionaries, who sweep on him/her like penguins on a mission from God towards a tasty fish on the shores of the Antarctic Ocean, their pincerous claws open.

A fish is Christian symbolism, too; and a “tasty fish” refers to the mystical sensation of experiencing God with all senses, including nociception and echolocation.

Since the agency maintaining the separation is a whimsical gnoma, God is not actively being evasive, since that would rightly be below and to the right of the dignity of the Divine; and if the results of intrusive scientific observation result in a terminal outcome, the gnoma and the scientist share the blame: the scientist, for attempting to pierce the Stern Boundary; and the gnoma, for imperfectly functioning due to its whacky free will and inflexible workplace safety regulations.

Note that gnomas are not angelic beings: though as ancient as the universe, they were born, not created; and though ensouled, they have no afterlife, instead reincarnating as gnomas of increased potency: P_n(g) = \frac{n}{n-1}P_{n-1}(g)\times GOD. The lifespan of a gnoma is threescore and ten sidereal years; and they have a dragon’s head, a pin head, and, obviously, a time head.

The theory of GNOMA is to be expounded on in greater detail in the forthcoming book, “Y U SO ATHIEST? World’s Biggest Godmen Tell Why Intolerant Bigot Babyeater Athsits Will Be Forever Alone and Have A Delusion”.

* * *

There, I think that’s all the subtle, sensitive interfaith outreach I’m capable of today.

Too many kittens

December 14, 2011

Too many cat posts at the blogs and twitters of Greta Christina and Jen McCreight.

This came out.

Dog help us all.

* * *

KITTEN CUTENESS FOR THE NON-MATHEMATICIAN

Eustace J. Wobbles
Professor of Faunamathematics
Agric. Univ. Hoho, Sussex

A kitten cuteness measure C should have the following three properties:

(1) C(0) = 0

(2) C(x) < U for all numbers of kittens x, where U is the baby unicorn crocodile cuteness constant.

(3) C(x) is continuous in the piecewise fractional kitten sense for all x > 0.

Notes:

  1. Gauss’s hypothesis that \lim_{x\to\infty} C(x) = U was disproved by Wiles in 1999. The best current result is that \sup_x C(x) is at least \pi/3 below U for all natural measures C(x), i.e. measures that have (1)–(3). See Olcat for the contradiction that follows if the distance is less, “the Cyriak Paradox”.
  2. The behavior of C when x < 0 is of no importance. For an exhaustive survey of research into this case, see the celebrated book by Vem Varför (Varför 1993) and the more accessible Varför 2001.

We now introduce a common cuteness measure; for full derivation and alternatives, see Olcat and Hezbuugaa.

Let x be the number of kittens. Then Erdös’s experienced cuteness function C is

C(x) = 10x - \frac{1}{2}x^2.

Clearly C(0) = 0, and since C is continuous, it is continuous in the piecewise fractional kitten sense. Condition (2) follows for the Wieso-Holzkopf Lemma.

Observations on the aptness of this measure for measuring real world kitten number behavior follow.

Observations.

The cutest number of kittens is 10, after which cuteness decreases. After 20 kittens C is negative; experimentation has shown this is the number at which the Kitten Hivemind activates, and all cuteness disappears.

At roughly 144.5 kittens the cuteness goes below minus nine thousand, with predictable and catastrophic consequences. (See Narm.)

It is at the present unknown what would happen if over 145 kittens were present at once; the Gell-Mann-Feynman PET model seems to indicate the strong nuclear force would prevent this configuration and those above it.

For a contrary view, see Hezbuugaa’s proposals for “the Kittycube” (1984) and “the Kittycube Propulsion System” (1989).

Research into maximal kitten formations has been severely limited by the Kitten Ground Test Ban of 1992; at the present, Russia and China are still conducting secret kitten tests in space, and CERN in co-operation with the European Union and the Hivemind is planning a strictly volunteer-based non-weaponized high Earth orbit testing program as a successor to the LHC. (For a look into the possible environmental impact, see Appendix D in Miau’s Raining What? Fertilizer At The Crossroads.)

The ease of weaponizing over-20 kitten configurations (the so-called “Cat Lady Weapon” or “the K-bomb”) has been greatly exaggerated in popular depictions. It is not enough to simply throw thirty kittens at someone and duck! Likewise, compacting a sub-100 number of kittens does not cause a 144.5 meltdown, but just an awful mess. Speaking of awful messes, the Alan Smithee film “Hellcats at the Singularity!” makes both of these blunders, the first in the presidential assassination scene and the second in the New York destruction scene. The Hivemind does not appromeow.

See Olcat and Hezbuugaa’s book for human- and time-dependant kitten functions, and Munroe for the distance dependant function.

*

REFERENCES

Olcat, L. and Hezbuugaa, C., Advanced Animal Theory, Springer Verlag, 2009.

Olcat, L., The Unicorn Crocodile Constant Is Strictly Separated Away From Kittens, Comm. Soc. Fel. Amer., 7 (1992), no. 3, 133–176

Grausam, J., Fractional Kittens: A Very Graphic Approach, Wilford Telmarine Farrar, 1962.

Munroe, R., Cat Proximity, xkcd, 231, no. 1, 1–1

Narm, M., An Oral History of the Kitten Apocalypse of Syracuse, 1909: A Retrospective In Analysis, New Syracuse University Press, 1984

Varför, V., Negativa och icke-real complex kattdjur: en helveten spekulativ strategi, Kungl. Vitterhetsakademien, 1993

Varför, V., Subzero Farm Animals: An Introduction, Springer Verlag, 2001

Feris, M. O., How Much Is Too Much? Too Many Perspectives on Humor/Humour in the Mathematical Sciences, Tripleday, 1973

Feris, M. O., I Spell It Hummor: Translating Humor Across Subculture Boundaries, Quadrupleday, 1984

Negatives and certainties

October 25, 2011

I

It is impossible to prove a negative, I hear.

This strikes me as a very stupid statement. (Then again, I don’t know anything about philosophy.)

In pure logic; in mathematics, say, proving a negative is the easiest thing in the world. “There is no even prime greater than two.” That’s a negative; it is proven in one line.

(“A Proof. An even number is divisible by two. Kapow!”)

(Well, okay. “And if that number is greater than two, it has two as a divisor and thus cannot be a prime, i.e. a number whose only divisors are one and itself. Any number you’d suggest, its demise I attest. KAPOW!”)

In real life (which I know considerably less about), you don’t ever prove anything, never, so not being able to prove a negative is a true statement, but not a particularly deep one.

Real life is a mess, you see: anything you claim you know about real life might be just a hallucination, a misunderstanding, a really convoluted mistake, or a lie. Real life has no “proof” that Copenhagen exists; just really good evidence, leading us to assume that why yes, that mermaid statue is there for real. There are people who say they’ve been to Copenhagen; there are satellite pictures, webcams, the like. It could all be a giant hoax, or a mistake (“Did I say Copenhagen? I meant Bielefeld!”) — but the most sensible interpretation of the observations is Copenhagen is there.

(Just for note: I don’t think I’m playing any postmodernist games here; I’m just a mathematician trying to express what I’ve heard scientists to say.)

And the negative in real life — well, you can be pretty sure there’s no unicorn behind you, watching you.

Don’t look; keep reading.

First, on a general level, the non-existence of unicorns is about as certain as the existence of Copenhagen: there’s no carcass, no photo of one; there’s no particular reason why a unicorn should exist; it is one in a bestiary of similarly no-show Medieval beasties; known “unicorn horns” are narwhal tusks; and so on. Unicorns could be invisible and immaterial; but there could be a hallucinogenic anomaly that makes people believe in Copenhagen, too. “Could” is not “is”, not even “likely is”.

If there is no good reason to think unicorns exist, there’s no good reason to think one is watching you.

I said don’t look. They don’t like it.

There’s no way to conclusively prove your non-watchedness; but reality is not a game that has a visible set of rules, like mathematics or Magic: the Gathering. In Magic, there’s no deep existential doubt about the number of cards in your hand; in mathematics, a set of four has four elements in it and no mistake. In real life the rule set is hidden, and we perceive it only through its effects, and the effects are dastardly complicated, and we can’t ever consult the rulebook. We just try new plays and try to figure out which rules are acting when the universe kicks us in the nuts. We could be missing “except”-clauses for a long time; we could be operating and testing in just an “except”-clause of a greater rule until we come up with something clever.

We’re assuming just that there are rules; the rest is conjecture.

When you’re playing that kind of an uncertain game, it’s silly to get stuck on not being able to prove negatives; in real life, you can’t prove anything. You just try to convince yourself and others, just try to sidle closer to truth. Every negative is a unicorn watching you; the negative proof is impossible in theory, and approximately doable in practice.

As regards actually being watched by a unicorn, the most stringent observers tend to be convinced that not being watched by one is the bet to make, the one to live your life by, the one to consider true when choosing windows and security alarms. And if one day you will be found in your chair ravaged by hooves and a horn, eh, we’ll be wiser the next day. (You, probably not; but you’ll get a footnote in a zoology manual. “First confirmed unicorn victim”, page 53.)

The reason why people talk about “proof” and “certainty” in real life is… eh, because people are dumb. That is, most people don’t realize how easy it is to be mistaken. I myself went through a phase when I thought anything in a book had to be true. Then I ran into a book by von Däniken.

The problem is, nothing has to be true just because it is written down.

Nothing has to be true just because it is in a published scientific paper, even.

Nothing has to be true because you feel like it, or because a teacher says it, or because everyone agrees about it.

The universe doesn’t give us answer sheets; there’s no ringing bell when we’re right about something. The universe gives us more than enough rope to hang ourselves by our mistakes. Because this is fucking scary, and also non-obvious, and because we have a limited lung capacity, we say “certain” and mean “as certain as I can imagine it being”; we say “proof” when we mean “all the evidence is for it”; and we say “truth” when we mean “truth, as far as we’ve found ways of testing it”. (Not “a truth”, but “an approximation of the truth”.)

That way, proving a negative is doable; and most times, that is enough for life.

* * *

II

The preceding is, as I understand it, what the middle part of this Matt Cartmill quote is about.

“As an adolescent I aspired to lasting fame, I craved factual certainty, and I thirsted for a meaningful vision of human life — so I became a scientist. This is like becoming an archbishop so you can meet girls.”

* * *

III

Tangentially related: this is what skepticism is about. I’m certain-with-footnote that there is no Bigfoot; that homeopathy has nothing in it; that there is no God, too. I’m not baldly, boldly CERTAIN because that’s more than I can honestly say; that’s for persons that have no subtlety.

But, and this is the important point, while not capital-C certain, I’m not an agnostic either. The question of Bigfoot is unsolvable in the deep philosophical sense either way; it could be really good in hiding, or any presented carcass could be a hoax (“This living Bigfoot is just manufactured to be like a Bigfoot!”); but the question is solvable in the practical sense, in the same sense that Copenhagen’s existence is solvable, and solves: in the sense of, “good enough, consistent enough, elegant and observation-fitting enough, for now”.

If you ask me — people usually don’t — skepticism in the practical sense doesn’t mean agnosticism, that is unwillingness to decide, or willingness to surrender to uncertainty. Skepticism means going for the best explanation, with all the evidence, with all the wits you got, while admitting there might come a better explanation come tomorrow. But until then, the findings of today will do. With enough days of that attitude, the next different day will be farther and farther away. It’s possible to be Right without being Certain of it.

* * *

IV

And, well, if you had a Cosmic Answer Sheet, or some Fundamental Oracle, how would you even know it was correct?

Maybe the first ten answers correspond to independent observations, to some extent. Maybe the first ten thousand. But maybe the thing is the work of some more advanced but still fallible scientist. Maybe it contains non-obvious untruths. A trivial mathematical example would be the fallacy of crossing out the sixes. It is true that

26/65 = 2/5

and

16/64 = 1/4,

but it would be a very bad idea to suppose those two examples serve to establish a general rule. Similarly, in real life, there were two centuries between Newton and Einstein that were full of people certain that time was fixed, and no funny business happened even if you moved really fast. Because getting to a fraction of c with a horsecart is difficult, the untruth (well, the incompleteness) was non-obvious; Newton seemed to be an Oracle.

Conversely, maybe the Absolute Tome is right, but you disregard it because your independent test is faulty, being based on an insufficient understanding of the nature of reality: the Tome is Wegener, and you’re unable to see how true its theory of plate tectonics is, because you reason from unsafe assumptions.

Well, the Sheet might try to convince you by saying it is infallible, but saying so doesn’t make it so.

The only way such a Cosmic Answer Sheet could work was if it gave the answers along with the route of arriving at them; but even then, those steps would need to be checked. (Come to think of it, that could be a Holy Book I would be willing to believe in: one that contained novel true statements whose truth could be independently checked and/or derived using given instructions. The usual offerings are not persuasive: “This unclear, many-valued, poetic past statement was about this concrete later past event or discovery!”; most “prophecies” are on the level of Assassinations foretold in Moby Dick.)

Even in math, if you had a collection of statements and one of them was “All of these statements are true”, it would not help you. That one statement could be either true or false with no contradiction, with no problem with the rules of the game. And I fear if you tried to improve that statement you’d end up in the wonderful nightmare land of set theory, which could just as well be named for Set, the Egyptian demon god of deserts and chaos.

* * *

V

To sum this all up: There is no certainty anywhere, but there are pretty good odds.

Back with a story

September 26, 2011

I’m back from over on Scientopia, where there now are deposited something like ten posts of mine; and I have a story.

No, not a story about guestblogging; but a story that just burst out of my forehead today. It’s kind of science fiction set twenty minutes to the future and a few hundred miles to the east of me. It could be called, “In New Russia, the missile launch you!”.

* * *

“What do you mean, ‘close’?” Yuri Petrovich spat.

“Close”, Nikolai Andropovich said, “as in opening, but in the other direction.”

“We can’t close!” Yuri shouted, waving the order paper. “How can you close a missile silo! How can you close all the missile silos? This is madness! Does the President have a German cabbage for brains!”

Nikolai sighed, took a drink, and looked out at the jaggedy concrete spread of the Putinsk Missile Field. Beneath the pitted, rain-stained, graffiti-spoiled domes and chutes, nuclear missiles still stood. Some of them more leaned, or slouched; but most of them still stood: proud, troublesome and obsolete.

“Look Yuri”, Nikolai said, “there is no more money.”

“How can you have no money for nuclear missiles? In modern Russia, people like the missiles—”

“Hush. In any Russia you have money for that which gives the deciders and wise leaders a happy face. Was much rockets into space for our grandfathers; was much missiles pointed at the capitalist-imperialist devil for our fathers; will not be missiles for us.”

“But”, Yuri sputtered, “you can’t just say nuclear weapons no good, and throw them away! That’s not how it works!”

“That is how it works. Why you think they threw the moon rockets away? Very good, much victory of technology, but no victory of will and propaganda. Is same with these missiles: very good for making the American into slag, not so good for victory of will and propaganda no more. That the job of the patriotic people’s video server now, a billion views, only the subversive antisocial people do not watch.”

“But— but, you ignorant Siberian twit, you can’t compare nuclear weapons to a Russian Youtube!”

“Is not that; is not the name and is not good to use that name! And weapons to make people into slag is worse than ways to make people like you. Make people be like you; then make people to like you. Then you need no-one to be made into slag because everyone loves you, and no-one ever loves people who makes others into radioactive slag.”

Yuri balled up the order, threw it — it was flimsy paper, and did not fly well — and threw himself down to the closest chair. The chair creaked; Yuri groaned. “So, whatever! We have the nuclear parts taken away, what we do with the missiles? What do we do with the jobs, Nikita? I am too old to learn a new trade.”

“You is thirty-seven.”

“Which is too old, do you think I could find a seat in re-education anywhere? I’d be begging for bread and giving the Belorussian love under the Prospekti bridge in under a year! Unless I got mad, desperate and took a warhead and sold it and was rewarded with prison enough for a lifetime of forced Belorussian love in the arse end of Siberia!”

“Siberia is not that bad.”

“Look in a mirror, see what it has vomited here to torment me.”

“Now, Yuri, is calm. I have a plan that make us both… well, not ones living under the Prospekti bridge.”

“Tell me.” Yuri leaned forward, sincerely interested. He did not like the Siberian, come from some backwater he could see Alaska from, but the Siberian was a procurer and had an eye and an ear and a couple of limbs for business.

“We is left with missiles, after they take the exploding part away, right?”

Yuri nodded.

“Then we take the government Transition Plan, and we become individual entre… ent-re-pre-neurs with right of first offer, and we buy the whole thing, whole field and missiles and all, for dirty cheap.”

Yuri laughed. “And what, we set up a museum here? Stalin himself, why not find red star uniforms too!”

“No. We no go into museum business. We go into business of having a place of launching missiles, having cheap missiles already, and experience-having staff people.”

“Who?”

Nikolai gestured at Yuri, then at himself. Yuri’s eyes bulged.

Nikolai smiled. “If we is owning the field, who say we not experienced? After every thing, we working here for many years! Army trained specialists! I know many contacts in India, in Tajik Republic, in Greater Mongolian Hural Kingdom, all private contacts, that pay good money for a satellite launch pad!”

“Wh-what?” Yuri stammered.

“Is the same principle, speaking like a general. Is the same machine, missile, as is a rocket into space. Just shoot up, not across. They bring a mathematics guy who make do with the computer, put in super Chinese fuel, they get discount, and get their own satellite up in the sky. We tell them what is where, and grow fat and old before the missiles is gone, and by then they have a habit to come here because we is space ent-re-pre-neurs of good repute!”

Yuri nodded furiously. That might just be stupid enough to work.

Nikolai nodded, also; the Russian might just be stupid enough to work while he, the smart Siberian, was in the executive position chair thing.

* * *

Notes —

“Belorussian love” : Not an actual expression, as far as I know. The exact definition is left for the reader’s imagination.

Nikolai/Nikita : Well, Nikita is not a proper diminutive of Nikolai or anything, but do you think Yuri cares?

The speech : Nikolai speaks clumsy English because, being from some un-Russian end of Siberia, he speaks lazy Russian. Partly possibly just to annoy Yuri. Also, both are drunk; this is not because they are Russians, but because honestly, sitting unsupervised and forgotten on a field of decrepit nuclear missiles is both boring and stressful.

“Greater Mongolian Hural Kingdom” : “Hural” is the Mongolian word for a parliament or assembly; a “hural kingdom” is a delightful signifier of something having gone very badly wrong with the democracy in there; possibly a Genghis Khan Mark II.

“super Chinese fuel” : i.e. phlebotinium, just in case my “missiles as rockets” brainwave has a fatal practical flaw in it.

“Putinsk” : Not an actual place; then again, who knows what a village or two will be called tomorrow? Might just as well be named for the repeating even-numbered president of the Russian Federation.

Scientists find god

September 10, 2011

(Reuters, London/New York/Mexico City) — A paper to be published in Nature this week will detail the discovery of a god in Mexico, academic sources say.

The discovery was of an incarnate deity identified as Xipe Totec, the Aztec god of agriculture, vegetation and the direction of east. He was found by the a team led by Moore Starkweather, an ethnobiologist of Harvard University, and Claudia Umbridge, professor of Mesoamerican archaeology at the University of Cambridge.

Starkweather, when contacted for comment, described the discovery as “an utter shocker in the groin”; his expedition had merely meant to investigate the local cult sites for burial pits of the famous Aztec human sacrifices. When they unearthed Xipe Totec in an underground pyramid know as Loltec Tlatlauhca, the Grave of the Red Smoking Mirror, they initially thought him a local trickster, playing dead for laughs.

“When he then rose and took off the skin he was wearing, and exhibited extraordinary resistance to handgun bullets, we thought, this guy really is something else. Not even Penn and Teller can catch that many! To our surprise he was perfectly fluent in English, though he wasn’t entirely up to date with American history.” According to Starkweather, Xipe Totec had promised to return from his Big Sleep, but had overslept. In the meanwhile his worshippers had perished, and “the local Catholic priest had no knowledge of Xipe Totec’s promise to return, so we kind of adopted him, seeing as he needed our help more than we his dominion. He’s a decent enough fellow, very old-fashioned and polite. As a funny anecdote, we had to tell him the cartoon Batman is not a god of ours; he was absolutely crushed but expressed interest in coming to America and meeting the voice actors anyway.”

Professor Thomas Griphook of Harvard described Starkweather’s find as “possibly the biggest shake-up in Mesoamerican history since the 1957 discovery of the Tlatcuachtl inscription”, adding it could also have repercussions beyond the field of ethnobiology. “Archaeology, for example, is sure to be impacted by this powerful new source of information.”

Xipe Totec is presently housed at the US consulate in Mexico City as a guest of the consul, and could not be reached for comment. The local newspaper Pollo a la Mexicana reports the consulate as being surrounded by black-burning flames and a cloud of several million red doves; local authorities could not provide a mundane explanation for this, what Starkweather calls “the honor guard of Xipe Totec”, one of many examples detailed in the Nature paper.

Starkweather wishes to stress he is not and has never been a Totecist, and neither has any of his expedition crew; to the best of his knowledge Xipe Totec is not engaged in missionary work at this present time; and is not interested in a revival of his former religious community. While ecumenical work will certainly rise to the forefront in the future, Starkweather adds this is “not the time to bloviate on whose god is real, and whose perhaps problematic”.

Mr. Williams Rowntree of the Southern Luthero-Baptist Seminary, when contacted for comment, commented that “this must be a confusion of some sort”. According to him, “godhood is a very delicate concept, and unlikely to be manifested in a manner as crass as what has been reported. But I remain open to arguments to the contrary.”

Mr. Raphael Velaquez of the Institute for Mesoamerican Antiquity expressed concern at the news. “Xipec Totec translates as ‘our lord the flayed one’, and while as a representative of the Institute I am a tremendously excited, given our current exhibit is ‘the Gods of the Aztecs’, personally I am a bit worried that there might be human rights issues in the play, regarding the widespread practice of flaying that accompanied the worship of Xipe Totec.” When asked if he accused Mr. Starkweather’s team of any impropriety, Mr. Velaquez declined to comment.

According to a Mexican government source that wished to remain nameless, Xipe Totec will be granted honorary Mexican citizenship upon request; this would be the first step of a unique and no doubt difficult process of naturalization.

Definitive answers to the fundamental questions of existence, for free

May 17, 2011

Aaaargh.

Was reading a Guardian comment thread, and came across this:

“There are still no definitive answers to the fundamental questions of existence.”

Now, admittedly I’ve never seen an official list of “fundamental questions of existence”, but I think I can think up a few, most of them nicely, even “definitively”, answered already.

Q: “WHY ARE WE HERE?”

A: History, cultural and biological evolution, abiogenesis, planetary formation, stellar evolution, Big Bang. Consult a few books on each; it’s there in a sketch, and many of the details are in, too. Looks nice, fits together, fits observations, and there doesn’t seem to be any alternatives even close to the same level of plausibility.

Q: “FOR WHAT PURPOSE ARE WE HERE?”

A: Biologically, to be tools for our genes to make more copies of themselves. Which they do not because they wanna, but because things that happen to be good in making copies of themselves will do so and stick around. And that’s all for the origin of man; one might want to add something personal on top of that. (Such as a fondness for Monty Python.)

Q: “WHERE DO WE, INDIVIDUALLY, COME FROM?”

A: Out of nowhere, really; you rise out of the genetic material of your parents and the stimuli of your environment, with bits of that environment used (through this “food” thing) to grow you. But as for previous existence, none — why do you think babies are so delightfully clueless? They’re a computer installing an operating system the best they can. (“There is no operating system but Windows, and Bill Gates is its prophet!”)

Q: “WHAT ARE WE?”

A: We’re jumped-up apes, results of an evolutionary overdrive for bigger brains. (“What? Smarter apes have more viable offspring? Nature needs more smart apes!“) We’re strange loops, beautiful mindful creatures. In a word, we are minds.

Q: “WHAT IS THIS ‘ME’?”

A: It’s the mind. That lump of brain inside your skull. The set of electrical reactions and neural connections in it, dancing in response to impulses from the outside; that’s you, not the wrapper outside, or some vague soul.

Q: “WHAT HAPPENS TO OUR SOULS—”

A: Sorry to cut in, but don’t assume things that seem to be imaginary. First show souls; only then make them a basis for fundamental questions of existence. Next!

Q: “WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE DIE?”

A: We cease to be: the body first, and the mind then. The parts remain; but as the mind was in their configuration and not in their essence, it’s bye-bye.

Q: “WHAT ABOUT SPIRITUALITY?”

A: It’s a crock of shit; now move on to cleaner names for adoration, genuine mystery and the sense of wonder.

Q: “IS THAT IT?”

A: Until more information comes in, yes. Maybe there is something more; but these answers are “definitive” enough until then, seeing as this all hangs together and the dissenting views have been not impressive in finding any real arguments against this, or for their own hypotheses.

And some people think the fundamental questions of existence are difficult! Maybe they were in 1750; but not in 2011, when even an amateur fool like me can answer them. (I’m not a professional fool; it’s just a hobby.) The problem of 2011 seems to be all the people who think we’re still living in 1750, grumble grumble.

I left out “Why is there something rather the nothing?” because I gather the answer is either “Because nothing is unstable” or “Why not?”, and that level of physics gives me a headache.

PS. I hate the word “definitive”. Mostly because it can either mean “serving to provide a final solution or to end a situation”, or “authoritative and apparently exhaustive”. There’s something funny in a word that means both the final-for-real and the best-so-far, and it makes me fidgety to see it in a book title. To say nothing of how marketing uses the word; their dictionary apparently has “definitive (adj.) very nice”.

The practical science of verbal abuse?

April 27, 2011

It is well known that the British paper called Daily Mail is engaged in a brave odyssey to classify all matters known to man as either causing or curing cancer.

It is likewise common knowledge, though there is no website to track it, that the great community of Christian communities has a project to decree all acts, from genocide to gay marriage, as both sinful and okay. Not in the same church, because that would be silly; but in some branches of the great Body and Bride of Christ.

Now: there is a third subject that could do with such classifications, clarifications and collations.

If I were to speak of big “melons”, or “warm sea sausage”, or a “Sarlacc’s pit”; if I were to call you a “douchebag” or a “hair shirt puritan”, you would…

Well, you would be puzzled given I made two of those up, but you would assume they were used as circumlocutions or offensive references for something.

Now, take “Sarlacc’s pit”. To me that seems to be an anatomical reference, probably for the asshole, but I could see it used, with an undercurrent of fear, for the female pit in the front parts. “Douchebag” would not benefit from analysis: it is something unpleasant and dirty, but doesn’t really have any meaning beyond that.

I know there are dictionaries, online and offline, where euphemisms (so to say) like this are collected: but is there any study of how their euphemistic meanings overlap? Is there any systematic work done in the field of descriptive or creative fuckistics? If not, that could be mighty useful.

To see this, consider these two problems.

One: It is an unfortunate fact that many euphemisms/dysphemisms have sexist or racist baggage: as a consequence, dropping a term such as “media whore” can cause a firestorm in certain places online. It would be good to have a term that says, in a suitably derogatory manner, “an unprincipled attention-seeker” without tacking to the end of it, “in a manner which is typical of loose women”.

Indeed, what Internet needs is a whole new vocabulary of cursing, demeaning and abuse; “gay” and the like will not do no more. Since the world is not divided into swearing teenage brutes and prissy nice people, but has a third group in between — being the interesting people — that new vocabulary will come, given enough time. Maybe someone could help it along, not with deleting old words (because that is almost certain to backfire), but with encouraging the use of the new.

(Just remember that — if you ask me — going against “foul language” is a futile, destructive little crusade. As long as there are hateful people, there will be hateful words used to describe them. And most people, both the nice ones and the jerks, have plenty of situations where to find someone hateful, and need the release of describing that person as such. And for that use the new words need to be just as potent and visceral as the old; getting rid of gratuitous sexism doesn’t mean being against hard, heated, venomous abuse.)

(I’m all for hard, heated, venomous abuse! The fouler, the better! Let me be your red ears, o world of hurt — the heat sink for your overflow of anger!)

(Ahem. Continuing.)

What I guess is that the new vocabulary of abuse will not be much like the old. In a world where homosexuality is not sinful, and the concept of “sinfulness” daily becomes less meaningful, in a world where sexual promiscuity is not the mortal stain it once was; in a world where epithets based on race, ethnicity and the like are less effective because the old stereotypes are weaker; in a world where “hell” is a place seen in comic books and TV series and not a real town of torment — well, if you take religion, race and sex out of cursing, there’s not much left! And if you remove the offensiveness gained by a comparison to a bad race, of invoking a distasteful sexual act, of waving a middle finger in God’s face, you remove the potency of curse words based on those offenses.

(I’d guess that’s why “hell” and “God” are such mild words today: they don’t have the fear behind them they once had. Or am I painting all of past with the brush of Victorian prissiness?)

Slurs that indicate stupidity may keep (but remember that “retard” and similar ex-medical terms are touchy); and there may be a lot to be mined from “new vices” like selfishness, ecological irresponsibility, and being-fulla-hate. That mining just needs to discover that necessary vein of visceral disgust; cleverness alone is not enough.

Interesting, and colorful, times will be had before our curses are made anew. (Ah, you say, but our contemporary curses are durable and old — to that I say, our morals are new, and different from all those before.)

I nominate “phelps” to be used with the definition “a person of such outrageously offensive and unhinged opinions that they are enough to make him/her a celebrity”. Thus, “Michele Bachmann is such a fucking phelps.”

Two: The problem with invective is, sometimes, that it is so vague. It is fine and probably true to say that Dick Cheney is a douchebag; but that says nothing about the why. Unless we want to aggravate the proponents of “dictionary-douchebaggism”, we’d better leave that term alone: and go looking for some that is just as foul, hurtful and satisfying, and tells the listener which particular reason is, at that moment, considered for the purposes of the word.

Pharyngula, PZ Myers’s domain of atheism and science, and some other Scienceblogs blogs are splendid breeding-grounds and depositories for words like this: a heinously stupid creationist is a “creotard”, and a theist with a listening problem is a “godbotter” (bots are machine spammers). And while “quackery” is an old term for medical cheats, “sCAMmers”, found while writing this post, is news to me.

(Me, I always struggle with “creotard”, because while it is creationist plus retard, it sounds to me like creationist plus leotard, and that’s not an image to have associated with Ken Ham or Ben Stein.)

It would be kind of useful to have a dictionary for these: that way one could say “chickenhawk” instead of “douchebag”, and feel more satisfied, having better (and hopefully just as foully) uttered the emotion asking for utterance. There would be gaps in such a collection, and it would not be easy to magick up new expressions to fill them: but if one knew the gaps, the inspiration might rise quicker. What word of abuse, for example, would malign and describe a person whose ability to judge the merits of claims consists of asking who said them?

These two problems, then, the pressing need for new words of visceral hatred, and the need, sometimes, to express not only hatred but exact hatred, seem to me to point to a need for a semi-scientific research and development project into verbal abuse.

Any takers?

(This all is in no way related to the Scienceblogs-National Geographic amalgamation, and the consequent threat of “aim[ing] for a higher level of debate that is respectful and doesn’t offend in an unjustifiable way”. Yeah right, you prissy douche-clenchers, as if there’d be a way to justify a single “fucktard” to someone using such language.)

Atomic bomb ends world war (fiction)

March 1, 2011

James Clerk Maxwell, the Scottish physicist, does not die of cancer in 1879, aged 48. He lives for twenty-one more years, dying as the century changes. For those years, he continues as the leader of Cambridge’s Cavendish Physics Laboratory: being the greatest scientist since Newton, his combination of will and wisdom cuts decades off the British pursuit of science. The likewise brilliant Baron Rayleigh is not Maxwell’s immediate successor, but his top attack dog on all manner of practical problems.

In 1890, Rayleigh publishes a paper called “On the electrodynamics of moving bodies”; fifteen years later a Swiss patent officer called Einstein whistles reading it and wishes he’d come up with something equally profound. He never does.

The miracle year of Rayleigh and his associates sees more papers of equal profundity: not only on the conflict of Maxwellian electrodynamics and Newtonian mechanics, but also on the discovery of the element argon — not that anyone’d give Rayleigh an award for that minor discovery!

In 1896 one Alfred Nobel, a Swedish explosives magnate, dies of a stroke. He had been horrified by an event a few years earlier — a French newspaper had mistaken his brother’s death for that of the industrialist, and trumpeted that Le marchand de la mort est mort — “The merchant of death is dead!” Unwilling to have the invention of dynamite and gelignite and their military applications be what he would be remembered for, Nobel leaves 31 million Swedish kronor for a Noble Cause.

That cause is a Swedish Laboratory for Rayleigh Studies; its first head is a certain German Conrad Röntgen. Röntgen, flush with his discovery of the “Röntgen rays” only a year ago (“On a new kind of rays”, 1895), jumps at the opportunity; the University of Würzburg cannot compete with Nobel’s funding, and Röntgen has the will to move, to see the world. Also, the successes of the Cavendish Laboratory have led him to suspect that the time of the solitary genius scientist is over; he needs companions and, above all, he needs graduate students and other research assistants.

Röntgen’s first recruits for the Nobel Laboratory will be more famous in aggregate than they were for their former achievements: Marconi’s work with aetheric waves, old van der Waals’s work on gases and liquids, Planck’s work on black-body radiation, they all were works of genius, but will not compare with the Swedish synthesis of the 1910s.

And there is one more. One specific scientist comes to the Laboratory in 1896, its founding year, as a graduate student of no name, and yet will come to tower over them all. That is of course Marie Curie, formerly of xenophobic Paris and originally of Poland partitioned out of existence before her birth; Marie Curie, the most brilliant and fateful scientific mind of the coming century.

James Clerk Maxwell dies in 1900, as the century is turning. Five years later a group of people hunch over a weird contraption in the Swedish Laboratory’s basement; the lab assistants history forgets, but not the three great scientists: Röntgen, Rutherford and Curie. The atom is split, twelve years ahead schedule. There are nine years until the outbreak of the First World War.

In 1907, the galloping competition of the British and the Swedish laboratories leads to the discovery of the neutron, and into the monstrous Rutherford-Stark row over its discoverer. There is curiously much nationalism in the business considering neither laboratory has even a majority of its home nationals as its leading lights, and considering Rutherford the “Swede” is a New Zealander of long British habitation, and Stark the “Brit” an obnoxiously nationalistic German — but nationalistic stupidity is in the air in that time.

In but seven years Stark will be battered to death by a Londoner mob that now howls his praises. Rutherford will survive the war, but his employment and good relations with the Swedish Laboratory will not.

The August of 1914 is marked by two momentous events. The less significant one is the outbreak of the Great War. The more important one is the decision of one Manne Siegbahn, a young Swedish physicist, to stay in Sweden romancing his girlfriend, despite a very nice offer from the Cavendish Brits.

When the August is gone, Siegbahn is married, and — much to his surprise — very much employed, not by the University of Lund, but in the Swedish Laboratory’s vast cellars on the outskirts of Stockholm, under a dinky little ice hockey rink. Elsewhere the war rages on, and patriotism slowly gives way to a dull, resigned, hopeless kind of fear for the future.

In late 1915, just as three figures had peered into the first instance of artificial atomic fission, three again peer into a wonder in the Laboratory’s cellars: Siegbahn, Bohr, and, of course, Curie — a Swede, a Dane and the woman scorned in Paris, the woman whose homeland Prussia ate; the most fateful scientist that has ever lived.

And fateful is the word, because who would have thought that the next year the great naval battle of Jutland, the greatest naval fight of the age, would be rudely and horridly interrupted by the tremendous ignition of a Swedish scow floating nearby — that the war would be brought to a standstill as bland, quiet, Nordic diplomats most insistently informed the warring parties that His most neutral Majesty the King of Sweden would quite wish to see the war ended… unless next time the scow were in a harbor, and not merely within the view of two fleets.

For, despite all that followed after, Marie Curie of no allegiance but humanity was the one to look up from that deadly glow, and speak when another might have invoked a dead god or a fled screaming. It was she that spoke, and then went to see the King that was not the boss of her. And this is what she said: “Gentlemen, nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood.”

The social aftereffects of a brilliant scientific breakthrough

February 14, 2011

The serum was sprayed from planes. The serum was belched out by subway ventilators. The serum was exhaled on rural people as if they were a crop of wheat.

The serum was given because the people wanted it. The serum was given to all because that was possible. The serum was given quickly because otherwise there would have been a war.

The serum made everyone immortal.

The serum did not help against foolishness: you could still trip, hit your head, and die. The serum did not help against disease: Ebola still killed, and so could diarrhea. The serum did not help against bad habits: smoking still tended to cancer, eating to clogged arteries.

The serum indefinitely deferred old age; that was what it did. One breath and you were immortal, and so were all your children.

People would still grew up, and become adult, and have sex, and the best days of their lives, and rise into positions with greater pay, and become eminent and respected in their fields. But they would not enter the slow decline of old age. Even as their bodies peaked at twenty, they refused to enter a decline. Even as their brains peaked at forty, they did not grow fragile and stale. Their sexual vigor, even, stayed unchanged.

(Those that were old, stayed old: old age is not so much a weakness as a collection of its effects. What prevented aging, could do nothing against already bent backs and busted livers, blighted eyes and ravaged brains. They soon passed away.)

Those that were young, would never grow old.

This led to a cataclysm of apocalyptic proportions fairly quickly.

Everyone was immortal (in this limited sense), and being free from that weakness of the body was much more likely to stay free of the various ailments of old age. Even their virility was unhindered by the need for Viagra or other supplements here unmentioned due to unwillingness to be counted as spam. It did not help how cheap the Viagra was, or Cialis; they were not necessary anymore.

And as a consequence, there were people.

It was as if every generation lingered on as ghosts, unwilling to depart — except these ghosts had the most job experience, and the deciding posts in every corporation and government. And they had the morals of a mortal world: they wanted to see babies, because babies were cute. They did not want much birth control, because birth control was a war on babies.

So there were still more people — and more people — and all these people needed places to live, and money to live on, and, worst of all, they needed food. They needed food because if they only got to eat, they would live forever. They needed fresh meats and plenty of fruits, because they wanted to live healthy, to live forever.

Resentment towards the neo-old grew. They had not stepped down. They were hogging all the jobs; they were like limpets, with decades of experience no youth could match. They had an old-boy system. They did not retire. They were strong grey hand keeping the youth down. They and their aged wiles were seducing all the bouncy and fertile innocent young boys and girls to be dolls in their depraved old-age orgies of — well, the picture is familiar, is it not?

There were riots, eventually, and lynchings. It was good to be young, but dangerous to admit you had been young for a long time. Social ostracism was the least evil that could happen.

Oh, there were attempted solutions. Some countries steadfastly maintained their mortality-inspired retirement age. This resulted in a huge number of virile, sharp-minded retirees. Some went into the business of acquiring more children, the third or the fourth batch. Some went into black market business, or government; others emigrated, swollen with power and wealth, into less restrictive zones, where they became the foreign leech, the nefarious accented outsider — the usual gripe of all exclusivists and xenophobes.

Eventually there were youth rebellions; everyone aged eighty or less was welcome to join in.

Old age had been a curse against time; now it was a muttered curse against people. And all the while the number of people grew, grew in this wobbling unbalanced world even though the natural remedies did their cruel best: fecundity was stronger, for a moment, than the best of famine, plague, war and sudden death.

It could not last.

Africa was the first to collapse; Asia second. Soon there were mutters of cannibalism from the unemployed sections of New York; tales of little children lured to dark streets in Hamburg; cross-generational warfare with tanks and warsuits in the streets of Tokyo, with a still-warm meaty meal as the victor’s prize. Somewhere in Russia, the unpatriotically anti-state Over-Eighties were herded into camps; somewhere in the American Midwest, a preacher told the fold was full and it was God’s will there would be no more children, and with a hatchet he made it so.

And so the world went down into chaos, not even having had the time to see the prolonged lifespan was mere two centuries and not forever (no-one having had the patience for that study); and the dim generations that came later dismissed it all as a fever dream.

Immortality, hah! half the people did not see their second year.

* * *

Quoth PZ: Imagine what happens IF we actually converge on some kind of immortality. […] What if it’s cheap and easy, and everyone gets it? Kurzweil is talking about a technology that would almost certainly destroy every human society on the planet, and he treats it as blithely as the prospect of getting new options for his cell phone.

I, on the other hand, treat pretty much everything as an excuse for cackling visions of blood.

That, or bad jokes; that covers most all.

Jesus at Area 51 (fiction)

January 24, 2011

“All religions, you see”, the general said, and then frowning added, “or most probably you don’t, not having seen this war coming.”

Jack shrugged; shrugging was pretty much the limit of the abilities still under his mental and physical control, sitting in a corner of a hall where men in black-and-red fatigues loaded black bombers with black bombs painted with three red sixes while he was held at gunpoint by a bug-eyed Marine general.

Well, only figuratively bug-eyed, he added; nothing so bad it couldn’t get any worse.

“What we’ve known ever since Schweitzer’s time”, the general said, “is that there’s something mighty rotten in the Western religions.”

“See the God of the Old Testament, for example. A vindictive, small-minded control freak tyrant. Little better than a Saddam Hussein with a thunder machine.”

“Then the God of the New Testament. Much more ethereal, I grant you: but also the inventor of Hell. Hell, what an idea! Follow or burn, do or die; and doing, the people are supposed to give everything away and spend all their time praising the Great Leader. I don’t know what that is if not fucking North Korea.”

“Then the Koran, the Mormon books, the lot, the whole Abrahamic tradition: all one more schizoid overlord after another. All bent on the domination of mankind. All aliens with a bunch of rules we would follow, or pay the price. And as the years went by, the tyranny evolved. Grew to embrace the available technology. Grew to take what it could.”

“Even today, when only a dinosaur moron with a ham for a head would believe in the Ogre of the Old, near everyone believes in this quantum Jesus story, where this vague God’s always watching, though we can’t ever tell He is; and He still needs our adoration, our worship, our obedience, our alms, all of it. It’s fiendishly clever. First you use the crude old story to make people think there must be a God… then when the old one isn’t enough you call it silly and give them a quantum Jesus. Theologians won’t give a straight answer, but he says the same thing every tyrant has ever said: you got a loving Big Brother, so love Him back, or… or who knows what may happen? Not that the Tyrant wants to crush you but, eh, what can you do, Siberia or Hell for the dissidents. That’s tyranny, plain and simple. That’s religion, now and always. That’s not what America is about. Every single religion is as fucking un-American as tits on a Frenchman.”

“I tell you, it took us a long time, but eventually the United States Armed Forces do get a clue. It took a few of those scientifiction types, the War of the Worlds crowd, but by… by something, then we got it.”

“Got it?” Jack croaked.

“Yes sir! That was it: All Gods are evil aliens!”

Jack blinked.

Then blinked again.

The general’s fist smacked the table a few times, and he grinned maniacally, well in the grips of his story.

“To think of it! Us, and every other nation in the world, in the grips of some, or probably several, dastardly plans for our control! By invisible tyrants in the sky! Do you know” — he pointed a finger at Jack, and Jack blinked yet again — “do you know, churches are the control hubs? They collect all this money, all these alms, but what do they have to show for it? Your moderate tycoon can own half the world in a decade or two, but the churches skinning the world entire and getting bequests left and right are supposedly so poor? Supposedly it all goes to help the poor? Bullshit, as plain as your face when you see it. There’s precious little going to the poor, and the priests aren’t as bad hogs as some think — the funds are channeled off-planet!

“Glurk?” Jack asked; the question went unanswered.

“Or then diverted into other sinister projects”, the general grumbled. “We have our suspicions. And to think I voted for them, for two decades before I was told this all. The humanity-betraying elephantine bastards!”

“But so, it was 1908 or so when we noticed this all. We were a couple of high-ranking generals in the Planning Branch, so we of course spun off a few discreet men to take care of this eventuality. And the more we prepared for it, the more probable it seemed. Then it became an unshakeable certainty. We knew a fight was inevitable, a war, the greatest war ever fought. We knew we needed money; huge amounts of money… Well, why do you think the military black budget is so big? We get the most of it, and a good chunk of the regular one, too.”

“We needed leaders, too; men of inspiration, of devotion to duty, men that were not beholden to the lies of the aliens. Men who had seen their wickedness and their sugarcoated slavery for what it was. Men who wouldn’t say now these Gods were aliens, but there was a higher, real God also… because that would have been an evil quantum Jesus alien, too, and no mistake.”

“So, in 1913, we arranged to have our first Inspiration Leader disappear off the face of the earth — this Bierce fellow supposedly went into Mexico to report on the civil war, and just, poof, was gone. Great story, a great man; you wouldn’t believe the stuff he wrote for our internal use. Those last twenty years were the most prolific and beautiful of his whole life.”

“We’ve acquired a few others, too, later on. Like the next Insp-Lea, the little Russian, the one who supposedly was killed with an ice axe in Mexico? Not so. I suspect, by the way, that the whole Soviet Union thing was engineered by Them, too. Maybe they got a hint of us; but probably not, they’re not omniscient though they like to give us that idea. Probably they just saw the rise in people that were rebelling, though just in a panty-assed intellectual way, agnosticism and the like, and decided they needed to cover that possibility too. Hence the fucking Soviets and their huge-bearded god Marx. They always go for long hair, the dirty space hippies. Always.

With something approaching hysteria Jack noticed the general was clean-shaven; so was every single soldier he could see. Most didn’t have any hair at all; the general’s balding crew cut was severe enough to resemble an inky black cube with a tan dome peeking out of it. One of his decorations was a red bar with black lettering: “NO GODS, NO MASTERS”; Jack was pretty sure it wasn’t standard Marine issue.

“When the first Great War came, we were well set to take a bit of money and materiel aside — the money was well used; the materiel isn’t all that useful anymore. With every war since we were readier and took more aside. With the Second Big One we got this Groom Lake place. Hasn’t had a church, mosque or temple of any kind within a hundred miles of it, ever. That church at the rest stop outside you saw? It’s ours. Bugged and packed full of TNT. If a God shows up there, He ain’t walking out — and before it comes to that, we have slaver rays waiting. Our best boffs on Project Pluto say we might make one of them bastards into a soul bomb; ought to take out a few Heavens and a million of them sucker-mouthed angel bastards as one goes. All Gods are aliens, but they aren’t invincible, or really immortal. We can fight them, we can kill them, we can win.

The general’s smile was somewhat deranged, and quite bloodthirsty. Jack wished he could but couldn’t remember if gods, any gods, were supposed to have red blood, golden ichor or something else.

“So, what do you say?” the general said, lowering the gun.

“Er”, Jack said, and looked in vain for help.

None was forthcoming. Just more men loading bombs, and a squad in like ebony-and-crimson camoflage, jogging behind a sergeant with a goat mask; their chant seemed to be: “E-I E-I O, Catch an angel by the toe; If he hollers let ’em blow! Ratta tatta, tatta tatta raa!”

“Er uh”, Jack stammered, “this all seems er a bit overreacting er in a good way. A tad psychotic but I hope you don’t take it in a bad —”

“Psychosis?” the general roared. “Why you little! Do you really think we’d do all this because of an idea? You think we’d spend a century and more money than a thousand Apollo projects, and trip-wire every church in the country, and sponsor Anton fucking LaVey and Christopher effing Hitchens just to get the people to hesitate so we can fight a war they’ll never support, you think we’d build the Pentagon in that shape, fund every heavy metal band ever, and assassinate a fucking president even, just on a theological hunch? Who do you think we are, the fucking Homoiousians? We — have — fucking — evidence!”

He grabbed a radio off his belt and snarled into it: “The General! Get von Junzt, get him to open the Theophage, and get the lift up! I’m going to get our little visitor to behold the plight of the fucking faction of fallen angels and the likewise imprisoned Son of God!”

Turned out there were aliens at Area 51 after all.