Dragon*Con Day 3  

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Original Source

Well, last night I didn't make it to the horror film festival. I fell asleep during the Colbert report. I did wake up off and on through the night, of course, just got to a regular sleep around 5 am.

Today was fabulous.

The first panel was Get a Life! Keeping a Sense of Fun in Non-Theist Politics with Lori Lipman Brown once again. She brought up several ways that non-theists have pointed out the absurdity of religious claims including the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Teach the Stork Controversy, and the Three Year Marriage Limitation. The Three Year Marriage Limitation (a term I coined myself) came about from the state supreme court ruling in Washington state that marriage could only between heterosexual couples since the purpose of marriage is to procreate. So a non-theist group came up with a ballot item to annul marriages where the couple did not have children wihtin three years. Of course it ended up offending people because they didn't understand the absurdity of it, but I think it's a pretty interesting idea. Anything to make people think, right?

The next panel was supposed to be a live taping of Point of Inquiry, but instead it ended up being a panel on science podcasting including Steven Novella of SGU, Derek Colanduno of Skepticality, Pamela Gay of Astronomy Cast, DJ Grothe of Point of Inquiry, Richard Saunders of TANK (soon to be renamed something with skeptic (or probably sceptic) in the title), and VirginiaGinger Campbell of The Brain Science Podcast. Swoopy from Skepticality hosted the discussion. It was an interesting discussion about what makes a quality podcast and the different ways they each have gone about making their podcasts successful.

Then Phil Plait gave a talk about his new book Death from the Skies. It was a pretty interersting discussion and different enough from Death by Black Hole to have some new ideas. He played clips from Armageddon and Deep Impact as well to illustrate his points.

I ran down to the skeptic booth in the meantime and met Evan from SGU and picked up a t-shirt. I just have to say, Evan is awesome. He was completely humble about having a fan and was really, really nice. (He kept telling me where Steve was, so I had to tell him I came down to see him because he's my favorite on the podcast.)

Then I actually had to get some food and paid an outrageous $7 for a Sam Adams. But, damn, was it a goddamn good beer! I made it back a little late for Science Based Medicine with Steve Novella, but it was a fun talk. At one point the lady and I standing in the back were shushed after she asked me for the name of the speaker and the website he was talking about. You have to be having a good time if you're shushed, right?

I left during questions so that I could make it to the 2nd Annual Skeptics vs Believers Debate, which was pretty good. I recorded the debate and I'll try to post something on it when I get back if I can figure out how to merge audio with stills in MM.

Then I sat through a live session of American Freethought. I wasn't familiar with the podcast at all, but I wanted to see how they stacked up against AGP. I think AGP is better, personally, but they were pretty funny and intersting, just a lot more scripted than we are.

Finally I sat in for the Issues in Education panel with Lori Lipman Brown, Derek Colanduno, Phil Plait, Karen Stollznow, and Kylie Sturgess (podblack). Yes, Sean, I told Kylie you said hello. She was totally excited that people read her blog. They talked a lot about the known issues around creation/intelligent design, but also about the lack of fostering critical thinking, issues with history texts. Kylie was very enthusiastic about the discussion as an educator.

It was after 8 pm then so I was long past hungry. I headed down to the hotel restaurant and made a reservation for one. However, Evan caught me as I was heading back from the restroom and invited me to come along with him and some of the other panelists. I met James Randi, Steven Novella, Bob Novella, several of the skepchicks, and several of the Aussies. Randi complimented me on my name (Ordinary Girl) in the sea of people trying to be different. Although the food was way too expensive and the service was poor, it was a good dinner.

And now I'm back in my room and the internet is still not working. I guess that's it for tonight.*

Written last night when my internet was not working.

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Dragon*Con Day 2  

Friday, August 29, 2008

Original Source

Well, it's actually the first official day of Dragon*Con, but it's the second day here in Atlanta for me.

I started the morning early, getting up at 8 am for registration. I didn't want to wait in a line. Of course I ended up in the absolutely slowest line and waited for about 30 minutes as it advanced at a snail's pace.

I spent some time artfully arranging our postcards near the exit of registration and interviewing a few unsuspecting attendees. And I realized I was carrying too much. And it was way too hot to worry about carrying a sweater, so I headed back to my room for a few minutes before the Con started in earnest.

The first panel was Skeptics 101 with James Randi Director of the JREF - , DJ Grothe - host of Point of Inquiry, Jeff Wagg - General Manager of JREF, Ben Radford - Managing Editor of Skeptical Inquirer, Phil Plait - President of JREF, and Richard Saunders of the TANK vodcast. It was a good panel. They touched on atheism quite a bit, partially due to questions from the audience. At one point the panel was talking about how theists and atheist could work together as long as the theists accepted reality and then talked a little about how atheism wasn't even a term they really used. DJ spoke up and said that yes, he agreed with the sentiment, but that he called himself an atheist and that wasn't a label he was willing to hide. James Randi also started the talk by calling himself an avowed atheist.

I sat next to the fabulous Meg during the session (Hi, Meg!) and she was pretty cool being a theist and yet still very receptive to the idea of the AGP podcast.

Then I visited the dealer's room and bought a pretty cool shirt that says, "I refuse to engage in a battle of wits with an unarmed person," from Buzzy Multimedia.

The second panel I attended was Lake Monsters I Have Known with Ben Radford. It was a good discussion about cryptozoology investigations and skeptical investigations in general. His least believable monster - the chupacabra.

And somehow I kept following Dale from Saskatchewan around from panel to panel. We ended up talking between most panels and he was the first guy to agree to an interview. Way to go, Dale!

Skeptics and Non-Theists: A Politically Powerful Alliance was next with Lori Lipman Brown. She gave a really good talk about what the Secular Coalition is doing to lobby the government for separation of church and state. I recorded the session and hope to incorporate some of it into an AGP podcast. I asked her about the "defacto" religious test that our politicians seem to be engaged in. After the panel I talked to her a bit about politics and about interviewing her in the future. She was fantastic.

Then I rushed over to the Marriott to see Michael Shermer talk about Shermer's Last Law. It was a good panel and he touched a little bit on why people turn to religion and why religious groups seem to be gaining ground in America.

I have one last event I hope to attend. There's a film festival of shorts, Blood, Shock, and Discomfort at 1 am featuring horror films. These are comic and disturbing. I'm hoping mostly comic.

Anyway, it's been a good, but very tiring day. Tomorrow there's a lot more in store and I can't wait.

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Dragon*Con Night 1  

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Well, I made it. And I am glad I won't be lugging home all that I lugged here. Since the major hotels booked up before I made my decision to go (in April) I had to stay at a hotel a couple of blocks further away. I'm on the fourteenth floor, which is actually the fourth floor. What a hotel will do to make itself feel taller....

I caught the end of the Obama speech in the background while I unpacked. It was the first channel that wasn't porn commercials or hotel information. I also caught some commentary I could have done without.

Hmmm.. well, time to get some sleep. The internet connection seems to be pretty good here, so I'll be checking in from time to time.

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Off to Dragon Con  

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Tomorrow evening I'll be heading out to Atlanta for a weekend at Dragon Con. I hope to do some blogging about the Con while I'm there, but I'm not sure how much time I'll have.

If anyone reading plans to attend, send me an email if you'd like to meet. I'll be hanging around mostly at Skeptrack sessions and hopefully doing some promotion and interviews for Another Goddamned Podcast.

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A Week of Sun August 20 - 26, 2008  

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Well, Evo was right. It was all due to the sky cooperating on photos last week. This week it was like the sky was pouting. Maybe because I didn't touch up its zits or something last week. The first half of the week was nothing but gray skies. The second half of the week made up for it.

The fourth photo is a picture of the sun obscured by clouds, not the moon.

Original Source

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On Happiness  

Monday, August 25, 2008

In the latest, soon-to-be-published episode of the podcast we talk about happiness and whether religion makes people happier than non-religious people. I'm not going to rehash what we said, but I did want to add something related.

Lately I've been euphorically, ecstatically happy. I don't get up bouncing with joy, but by the time I get to work I have so much energy that I'm about to burst. I don't really attribute it to work, although lately even work has been better. I attribute it to running.

I've always hated running. The only time I ever ran regularly was in junior high school when I played volleyball and basketball. I suck at sports. You only have to see me in action to know. I'm short and uncoordinated - terrible attributes for basketball. I don't have a lot of arm strength and though I could set a ball nicely for a spike, I couldn't get a ball served over the net to save my life. But I loved playing.. in practices. I even loved running in practices. It was hard work, but I was in the best shape of my life. And there was something about pushing my body to do more that was exhilarating.

Since then I've avoided running. If you don't do it regularly it's a chore. Breathing is difficult, sweating is guaranteed - and I hate sweating worse than I hate running.

Anyway, a few months ago I bought a Wii Fit board thinking it'd be fun to play around with for a while, but not seriously thinking it'd replace a gym (it doesn't). I started out with some yoga and resistance training and after a few days tentatively tried running. The first run was 2 minutes. I thought I was going to die before I reached the end. I was dripping with sweat. But I stuck with it, eventually moving up to 4, then 8, then 10 minutes. By then running was starting to not feel so bad. Breathing was much easier. When I ran it felt like I was stretching my lungs rather than killing them.

Eventually I worked up to 30 minutes. After that I started trying to run faster, getting to 5 miles in 30 minutes. Then I started trying to best my 5 minute time. (Wii Fit is good at motivating you to do better the next time.) Last week I ran 5 1/2 miles in 30 minutes. If I'm able to keep improving I'll be at a 5 minute mile soon.

Not that I think I'm actually running 5+ miles. The Wii is probably hedging a little bit or miscalculating my stride length. I'm not sure how it calculates. It does know how tall I am (by me telling it and I told it how tall I think I am). Eventually I'll get some kind of nifty fitness gear and run outside once the weather is a little cooler and test how far I run. Or try running on a treadmill. Although a treadmill seems awfully boring at the moment.

I'm even motivated enough to get up at 5 am to run, even after staying up late (for me now) to record the podcast. Of course by 3:00 Friday afternoon I'm ready to crash, but what else is new?

But the worst thing is that I have a guilty pleasure. When I run I pop in a DVD to watch instead of watching the clock. It makes the time go faster. Even as much as I'm enjoying running, I still wish it was all over about 20 seconds after I start.

Lately I've been working through the first season of Smallville. Yes, Smallville, that sickly sweet, teenage soap opera. I picked up the first two seasons several years ago for $15 a piece, but I never opened them. I wasn't even sure why I purchased them other than the idea of the show seemed slightly interesting and it was a good deal.

While my parents were visiting I needed something my dad could watch. When we get together we don't sit down and talk. First my dad will turn on the television. Then my mom will get out her DS or laptop and start playing games. Then my nephew will beg to play computer games on my computer. And then my brother will fall asleep. That leaves me either watching television or furtively typing emails about how miserable I am. Eventually everyone gets hungry and we go out to eat where we talk and sometimes argue. A normal, happy family, right?

Anyway, our movie selection wasn't too palatable to my dad and after watching Fallen, Open Range, and The Secret of Nimh he needed something else to watch. I scanned the television series I had and remembered Smallville. Bonus, there are hours of episodes in just one season. I didn't need to find anything else the rest of his visit.

I stuck the DVD in and went back to whatever I was doing, probably playing a video game. But as the show played I felt myself drawn in. After about five episodes I was hooked. Even though the episodes are predictable and squeaky clean I find they're perfect for watching while I'm running. I don't have to pay too much attention. Even though I know what's going to happen next I still find myself entertained enough to keep watching. And the shows are short enough to finish up as I'm cooling down on the couch.

I tried watching something educational, even something scientific a couple of mornings, but I find myself zoning out and not absorbing most of the information. So, Smallville it is, at least until I run out of episodes. Then there are always repeats of BSG, B5, Dead Like Me, and Arrested Development to consider. I have running material for the rest of the year.

So, despite always thinking I'd hate it, running makes me happy. And I've built up enough motivation to keep at it. Who says you need religion to be happy? Besides, religion never made my ass look good.

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Alphabetized Meme  

Sunday, August 24, 2008

I stole this meme from Venjanz.

Organize your music file alphabetically by artist then track, and name the first song that's at the top of the list for every letter (or number, see my list below) by artist and song name. Just for fun.*

*Since I have iTunes all of my files are in sub-folders of sub-folders, so I just used iTunes to organize this.

#: 22 - Everything With You (Lonely Remix)
A: Abra Moore - I Do
B: Band of Horses - No One's Gonna to Love You
C: Calla - It Dawned On Me
D: Danny Heines - Sun And Water
E: The Eagles - Witchy Woman
F: Faith No More - From Out of Nowhere
G: Garbage - Bad Boyfriend
H: Herbie Hancock - Maiden Voyage (Edited Version)
I: Imogen Heap - Hide and Seek
J: Jacco Vleugel - Theme
K: Kae - Epiphany
L: Lauren Christy - Walk This Earth Alone
M: Madeline Peyroux - I'm Alright
N: Nanci Griffith - The Flyer
O: Oasis - Wonderwall
P: Page & Plant - No Quarter
Q: Queensryche - Real World
R: R Star - Back of Your Car
S: Sara Bareilles - Love Song
T: Tara MacLean - Divided
U: U2 - Crumbs From Your Table
V: Vanessa Carlton - A Thousand Miles
W: The Wallflowers - Angel On My Bike (Live)
X: None
Y: None
Z: Zombina & The Skeletones - Leave My Brain Alone

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Despite my anti-social tendencies, I've joined Facebook. You can find me here.

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Afternoon Inquisition at Skepchick  

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Skepchick has added a new feature called the Afternoon Inquisition. The first topic is, Can a religious person be a skeptic?

Pop on over and join the conversation if you're so inclined.

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Breakfast Disaster Averted  

So this morning I almost caught the apartment on fire. Seriously. Well, I caught the oven on fire fixing this delicious baby* from Pioneer Woman's catalog of recipes. The butter did pool on me, leaking over the side and that's what caused the fire. But never fear. I saved the delicious casserole by first pulling it out of the flaming oven and running it outside to my deck. Then panicking over it being outside and covering it with foil. Only then did I rush back to the kitchen to pull out the fire extinguisher and put out the fire. See I learned something from Keith about not ruining the food. WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING??!

The fire alarm only put out three pitiful beeps though and after opening the screen door and turning on all the fans the chemical smell was mostly gone. There wasn't very much smoke to clear out either.

In any case I learned something else. Fire extinguishers smell really nasty when they're the chemical kind and tend to leave a film of nasty-smelling chemical something all over the kitchen. I'll have to clean that up when I get home. But at least the apartment didn't catch on fire. I wonder if Matt will notice.

*No, not a real baby. Atheist baby-eaters are a myth.

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A Week of Sun August 13 - 19, 2008  

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The weather has just been fantastic this week. I have to keep reminding myself that it is August and this won't last, but for two weeks and running the temperatures have been below average. If only it could just hold off and then dip into fall in two months. Unlikely that will happen though.

Original Source

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All I Can Do Is Pray  

Monday, August 18, 2008

This morning I was listening to one of my co-workers tell her story about her weekend. At one point she said, "All I can do is pray," and immediately I thought "yeah, much good that will do you." But instead of listening to the rest of the story I got stuck on that phrase. Why do so many people pray?

Really, prayer has become such an alien concept to me that it's hard to remember what it was like to pray. I had to really think back about when I was a Christian. Did I pray? What did I pray about. Did I pray for people?

At first I couldn't remember a single instance of prayer until I thought about those moments when I just simply didn't know what to do, like when my cat ran away or when I was trying to get home by my 11:00 curfew and there was no way I was going to make it 5 miles in 5 minutes in my Dad's clunker truck.

And I think that's why most people pray. In a difficult situation, when there's nothing that can be done except accept what comes next, prayer helps people feel like they have some control over the outcome. And if they outcome turns out to be good when you're fearing the worst, then Presto! prayer works.

And for me my mumbled prayers were more like conversations with myself. I never really expected anything to change, but I held out hope. The fact that my cat returned and I ran into every green light on the way home even made me think my prayers had done something for a short time.

But we all know that it doesn't always turn out like that. Inevitably prayer will do nothing at the worst of times, like when a loved one is dying. Even though I was taught that prayer could lead to miracles, after I tried and experienced.. nothing, I came to believe that prayer was meaningless, at least if I was looking for a specific result.

But I think most people hold out hope because, like the lottery, there's that chance they may hit the jackpot. The fact that that chance is probably coincidence, is never really noticed. And even when our prayers are obviously ignored, people find ways to rationalize the outcome.

God has a plan for me.
She's in a better place now.
God works in mysterious ways.
I didn't pray enough.
I didn't want it badly enough.
I didn't know what I was asking for.

If any person told me to come to him for help and answered my pleas with silence, I certainly would lose faith. So why don't Christians lose faith in God? I think it's most Christians brought up with religion aren't challenged in their beliefs. Many people have such a good life that an unanswered prayer may mean something as trivial as finding a poor parking spot. But even when something bad happens to someone good, there's always a way to rationalize it. That person deserved it somehow. Or it's a test of faith. Or it's the plan of an unfathomable god.

It's impossible to argue against that kind of logic. Except that I think the rationalization is worse than the prayer. To accept that God wouldn't answer your prayers or the prayers of other believers requires either for you to believe that God is willing to put people through terrible pain and sadness for some higher reason or believe that people don't deserve to have their prayers answered.

So why do so many people believe prayer works? I'm sure there's a not a single, simple answer. But I heard an interview on Atheist Talk a few weeks ago that gave me an idea. In the episode I was listening to deconverts were talking about their experiences as believers. One deconvert was encouraged by his church to seek out rational, scientific explanations for the world around him. But he realized over time that the church doctrine did not match up to rational, scientific explanations. He explained that church doctrine was considered as much of a fact as any scientifically provable fact. The idea that Noah's flood was literal was as equal of a fact as the fact that the earth revolves around the sun. As a believer he never saw the difference.

I think most believers don't see the difference. When your raised to believe a certain way, you accept that belief. It's only when your belief comes in conflict with some other idea or thought that you begin to question it. Sometimes the belief is questioned and discarded, sometimes it is molded and refitted to not come into conflict, and sometimes the opposing thought or idea is discarded as false. That process can lead to three people with completely different world views. But there is also the person who has never had their beliefs threatened, never given them much thought in how they relate to the rest of the world. And that generalization probably fits the majority of Americans.

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The Count Censored  

(via Venjanz)

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Who is sexier? (II)  

Thursday, August 14, 2008

So I thought I'd take a stab at this again. Purely for scientific reasons, I'm conducting another poll.

Dear readers, who is the sexiest Jenny Lewis, Natalie Grant, or Clay Aiken?

Also, what is the connection between the three?

Jenny Lewis

Natalie Grant

Clay Aiken

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A Week of Sun August 6 - 12, 2008  

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

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Who is sexier?  

Thursday, August 07, 2008

So, you my blog readers are the judges. Who is sexier - Jenny McCarthy, Amanda Peet, or Michael Savage?

Jenny McCarthy

Amanda Peet

Michael Savage

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Pledge of Allegiance Blues  

I just finished watching the Pledge of Allegiance Blues, an independent film by Lisa Seidenberg. The film is a documentary covering the Michael Newdow's pledge case and also a little about the Alabama ten commandments case.

Do I think this film was impartial and unbiased? No, I don't. But, that's OK. I believe that it's a good thing to preach to the choir. Sometimes the choir needs to hear the information as much as the general public. And I do feel like the film covered many important issues.

I do feel like the "under God" phrase in the pledge is unconstitutional. I agree that "God" is a general term that may apply to many religions, but I think when it was added it was added to refer to a specific god. To believe otherwise is naive. My biggest objection is the same objection I have to religion in politics. It becomes a de facto religious test. When a religious phrase is added to a state-sponsored pledge or state-generated money or in any other kind of oath or any other kind of state act, then it becomes a religious test. When someone who doesn't believe in a god is faced with choosing between belief and country, then they're going to viewed as unpatriotic. But refusing to swear an oath to God has nothing to do with the state and should not reflect on the patriotism of a person. In the same sense religionists are putting God ahead of country (something I agree they have the right to do) and yet, they're considered more patriotic than someone who would put country ahead of God (as atheists will certainly put a material concept ahead of an imaginary one).

One thing that stood out in all of the footage of people protesting was their deep, emotional, religious experiences. This is the type of religion I grew up in. Praise and worship was singing, dancing, and raising my hands to God. It was a euphoric experience. Under those conditions, to believe your religion is not real, it'd take believing yourself a fool. These people are not going to change their minds due to reasoned arguments. They're going to have to have a connection outside of their religious experience to ever believe it's not real.

(Of course I always felt foolish, but I was encouraged to be a fool for Jesus.)

Other than the sound quality of the film, which I found to be horrible, I would recommend this film. If you can overlook the filmmaker playing up to a specific point, there are many worthwhile scenes. I found the footage with Alan Dershowitz to be particularly well-reasoned.

Evo also has a review of this movie on his blog, Evolutionary Middleman.

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A Week of Sun July 30 - August 5, 2008  

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The foggy trees in there really was fog. It rained the night before and then a heat wave rolled in. We had fog until about 10:00 that day. It was strange to have fog in the middle of summer.

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Reading List for August  

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Read in June
The Flight of the Eisenstein (Horus Heresy) - James Swallow
Cosmicosmos - Italo Calvino (Nonbelieving Literati)

Currently Reading
A Primate's Memoir: A Neuroscientist's Unconventional Life Among the Baboons - Robert Saplosky

Coming Up Next
The Flight of Peter Fromm - Martin Gardner (Nonbelieving Literati)
Shadow Play (Shadowmarch Vol. II) - Tad Williams
The Android's Dream - John Scalzi
The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science - Natalie Angier
Fulgrim (The Horus Heresy) - Graham McNeill

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Nonbelieving Literati: Cosmicosmos - Italo Calvino  

Friday, August 01, 2008

I've never received so many comments on a book before. When I read I tend to take the book I'm reading with me everywhere - to work, to lunch, I keep it on my desk at home, in my car while I can't possibly read it, to the store, and to friend's houses. Rarely do I get to read it in those places, but it's with me if I find some time.

I kept hearing the same comment from strangers.

"What book is that?"

I'd show it to them and tell them the title.

"Oh, it's about comics."

Well, no. Really it's about the formation of the universe, evolution, beginnings, conflict, love.

The truth is, I never really knew how to explain it. I never felt like I got a good grasp of it. Was I missing something or looking to hard for something that wasn't there? The love stories mostly irritated me, but then occasionally there would be a paragraph or a phrase that would grab me. For example, in Without Colors:

Trees of smoke-colored lava stretched out twisted branches from which hung thin leaves of slate. Butterflies of ash flying over clay meadows hovered above opaque crystal daisies. Ayl might be the colorless shadow swinging from a branch of colorless forest or bending to pick gray mushrooms under gray clumps of bushes. A hundred times I thought I glimpsed her and a hundred times I thought I lost her again. From the wastelands I moved to the inhabited localities. At that time, sensing the changes that would take place, obscure builders were shaping premature images of a remote, possible future. I crossed a piled-up metropolis of stones; I went through a mountain pierced with passageways like an anchorites' retreat; I entered a garden where, from the sandy beds, tall menhirs rose into the sky.
How could you not love the poetry of his phrases? But the subject... I never felt like that character knew love, though he thought he did. He knew yearning and desire perhaps. He wanted to possess the object of his desire. But the object wasn't human. It was just an object, for all it had a feminine form.

Then there was what I will refer to as the Larry David story. As I read The Light-Years I felt like I was in an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. I like the show, but it always makes me feel a little uncomfortable. Yeah, silly, but I cringe when he does the obviously stupid things he can't keep himself from doing. I don't want him to fall into the pit he's staring at with open eyes, but I also want to laugh at his absurd situations. The Light-Years, though it was amusing, didn't make me laugh. It made me want to slip in a DVD and watch Larry David. It's embarrassing to admit, but in this one instance I preferred the television to a book.

But the best stories, I thought, were Games Without End, How Much Shall We Bet?, and The Dinosaurs, two without any sign of a love interest and one with a minimal interaction.

The Dinosaurs was full of isolation and thought. Yes, it was the thoughts of the dinosaur that I found most interesting. As he puzzles through the society that surrounds him, defines himself and redefines himself, I found something. And when he went on his way, I felt like cheering. Fuck the mammals. I want to be a dinosaur.

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