Sunday, December 5, 2021

The news story that just keeps getting sketchier.

WikimediaImages | Pixabay

I've seen plenty of news stories go from farce to tragedy over the years, but it's unusual for one to go from tragedy to farce.

I'm talking about the Crumbley family of Oxford, MI -- James, Jennifer, and their 15-year-old son Ethan. Unless you've been living under a rock, you've probably heard about Ethan being charged with murder, attempted murder, and terrorism causing death in connection with the shooting deaths of four of his classmates, and the wounding of five other students and a teacher, at Oxford High School on Tuesday. School shootings happen with distressing frequency in the United States, but this one stands out because the authorities are holding Ethan's parents accountable for giving him the gun in the first place. It's clear from social media posts that his parents bought the weapon -- a .9mm Sig Sauer handgun -- for him as an early Christmas present. Ethan calls it "my new beauty" in one post. And they did this even though Ethan was having trouble in school -- drawing a graphic image of a gunshot victim and searching for ammunition on his cell phone in class. (After the ammo search, his mother texted him and said she wasn't mad at him -- he just needed to learn not to get caught.)

On Tuesday morning, Ethan's parents were called to the school and were told to get him into counseling within 48 hours -- but they didn't take him home from school. Later that same day, the boy committed the shooting.

His mother texted him, "Don't do it," after he already had.

All of this is a tragedy -- no doubt about it. But here's where it turns to farce. Because the the Oakland County prosecutor decided to charge the parents with four counts of involuntary manslaughter for not keeping the gun away from their son -- and instead of showing up to their arraignment, they ran, even as their attorneys claimed they would turn themselves in. James and Jennifer pulled $4,000 out of an ATM and holed up in a Detroit warehouse that belongs to an acquaintance. Authorities suspect the couple planned to cross into Canada (yes, that's right -- leaving their son behind in jail). Someone nearby saw Jennifer and the cops closed in. The couple finally made it to their arraignment -- yesterday, after they'd been taken into custody. Reports indicate Jennifer Crumbley sobbed as she entered her plea.

But wait -- there's more. The Crumbleys used to live in Florida, where James Crumbley had a son and daughter from previous relationships. An ex-girlfriend told reporters that Jennifer is "a monster" and James is "a piece of shit." According to this ex-girlfriend, Michelle Cobb, James was making a six-figure income, but she had a hard time getting him to pay child support for the son he had with her. 

So from all reports, the Crumbleys are quite the family. All three of them are now being held in jail, in isolation from the general jail population and from each other. Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard told reporters yesterday all three were sullen -- and none had shown remorse. If convicted, Ethan could face life in prison; his parents, 15 years in prison each.

I don't know whether this says more about modern-day America or about this particular dysfunctional family. What I do know is 28 people have been killed in shootings on school grounds in the United States this year, and 86 more were injured. I know for sure that anyone calling for help as loudly as Ethan Crumbley was should never be given access to a gun. That's the real tragedy.

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These moments of tragic blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed!

Sunday, November 28, 2021

OMG, omicron.

First: Thanks to all who have bought a copy of the Atherton Vampire books 1 and 2. I'm grateful for your support and I hope you enjoy them. 

I didn't think I would be able to finish the third book in the series by the end of this month. But yesterday I stayed home all day, in case of a bad reaction to the COVID booster that I received on Friday (pretty much all I had was a sore arm, thank the gods), and wrote almost 8,500 words. With another 2,200 or so written earlier today, I'm at 38,250 for the book -- just 1,750 from my goal. 

The book will end up a little longer than that, though. I have two more episodes outlined and these later episodes are running about 2,000 words each. But the point is that I might just manage to finish the book in the next two days, after all. I won't win NaNo -- I never signed up and this book isn't going to be 50,000 words anyway. But when I get to The End, I'll still call it a win.

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Starshaker | Deposit Photos
So the big news on Thursday, while we Americans were gorging ourselves on turkey and pumpkin pie, came out of South Africa: a new variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 has been identified. It's been dubbed omicron (they skipped a couple of Greek letters because reasons) and it exhibits a number of variations in its spike protein, which is the thing that the virus uses to hook onto human cells and infect them. 

I'm confident that I'm not the only person who heard the news and immediately thought, "Oh no, not again." I had visions of a forced return to the bad old days -- the early days of the virus, nearly two years ago now, when society virtually shut down because we had no idea what we were up against.

The good news is that science knows a lot more about this virus today than it did two years ago. Plus we have vaccines now, as well as treatments -- monoclonal antibodies and antiviral drugs -- that we didn't know would work against the virus back then.

But epidemiologists are calling this variant "concerning." Although they're saying we shouldn't panic. 

(I'm taking my information from this background article on the omicron variant from the Washington Post.) 

It's still very early days, but what doctors in South Africa are seeing is what we've been seeing generally with cases of COVID over the past several months: the people hit hardest are those who haven't been vaccinated. Some breakthrough cases are occurring among the vaccinated, but generally speaking, those cases have been mild. So the smartest way to protect yourself is still to get the jab. South Africa's vaccination rate is very low, largely due to vaccines being unavailable there. In fact, a company in South Africa is working hard to replicate the Moderna vaccine (with zero help from Moderna -- it says it needs to protect its intellectual property) so it can be manufactured and distributed to both South Africans and developing nations generally. 

Here's another thing: Remember the beta variant? It was concerning, too, at first, but it turned out that it didn't easily spread from person to person -- or at least not as easily as the delta variant, which is the one causing all the trouble in the United States right now.

Whether out of concern or panic, several other nations almost immediately enacted travel bans on people from a number of African nations. That feels to me like closing the barn door after the horse has escaped. The omicron variant is already turning up in non-African countries -- including a case in Belgium of a woman who traveled there from Egypt via Turkey. 

In short, I think we should stay calm, keep an eye out for this variant turning up here in the States -- because it's inevitable that it will -- and otherwise keep doing what we're doing: masking up, social distancing, and getting vaccinated.

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These moments of variant blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed!

Sunday, November 21, 2021

A bad guy who wants to do good.

I was hoping to have exciting news for y'all on the Atherton Vampire front. Alas, I got going on editing and uploading the second book later than I'd planned. So I can't give you a link to the ebook edition of The Atherton Vampire: Out of the Coffin just yet. However, unless something totally awful happens, it should be live tomorrow. I'll post the news when I get it, including in the Woo-Woo Team group on Facebook. (What do you mean, you're not a member yet? Click the link and join!)

Here's the cover, anyway, so you know what to look for at Amazon when the book goes live:

I was also kind of hoping to give you an awesome report on progress for the third book, but I didn't write anything yesterday and I've been too tied up with prepping book 2 to do any writing yet today. That's next on my list after I finish this post. And by the time I go to bed tonight, I'm hoping to be pretty close to 25,000 words.

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I've been talking a lot about Good vs. Evil for the past couple of weeks -- and it's not just because I'm writing a series about a bad guy who wants to do good (and probably for all the wrong reasons). Although come to think of it, that's not a bad place to start.

Jerry Atherton was a good guy, if somewhat naive, before he was turned. I'm not giving away too much to say that he had a privileged but troubled childhood and fell for the wrong woman. Now he's undead -- a freak who exists on blood and who cannot stand the light of day. In other words, he's Evil. 

At the end of book 1, Callie Dailey suggests that he could rehabilitate his image by becoming "the bad guy who does good." The idea appeals to him. Who wouldn't want to be redeemed after such a massive fall from grace?

But here's the thing: Capital-G Good, like Capital-E Evil, is defined by society, and in the case of Western civilization, those definitions are built on the framework of Christianity. Pure Evil is apparently attainable; start a discussion on this topic and witness how quickly Hitler's name comes up. (I don't know what happened to the internet rule that whoever first mentions Nazis automatically loses the argument, but it seems to have gone by the wayside.)

But is it possible to be purely Good? It seems like as soon as popular opinion anoints a saint, somebody discovers they have feet of clay. It happened to Mother Teresa in 2007

The epitome of Good is God. Of course we can't be God; ergo, we cannot be perfectly Good. We are human, and therefore imperfect, because we are not God. Right? But how Good is good enough?

I believe this idea that humans are necessarily imperfect has run amuck. We've all known exemplary people who beat themselves up because of imperfections they perceive in themselves. They worry that they're not trying hard enough. They question themselves and their behavior. They wonder whether they're not Bad, deep down.

And on the other side, we've all known folks who refuse to question their attitudes and beliefs -- to the point of denying reality outright -- because they're scared of finding out how imperfect, and therefore Bad, they actually are. 

None of this strikes me as mentally healthy. But our society is built on this framework. It's not enough to be "good enough"; we must strive for perfection, which isn't attainable because we're inherently imperfect. But if we don't strive to be perfect, then we're Bad.

And before you know it, we're not only judging ourselves as Bad, but we're comparing ourselves to other people and judging them to be more Bad than we are. From there, it's a short step to judging others whose skin color or native language is different from our own -- and deciding they're less than human.

I reject this framework. I reject the idea that humans are inherently imperfect. I reject the idea that we are inherently flawed. We are, period. And we all deserve kindness and respect. Including from ourselves.

Jerry Atherton, vampire, isn't ever going to be able to become Good. But he can be good enough. And so can we.

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These moments of good enough blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed!

Sunday, November 14, 2021

More on why I don't believe in Good vs. Evil.

A couple of weeks ago, I said I'd probably write a post on why I don't believe in Good vs. Evil. I listed one reason for my belief in that post (you can read it at the link): it's that Evil is defined by the observer, not the actor. The people that society perceives as Evil never think they are. They believe their cause is right and just. And sometimes later on, society comes around to their point of view.

I saw an ad for this Christmas ornament yesterday, and it reminded me of another reason why I don't believe Evil is a real thing. I hope Hallmark doesn't sue me -- I lifted this photo from their website. It's one of this year's Keepsake Ornaments from their Disney Villain line. The bad guy depicted here is from the "Night on Bald Mountain" sequence in the original 1940 movie Fantasia. Hallmark is calling him Chernabog.

I was much younger when I saw the movie. While I remember the scene, I had no idea what the character's name was until I saw this ornament for sale. 

Even if I'd known this guy's name, it wouldn't have meant anything to me back then. Now it does, though, because in the intervening years, I've done some reading on Slavic mythology. 

Chernobog -- that's the correct spelling of his name, or anyway it's one of the correct spellings (Disney got it right when they released their own Fantasia ornament) -- is reputedly the Slavic god of darkness. His name literally means "black god." He's usually paired with Belobog, whose name literally means "white god." And it's a pretty good bet that real, actual Slavic pagans never worshipped either one of them.

The only account of Chernobog and Belobog comes from a German scholar named Helmold in the 12th century, several hundred years after Christianity had come to the Slavic lands. Helmold casts Belobog (who he never actually names) as the Good Guy and Chernobog as the Bad Guy -- concepts that were foreign to the ancient Slavs. Sure, there were dualities in Slavic belief; perhaps the best known of these is the annual archetypal battle between Perun, the thunder god, and Veles, the god of the underworld. Veles rules the dark half of the year, you see, and Perun rules the light half, and there's a big fight every year when they switch off. But Veles isn't a bad guy; he's also the god of forests and cattle. He's not Evil, any more than Perun is Good. Those concepts were imposed on the Slavs by Christianity and its insistence on the Good/Evil dichotomy.

It's pretty well accepted today that the villainous Chernobog comes from that same wellspring. The Slavs didn't have a devil in their mythology, so the Christian conquerors had to impose one on them.

This may be the biggest reason why I don't believe in capital-E Evil -- even moreso than the spectrum of behaviors I talked about a couple of weeks ago. Half of my lineage comes from a people whose original belief system didn't have devils or demons. Tricksters, sure -- but devils? Creatures that were purely evil? Not 'til Christian missionaries showed them what it was (ahem).

Other ancient belief systems also lacked the Good/Evil dichotomy. But at this point, we'll never know how widespread that lack was; Christianity did its best to smother these "incorrect" ways of viewing the world, and in the case of the Slavic lands, what the Christians didn't eliminate, the Soviets did.

Anyway, as tempting as it would be to have a Slavic god on my Yule tree, I'm probably going to pass on the "Chernabog" ornament. I might re-watch Fantasia, though, just to see him in action. Plus the music is really cool.

Oh, what the heck. Here's the scene.

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Not-Na-No report: I'm closing in on 15,000 words on the first draft of the third Atherton Vampire book. I'm not keeping track as avidly as I do when I'm actually doing NaNo, but I think I've written pretty much every day this past week. I probably won't finish book 3 by the end of November, but I won't miss my just-before-Christmas deadline for publication. 

In the meantime, the second Atherton Vampire novel will be out of its exclusive period with Kindle Vella a week from today, so the ebook version will definitely be out before Thanksgiving. Let's call it November 24th for the release for book 2. I'll post here when it's live, and I'll send a newsletter, too.

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These moments of godly blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed!