Saturday, April 21, 2018

7 quick takes

It's been awhile since I've done one of these, so why not?


Spring is being disappointingly slow to arrive.  We'll get a nice day or two and think this is finally it, but nope, high winds, freezing temperatures, or pouring rain come back the next day.  Oddly the plants don't seem to be held back from it--the pears blossomed and now have leaves, there's a green haze on all the underbrush, and the cherries and redbuds are looking good now.

Through the window.

Because we can't go outside.

My peas have sprouted and I planted broccoli seedlings, but everything else is still biding its time.


Both boys have had their birthdays.  Marko is EIGHT and Michael is SIX, can you believe it?  Marko pointed out that it doesn't make any difference to him, because he feels exactly the same.  Michael is jumping out of his skin with joy because he finally has a day that's about him.

I tried to have a party for them, because I've never actually hosted a children's party.  First I was going to invite all the boys from both their classes, but that seemed like way too many.  So I invited all their outside-of-school friends, but only one came.  If I'd known the refusal rate would be so low, I'd have gone ahead and invited 30 kids!

Then again, I had a stressful day that day so that by the time the party came around, I hadn't had any time to clean and I didn't really want to socialize much, so it wound up being perfect.  I chatted with my one friend and my kids treated their one friend like a celebrity.

But next time I have a party, I'm . . . well, I don't know.  I'll figure out SOMETHING to make it work better.


I'm still submitting my book from NaNoWriMo.  It's quite a process.  You can't just send the whole manuscript to a publisher.  No, you have to obtain an agent first.  And you can't send them the manuscript either.  You send them a query letter and sometimes a few sample pages.  So I've been doing that.  I've had 20 rejections, all form letters.  But!  I've also had two of them request the whole thing, and one request 50 more pages.

That's very heartening to me.  Sure, more are rejecting it than requesting it.  But it's actually getting into the hands of some agents!  And I'm really hoping they get into it and realize it's super exciting and interesting.  Then they'll email me begging to represent me.

I keep reminding myself that maybe I'll just get more rejections, and those will hurt more because I'll know they've read the whole thing.  If that happens, I can't let that stop me.  I have to revise and keep submitting.  And, worst case, just move to submitting the next thing.  Because I've made up my mind that I am going to get published and I just have to keep trying.  And now is the time to do it.  I've waited, and waited, and practiced with book after book, but at this point, I feel that I'm ready to be published.  Or rather, to start the lengthy process of getting published.


Meanwhile I've started another story.  It's called (so far) The Witches of Salem College and it's inspired by Christendom even more than the previous novel was.  I know I had a lot of other exciting stuff on my "to write" list, but my attention span and time to write is still limited, so I figured I'd stick with YA at present.  Imagine Buffy and Harry Potter mixed together.  It's a paranormal story on the campus of a tiny liberal-arts college.  So there's normal college woes, but also fighting vampires and werewolves and stuff.

Except, not.  Because vampires and werewolves are both kind of overdone.  So my idea was to use paranormal creatures from Hispanic legend, because one of my main characters is Mexican.  But the research has been harder than I expected.  So far all I've got is the Tlahuelpuchi, which is basically a vampire, and the Nahual, which is suspiciously similar to a werewolf.  Apparently there are some motifs that are just so popular you can't get away from them.  OH WELL.


Miriam remains delightful.  She's oh so girly, and I am trying not to get in the way of that even though I dislike pink and makeup and so on.  She wants pink nail polish, and pink earrings, and pink everything.  Then again, she also wants a pink toy chainsaw and a pink dump truck.  When she grows up, she and Jackie are going to be "girl 'lectricians" and climb on pink ladders to fix wires that are broken.  So it's not like she's absorbing any toxic ideas about being a princess who exists solely to be beautiful.  She wants to be beautiful and badass.  And there's nothing the matter with that!

She's so incredibly sweet though.  She's always telling me I'm the best mama ever, that she loves me so much she can't ever stop loving me, that she wants to hug me forever and ever, that she loves her sister more than anything, and so on.  If we have a grown-up friend over, she asks me, "Is it a he friend or a her friend?"  If it's a "her friend," Miriam loves that person before they've even met.  She'll monopolize my friend the entire time, prattling on about whatever is on her mind.  And then for weeks after, it's "where is your her-friend?  You should invite her over again."  One time she saw a lady with a beautiful dress at school pickup, and she said that we should invite that lady to be part of our family.  I was like ... I don't even know who that person is!  Haha.  And to think the first time we visited school, she hid behind me and got upset if the office ladies talked to her!

She is dying to go to preschool next year.  We didn't really have any plan to do that, but since she's so interested, I'm looking into it.  What I'd love is a program that was one afternoon a week, or something.  Just a little break from her constant demands for attention for me, and a chance to meet other kids her age and play with new toys for her.  But we'll have to see what there is, and what it costs.


Jackie is fifteen months now and very, very charming.  She still doesn't talk much, but she communicates excellently.  That is, she can say "Mama" and "yes" [ssss] and occasionally Miriam [Meemaw], but most of her communication is with gestures and pointing.  She can sign water, more, and all done, and she nods and shakes her head.

She's napping later and later in the day, which is screwing with her bedtime more and more.  I foresee there aren't more than a few months of napping left in her future.  Which is fine, really.  Her needing a nap is a big monkey wrench in our day, because if we go anywhere early in the day, she falls asleep on the way home and wakes up when we get there, but if we wait for her to nap first, she won't nap till one or two p.m. and then we don't have time to go anywhere before it's time to pick up the boys.

But while she does nap, I'm going to enjoy it.  Yesterday Miriam was watching a show while Jackie napped, and when Jackie woke up crying, I went up and lay down with her.  Jackie and I both fell back asleep and didn't wake up for another hour.  Bliss!  And Miriam, when she got tired of watching her show, just quietly crept up and didn't come in till I told her it was okay.  She's actually old enough to be quiet during a nap!  Space your kids, cats and kittens.


It's been about three months since Christendom's scandal broke, and so far they have .... hired some lawyers and a new VP.  What we said they should do was stuff like hire a full-time nurse who could do rape exams, partner with a local nonprofit to do awareness training for the students, and post flyers around campus.  But they haven't done that.  And I can't understand it, because that would be a lot cheaper than what they're doing.

Meanwhile Steubenville has had a similar scandal break.  The big difference here is that Steubenville does (at least in theory) comply with Title IX, so people are taking it as proof that Title IX is worthless.  Well, I don't think it's worthless, but it certainly isn't sufficient.  The next step for a college would be to actually follow Title IX instead of just saying they do.

But really, I think the most important thing is for people to be aware that rape happens everywhere -- that Catholic colleges aren't a perfect world where nothing that bad could possibly happen.  I certainly thought that back when I was there.  I never spent a single moment considering my own safety when I was with Christendom guys.  Outsiders, sure, but I assumed anyone who had chosen Christendom was a good person.  Now, I think people are more aware.  Hopefully more parents will talk to their children before they head off to a Catholic college -- about things like risk awareness, consent, and reporting.  They can't trust the college to mention it, and they can't assume it's not going to happen because it's a Catholic campus.

How have you all been?

Saturday, April 7, 2018

The perfect is the enemy of the good

It's April, which means Autism Awareness Month.  Most people who observe it follow campaigns put out by Autism Speaks -- "Light It Up Blue," the puzzle-piece ribbon, and so on.

Problem is, Autism Speaks isn't a great charity.  A lot of autistic people hate it because its marketing material dehumanizes them, and because they spend their money on advertising and "awareness" rather than helping autistic people.  When they do spend money, it's on research.  Sounds nice, but since autism itself is probably incurable, people are concerned it's going to end up where Downs research is -- prenatal testing and eugenic abortion.

So, I find myself in a dilemma.  Do I "light it up blue" and possibly offend autistic people who feel marginalized by Autism Speaks?  Or do I do nothing, and let people think I don't care?  It would help if people could agree on what color is supposed to mean autism acceptance, but I've heard colors from red to beige.

Of course what I've chosen to do is write 1000 very nuanced words on the topic, because blue-or-some-other-color-or-nothing is a very brief and easily-misunderstood message.  But yesterday, at school, I saw a lady with some blue streaks in her hair.  I complimented it, of course (it looked fab) and she told me it was for Autism Awareness Month.  What should I say?  Should I try to explain the complex reasons why blue is attached to Autism Speaks, and why AS isn't a great charity?  Or should I just say that it's great, because it is great that she knows and cares about kids like my kid?

Well, I said it was great.  Because I am pretty positive she didn't put blue in her hair because she wants autistic babies to be aborted.  She put blue in her hair because she's worked with autistic students and likes them and wants to start conversations about the topic.

It's the same issue when I see people with disabilities on TV.  Ideally, disabled characters should be written and/or acted by disabled writers and actors.  They should be ordinary characters, neither angels nor villains.  They should be allowed to show their true abilities, and the difficulties of their disabilities should be neither overestimated nor erased.

That's a tall order, guys!  No matter how you do it, someone isn't going to like it.  Some people don't like the autistic character in Parenthood.  Some people don't like the autistic character in The Good Doctor.  Some people don't like Sheldon Cooper (who isn't diagnosed with anything in-show, but who has the signs of autism) on Big Bang Theory.  To which all I can say is, isn't it better that there are autistic characters, rather than having disabilities left out completely?  Friends is a show with 100% white, straight, abled main characters.  Is that better?  Because if every time writers make a show with a disabled character, it causes furious outrage from everyone, they're going to quit doing it.

I'm afraid the internet age kind of contributes to this.  A blog post that says, "I love Sheldon Cooper" doesn't get much traction.  A blog post that says, "Big Bang Theory is nerd blackface" gets a lot more.  Outrage gets clicks, and sometimes what makes most sense to drive traffic is to find ever-smaller things to get outraged about.  And I wonder if this is really seeking after perfection -- will our posts somehow fine-tune everything to get rid of smaller and smaller problems -- or if it's so condemnatory of things that are merely good, that we will soon have no more good things.

Let's broaden this out from the topic of autism, because this is happening everywhere, all the time.  I hear complaints of it mainly directed at progressives, because there definitely is a subculture within progressivism which does this incessantly, but the right does it too.  It's where you define an in-group and an outgroup, and then you tighten the in-group more and more until almost everybody is out.

Take the March for Life.  It was about one issue, abortion.  That works, and it drives a lot of attention.  But if it's about fighting abortion by electing Republicans, or fighting abortion and also the death penalty, or fighting abortion and also contraception, it becomes a much smaller, more niche kind of movement.  If pro-life gays want to march with a rainbow flag, and they are told, "no, we are pro-life AND conservative AND religious," the net result is fewer people marching.  Ditto with the Women's March -- if pro-life women aren't allowed to participate, then suddenly it's not really just about women.  It's about pro-choice women, and that's a smaller group.

It ends up being the cult tactic I've written about before.  I think I'm going to call it "forcing a jump."  This is where groups demand a higher level of commitment than some members are giving, and require them to choose to jump in or out, over this new tightened boundary.  So when Paul says, "If Christ is not raised, then your faith is in vain," we can see he must have been addressing some disciples who believed Christ was not raised.  He wanted them to jump--either believe that Christ was raised, or get out.  The hope is that they will jump his way, but if they don't, that's fine too--let the group be smaller, so long as it is purer.

I've watched a lot of groups expand their causes and tighten their circles, and the net result is that the group gets smaller but the people within get more radical.  The members inside get extremely polarized--you agree with them on every particular, or you aren't really allies.  Hate Nazis, but don't agree with "punch a Nazi"?  You're not really anti-Nazi enough.  In fact you're part of the problem.  You're like those people who sat back and let Hitler get elected.  Perhaps we should punch you next.

Personally, I find it terrifying when one of these internet mobs closes in around someone.  It happened to me when I asked a bunch of pro-vaxxers for good sources to research vaccination.  It also happened when I said, in a crowd of pro-choicers, that abortion is a difficult moral issue which isn't easy to answer.  It happened to Simcha Fisher when she talked about Charlottesville but didn't condemn racism strongly enough--silly her, she thought that, as a Jewish person, her anti-Nazi credentials would speak for themselves.

And I kind of get it, because I've watched threads where someone came in asking an innocent question and 200 comments later, it turned out they were already an expert on the topic and were just trying to draw people into a contradiction.  I've seen the "I'm on your side really but I'm afraid of what other people might think" opener, and the "admirable people on both sides" false equivalance, and these are sneaky little tactics which can look a lot like innocent bystanders.  But.  If the enemy disguises itself as innocent bystanders, we still can't shoot anything that looks like an innocent bystander.  The result winds up being that in some spaces, you have to run in with your hands in the air shouting "ALLY!  ALLY!  100% CONVINCED OF EVERYTHING YOU THINK ALREADY!" or else you're going to get piled on.  Heck, even after years in some of these groups, when everyone "knows" you are an ally of theirs, the second you question anything, you can still get the same treatment.

I guess I'm talking about way too many things in here.  I'm talking about negativity, and about extremism, and about tribalism.  I guess I just dream of a world where baby steps are appreciated, instead of declared Not Good Enough, where a nuanced position is admired rather than demonized as Not Really On Our Side.  I thought when I got out of the right wing, I'd arrive at a land flowing with milk and tolerance.  I have been disappointed.  I still can't find anybody who's willing to take people where they are.  Alas, both the left and the right have serious issues and the center, if there is any such thing, seems to be mostly full of people keeping their heads down and their mouths shut.  Online, of course, these problems are all magnified.  The one place I know of where people are really rational and avoid these fanatical purges . . . is overrun with the alt-right.

I don't know what steps to take.  I guess I would like it if more people would commit to a few basic points:
*appreciate the good in a person or initiative when it agrees with you partially, before nitpicking the places where it doesn't agree;
*found movements based on a few core issues, and encourage people from a wide variety of viewpoints to participate;
*take anything that looks like it might be good faith, as good faith, and wait to be proven wrong before attacking;
*practice nuanced, careful consideration and explanation, rather than polarization, and praise others who do;
*take the time to find people who disagree with you who are willing to reach across the divide in good faith;
*criticize even movements and groups you are part of when they behave badly, instead of only criticizing opponents.

I think if we try to do these things, we might not get any more perfection, but we might encourage a bit more goodness.

Monday, April 2, 2018

7 things to be aware of this Autism Awareness Month

So, April is autism awareness month.  I imagine everyone is pretty well aware by now that autism exists.  But there is still a lot of knowledge that people aren't aware of, so I thought I'd put together a post of things I wish people knew.

1.  Autism is a spectrum.  What that means is that there is a wide variety in how severe people's delays are -- and even what delays they have!  This is even more true today than it used to be, since Asperger's was redefined as a subtype of autism.  If you know an autistic person, try not to make assumptions of what all autistic people are like based on that one person.  Some autistic people can speak, for instance, while others can't.  Some have excellent fine motor skills, while fine motor skills are Marko's biggest struggle -- he can barely write at all.  Because of all this, there's no secret to dealing with autistic people in general, except perhaps to be patient and adaptable while you find out how that particular person can communicate with you the best.

2.  Autistic people grow and change over time.  I was reluctant for a long time to admit Marko had autism because I thought it meant he'd never grow out of the behaviors we were struggling with at the time.  I didn't want to give up hope that it was just a phase.  And you know what?  It was autism and it was a phase.  Autistic children may reach some milestones later than other kids, but it doesn't mean they will never reach them.  Some autistic people finally grasp a key concept or skill in their twenties or thirties that opens whole new opportunities for them.  An autistic person will always be autistic, but with patience and hard work, they can achieve things others thought they never could.  A child who was completely nonverbal till five or six might grow up able to live independently and start her own business at thirty.  So never assume what someone's going to achieve based on what they're able to do now.  And never, ever assume an autistic adult -- even one with very obvious delays -- is like a giant child.  Adults, regardless of disability, are still adults.

3.  Autism can coexist with high, low, or average intelligence.  It's wrong to assume that autistic people are retarded or dumb simply because they are struggling in specific areas -- they might be perfectly intelligent and simply have trouble communicating their thoughts to you.  On the other hand, it's also wrong to assume that all autistic people are super-geniuses like in the movies.  It's very difficult to test an autistic child's IQ at all because of this.  Marko tested at 104, but we were told this result was completely invalid because his vocabulary was so high and his scores on a shape-rotation test were so low.  Is he a genius or not?  Well, does it really matter?  Like the rest of us, he has strengths and weaknesses.  And it's best never to assume based on a person's performance in school or on an IQ test -- those may or may not assess the person's strongest skills.

4.  Autism isn't an epidemic, and it isn't caused by vaccines.  Diagnostic criteria have expanded hugely over the years, so more and more kids qualify for a diagnosis, but that doesn't mean more kids have a disability than before.  What it means is that more children who before were labeled "difficult," "disorganized," or "retarded" are now able to access specific help for autism.  I wrote about the vaccine-autism thing before.  Suffice it to say that Marko had autism before he got a single vaccine.  He inherited his autism from his dad and me, who were carrying the genes for it.  If we really wanted to prevent autism, I suppose we should prevent nerds from dating each  other . . . but what kind of terrible world would that be?

5.  Autism Speaks is controversial, and a lot of autistic people don't like it.  I heard it compared to an organization called "Women Speak" which was run by a board made up of only men.  Because they're not letting autistic people advocate for themselves, they've blundered into some really offensive statements, and the money donated doesn't necessarily go to support autistic people.  A better charity is the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network.

6.  Another controversy is what sort of therapy is best for autistic kids.  Some people insist ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) is absolutely essential, while many autistic adults say it was traumatic and unhelpful for them.  The real question is, should the goal of therapy be to extinguish all external signs of autism -- training kids to stop any behaviors the rest of us find annoying, such as fidgeting -- or to help the child overcome any barriers between him and his own goals?  This is extra difficult when a child can't communicate what his goals even are.  As a parent trying to navigate this with my child, there's a lot of listening and empathy required . . . and sometimes some tears, either mine or Marko's, as he struggles with something that's difficult for him.  The important thing, as I see it, is to equip him for his own life -- trying to give him all the tools he'll need to graduate school, live independently, and achieve any dreams he has.  If he does all this while remaining quirky and obsessed with fantasy . . . all the better.  That's part of who he is.

7.  My kid isn't badly behaved, and he's not defective.  He's dealing with bigger feelings than the average kid, with less emotional regulation, and he's doing pretty well.  He's got lots of talents and a ton to offer the world -- not that his worth would be any less if he didn't.  Sometimes I worry that people will look at our family and think I'm too permissive, that I need to somehow make my kid look like their mental image of how a kid his age should be acting.  But more often than not, people take the time to engage with him, to listen to his obsessions, and to make an effort to enter his world.  And I love every single person who does it.  I know they have to put a little extra work into getting to know him, but they are rewarded with a chance to know a sweet, quirky, intense kid.  Getting to know autistic people is always worth it, just like being the mother of an autistic child is worth it.  I wouldn't trade him in or send him back.  I love the trip he's taking me on, and every person who joins us for the ride is very welcome.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Did Jesus really rise?

I never did write about this.  Or at least, I only mentioned it in passing.  But given that it is really the most important reason for my deconversion -- I could have and would have stayed at least Christian if I could have found evidence for the resurrection -- I have always felt like I should write a full post about it.

The first question we have to answer is, do you actually want to know?  I mean, we'd go about this differently depending on what you want.  Do you want to justify your preexisting belief in the resurrection?  Do you want to show it's at least plausible?  Or do you want to know if there's actually good historical evidence for it?

Let's assume you do want to know if there's good historical evidence for it.  If you don't want that, you'll have to go elsewhere.  In this case, we'll want to use a methodology which will give us the best knowledge of history possible.  Every discipline has a gold standard.  In medicine, the gold standard is the double-blind, randomized controlled trial.  In history, it's multiple independent contemporaneous sources, backed up if possible with archeological finds.  Does the resurrection of Jesus meet this standard, or not?

Archeological finds, I think we have to acknowledge, are not to be had.  There are lots of supposed relics of the crucifixion, but in none of these cases do we have any proof they actually belonged to Jesus.  The only real candidate is the Shroud of Turin.  However, it doesn't have provenance (that is, we can't trace it back any further than 14th century Europe) and it carbon-dates to the Middle Ages.  No legitimate historian would admit an archeological find as proof of anything if it had no provenance and didn't date to the right time.

All right, let's get into multiple, independent, contemporaneous attestation.  What does this mean?  Multiple is easy--more than one.  The more sources you have, the better the historical evidence is.  Independent means that the different accounts don't rely on one another--that one writer wasn't looking at the text of another.  When we know that one had access to the other when writing, or when one references or copies from another, we don't truly have two accounts--we have the original, and a secondary source.  Contemporaneous means, normally, during the lifetime of the person written about.  Major historical figures have quite a footprint of contemporary writings--letters to and from them, orders they wrote, gossip about them by friends.  The Resurrection, being an event, doesn't have a lifetime, but the best evidence would be writings within a couple of years.

How many of these does the Resurrection have?  There are multiple accounts, for sure.  Some people cite the four gospels plus Paul, but I don't agree.  The Synoptics, at the very least, copied each other or use the same source.  So I think we have to count all three synoptics as one.  It's not very credible to think that, in decades within the Christian community, John didn't read the Synoptic Gospels, but I will grant John as independent because at least he does not follow those accounts.  Paul, at least, seems truly independent, because he probably wrote first, though the information he gives about the Resurrection is sparse.  So that makes three possibly-independent accounts.  The really unfortunate part is that they are all from the same point of view.  There is no record of Pilate saying the body disappeared and wondering why, or any record of anyone hearing the apostles' account in the first decades after the Resurrection and considering the evidence for it.  You only have religious individuals making religious claims.

What about the non-Christian sources that write about Jesus?  There are a few, though even later than the gospels -- Josephus in the 90's, Tacitus in the 110's.  I tend to discount these altogether, because they are obviously getting their information about what Christians believe from the Christians themselves.  They are  So I would trust it as an account of what Christians believed at the time, but it's no more credible than me saying, "Mormons follow a man called Joseph Smith, who saw an angel bringing him gold tablets."  I'm recounting the religious beliefs, but it's obvious where I got those beliefs, and that I don't share them.  Some people also think that some of what we have from Josephus is a forgery -- he wouldn't have written "Jesus was the Christ" unless he was a Christian, which he wasn't.

How contemporaneous are they?  There's a ton of argument on this topic, but let's take the Christian community's dating of about the 70's for the Gospels and the late 50's or early 60's for Paul.  (I am not sure this is right -- it's largely based on the assumption that the gospels wouldn't include the prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem if it had already happened, whereas I think the opposite -- they made sure to include it because it had happened.  And Paul is supposed to have died in 66 or so, but that assumes that the writings of Paul aren't pseudonymous, which isn't a sure thing.  But let's grant the dates.)  That still leaves all record of the Resurrection starting thirty years out.

Thirty years is not a long time to remember something.  For instance, most sixty-year-old people can tell you any life-changing events from when they were thirty, like their wedding day or the birth of a child.  But it's a very long time for oral history to develop, especially within a religious community.  When I was in Regnum Christi, it was about sixty years from its founding and we had a very complicated mythos, much of which wasn't true.  It passed from person to person orally many times, and it must have grown in the telling.  You see, when two versions of the same story are circulating within an excited ideological community, the bigger story always wins.  It's very embarrassing to be the person saying, "Well, that's not what I heard from Other Apostle, I heard it was only one angel."  If a Different Apostle says it was two, everyone jumps on board with two because it's a better story.

I've participated in this myself.  I had a friend who went blind and later regained her sight.  The real story was that she was prayed over by the Pope, and several months later, she started being able to see a lot better.  But that's not how I told it.  I left out the words "several months later" because they softened the story, made it less exciting and miraculous-sounding.  There's a lot of prestige in being a witness to a miracle.

Thirty years also means that any other witnesses who could back you up or refute you are going to be hard to find.  Think of a woman who brings a sexual-harassment claim thirty years after the fact.  She remembers it well, or claims to, but where are all the people who could confirm her story?  One is in another state and can't fly in for the hearing; another honestly cannot remember because it wasn't the big deal to her it was to the victim; a third has passed away.  This would have been a much bigger deal in the ancient world, where there wasn't any Facebook to find people who've dropped off the map.  It's important to remember that if Jane says, "I was groped by Bob, and Stacey was there and saw it," we have one account: Jane's.  We don't have Stacey as a witness, because Stacey didn't write anything.

So no, the Resurrection story is not very well attested.  We have a lot more evidence for almost everything else we know about this time--about Caesar's activities, about Pilate, about Herod.

But, you may claim, surely if there were a flaw in the Resurrection account, contemporaries would have called it out!  Well, yes and no.  As I pointed out, Christians wouldn't be likely to find fault with an account, especially one written by a high-status church member.  And non-Christians could have criticized till they were blue in the face--who would have listened?  Their contemporaries would have put it down to hatred of their new church.  Even if these criticisms had been written down, who would have taken the time to transcribe and preserve them for 2000 years?  Worse, we know that the Christian community actively destroyed texts they thought were heretical or irreligious.  So this objection is no good.

The strongest argument that I have ever found in favor of the resurrection is that the apostles, all eyewitnesses, died as martyrs rather than deny it (except for Judas and John).  The only problem is that this too is a historical claim, to be evaluated historically.  Or rather, it's three claims: first, that these men professed a belief in a physical resurrection; second, that they were put to death; and third, that they could have gotten out of being put to death if they had denied the resurrection.

And the fact is, none of these are well-attested.  The only claims we have for someone believing in the physical resurrection are the accounts we have already talked about.  So instead of 12 apostles plus 500 believers Paul talks about, we still have only three independent accounts.  The evidence that the apostles believed in the resurrection is no stronger than the evidence for the resurrection itself.

Did all ten of the "martyred" apostles actually get put to death?  Again, we don't know.  The only written reference that's under a century old cites only Peter and Paul as having been put to death, and it doesn't say anything further.  All the other martyrdom stories for the apostles were written centuries after they died.  Paul's account, for instance, has Paul's head bounce three times on the way down the hill, which was supposed to have caused Rome's famous three fountains.  But these accounts are fantastical and not written by eyewitnesses.

So the third question, could any of the apostles have saved their lives by denying the resurrection, can't be answered.  Maybe they could, maybe they couldn't.  It seems to me unlikely that the Roman Empire, in choosing to put Christians to death, much cared whether they claimed that Jesus was risen from the dead.  Their concern was that the Christians wouldn't sacrifice to their gods, and that they were causing too much unrest within the Jewish community.  After all, Pilate put Jesus to death without Jesus making any specific claim.  Christians were just trouble.

Okay, so we can admit that the historical evidence for the resurrection isn't the very best.  But it still is some evidence.  Generally my habit is to believe an account unless there's a reason not to; for instance, if someone tells me they were raped, I believe it unless they have a history of lying.  After all, rape is a lot more common than false accusations of rape.  But that a person would rise from the dead is, on its face, pretty incredible.  I'd argue you'd need more evidence for that than you would to believe that, say, Caesar crossed the Rubicon.  Caesar crossing the Rubicon is the sort of thing we'd expect to happen--it happens all the time--whereas a dead person returning to life is unprecedented; you can't even calculate how improbable it would be.  So if you believe it on the basis of the evidence available, you have to set your standards of belief pretty darn low.

If your standards of belief are this low, what else would you be forced to believe?
*You would have to believe in any number of other miracle-workers who lived near Jesus' time, and whose miracles are better-attested than his.
*You would have to believe that any man who had been accused of misconduct by three people was guilty.  This means Trump is a serial sex offender; Roy Moore is a serial sex offender; and Bill Clinton is a serial sex offender.  You should be certain about it, even if none of the accusers has any additional evidence or supporting witnesses.  All three of those men should go to prison.
*You would have to believe in ghosts and alien abductions.
*You would have to believe that Joseph Smith took three men to see an angel holding the famous golden plates of the book of Mormon, and that eight further men saw and touched the golden plates but not the angel.  These eleven witnesses attested in writing to what they had seen.

So can you still believe in the resurrection?  Of course; it hasn't been disproved.  Though there isn't sufficient evidence to be convincing on its own, if you have other reasons for belief, such as spiritual experiences you find credible, then you might still choose to believe in the resurrection.  No one can prove you're wrong--the resurrection is only badly attested, not debunked.

But many will suggest that, if I don't believe in the resurrection, I should suggest a different explanation of what happened -- one which accounts for the evidence we have, without huge leaps of reasoning.  And I will, but that will have to be a separate post.

Further reading:
Why I Don't Buy the Resurrection
Resurrection debate

Sunday, March 25, 2018

How to fry things

I got feedback on a post and so you get more of that kind of post!  Enbrethiliel said she likes when I post recipes, so I'm going to talk about how I got brave enough to learn to deep fry, and at the end I'm going to share the recipe for the battered fish I made the other night.

For years, I never attempted to fry anything, because I was afraid I would set my kitchen on fire.  And then I did try to fry things and it turned out bad, so I quit.  My usual M.O. with trying new things is to assume that all the rules and tools are unnecessary and I can just experiment.  This approach works well with gardening, but with frying there are definitely some rules it's helpful to know.

If you don't want to make nasty food, spatter your kitchen in grease, or set your kitchen on fire, follow these simple rules:

1.  Use purchased oil for frying.  Meat drippings are not sufficient and will scorch and spatter.  So will butter or olive oil.  Peanut oil is my oil of choice, but shortening is said to be good too.  I've tried both soybean and corn oil and didn't like the taste, but they won't result in disaster and they're both cheap.

2.  Use a heavy, deep pan.  A cast-iron skillet is deep enough, but a dutch oven will spatter less and is a better choice.  You don't need a deep fryer to deep fry.  You just need a pan.

3.  Don't move a hot pan full of oil, or pour oil into a wet pan.  Start with a dry, cold pan on a cold burner, turn the burner on, and add the oil.  Turn the burner off and allow the oil to cool before you move it.   A pan of oil is heavy, and if your arm twitches or trembles, you'll spill scalding oil everywhere and may start a fire.

4.  Have a thermometer and use it.  Most frying is done between 300 and 400 degrees.  At this temperature there isn't usually any wild splattering, and any splatters that do hit you won't be terribly painful.  If you don't have a thermometer, it's way too easy to let the oil overheat.  Or if the oil is too cool, it soaks into the food and makes it nasty.  Spend the $10 or so and get a food thermometer.

5.  Know how to deal with a grease fire.  Never throw water on a grease fire.  Keep a lid handy to smother a fire that starts in the pan.  I hear you're also supposed to keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen.  I've never ever had a fire start when I was frying anything, but better to be prepared.

6.  Keep kids out from underfoot.  I know, easier said than done, right?  But if they're likely to grab pans or careen through the kitchen, wait till a time when you have backup.

7.  Always fry food that is as dry as you can make it.  Battered food, of course, is a bit wet from the batter, and potatoes have a little dampness, but don't just throw in freshly washed veggies or anything.  Oil splatters aren't caused by hot oil; they are caused by water boiling under the hot oil.

8.  Stay in the kitchen while you're frying.  Things happen pretty fast.  That doesn't mean a fried meal takes less time than a baked or boiled one -- it's about the same, just because you will have to do many 5-minute batches.

All right, so you're ready to fry!  The easiest things to fry are things that don't require breading: steak fries, for instance, or potato chips.  Make sure your pan is dry and pour in oil just deep enough to submerge the food.  ("Deep" doesn't mean all that deep.  An inch or two is adequate.)  Start heating it up - medium high is good, but once it gets to temperature, you may want to turn it down a bit.  Go prepare the food -- chop the potatoes, batter the fish, bread the chicken.  It'll take a bit to heat the oil, so that's why you do that first.  Pause now and again to check your oil, and turn it down if it gets too hot.  375 is about right for most things, unless you're frying very large pieces.

Once it's hot enough and the food is ready, carefully drop it into the oil.  I tend to get nervous and want to keep my fingers far from the oil, but if you drop it in from a height, you'll get a splash.  If you lower it carefully into the oil, you're unlikely to get splattered.  But you can always use tongs or a slotted spoon if you're nervous.

Never overcrowd the pan.  There should be room for the food to move around a bit.  Better to do many batches than to eat food that didn't turn out.  Check the thermometer again.  The temperature of the pan lowers a good bit when you've put food into it, especially if the food is cool, so you may need to crank the burner up a bit.

Most food is fried within a few minutes, so stay right there while it cooks. Some things may need to be flipped over if they tend to float a bit.  Watch the food more than the clock.  If you're following a recipe, the temperature and size of the food is calibrated so that when it's brown on the outside, it's done on the inside.  If not, you'll just have to cut open some of the first pieces and make sure they're done inside.  When you find raw middles and dark outsides, that tells you your oil is too hot and you should go down to 350 or so. 

When you take the food out, it's best to put it on a rack, if you have one, with a tray below to catch oil drips.  If not, a plate lined with several paper towels will do.  If the food is going to be salted or sprinkled with sugar, do it right away, while your oil is getting back to temperature.  Then you can do the next batch.

Once it's all done, shut off the heat but leave the pan in place so you don't spill it.  Serve the food right away.  If the oil is pretty clean (i.e. it doesn't have lots of blackened crumbs in it or anything) you can use it again for another purpose.  If it's nasty and full of burned bits, pour it into an old can when it's cool and freeze it before throwing away -- it's less messy that way.  Never pour it down the drain. 

Leftovers of fried food usually isn't good. You know how it is.  Even a professionally-fried french fry is nasty by the time it's cold.  So eat what you can while it's hot.

Frying sounds intimidating, but once you get the hang of it, it's not hard.  You just have to be able to give it your full attention while it's cooking.  It also does tend to get you hot and sweaty and the kitchen smelling of grease.  So it's not something I like to do more than about weekly.  But, since frying isn't the world's healthiest method, it's just as well.  It's nice for a special occasion or to make an ordinary day special.

So without further ado, here's the battered fish recipe I made last Friday!

Battered Fish (Without Beer)

4 pollock fillets (any fish will do)
3/4 cup flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp Old Bay (feel free to sub your favorite seasonings)
1 cup water

Heat your oil to 375 degrees F.  Make sure the fish is thoroughly defrosted and dry it with paper towels.  Cut it into serving-size pieces -- about the size of your palm.  A little sprinkle of flour also helps dry it off so the batter will stick.  Then mix the batter ingredients together.  Dip the fish in the batter a few times, trying to get it all over.  You only need the batter to stick long enough to get into the oil -- it cooks fast.  Carefully lower the fish into the oil with your fingers or with tongs.  Try not to let the fish pieces touch each other, or they'll glue together.  My pan fits about four pieces per batch -- you'll likely need to do several batches.

Fry the fish 3-5 minutes -- until it's golden brown.  Remove it from the oil with tongs or a slotted spoon.  Let cool a bit on a rack or paper towels while the rest of the fish cooks.  Serve as soon as it's all cooked, with tartar sauce, ketchup, or malt vinegar.

The same batter can be used with other things.  I had some left so I sliced up some onion rings and battered those.  They were delicious -- the batter was light and delicate and crisp.  Definitely will make again.

Once you've got the hang of frying, the sky is the limit.  Fish 'n' chips?  Fried chicken?  Falafel?  Potato chips?  Tempura vegetables?  Doughnuts?  Deep-fried Oreos?  Whatever you want to do!  Fried food is delicious and you don't have to stick with only the offerings fast food restaurants have.

Do you fry?  What's your favorite thing to fry?

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Universal bean dip recipe

Lately I've been domestic-goddess-ing it up a lot, which amounts to fewer blog posts.

I made two quilts.

I made Kouign Amann, a Breton pastry I learned about on the British Baking Show.

I made pie.

I've also made a lot of bean dip lately.  I love bean dip of all kinds.  I just didn't use to make it because I didn't have a blender, and a food processor doesn't get it really creamy because it's more for chopping.  Since I got one this past Christmas, I've been trying lots of kinds of bean dip.

I discovered that it doesn't really matter what kind of bean dip you're trying to make, the method and proportions are pretty much the same.  You need cooked beans, oil, acid, and flavoring.

So, for instance, black bean dip can be made like this:

1 can of black beans, drained
2-4 Tbs olive oil (or other oil)
1-2 Tbs lime juice
jalapenos, onions, cayenne, chili powder, garlic, cumin, and/or salt to taste

You blend the beans with the oil, then add the other ingredients.

Meanwhile my white bean recipe has a little twist: I like to cook the seasonings in the oil.

Onions, fresh thyme, fresh rosemary, and garlic, cooked in 2-4 Tbs of olive oil
1 can white beans
1-2 Tbs lemon juice
salt to taste

That's it!  The only important thing is to mix in the oil before the acid, so the blended beans really drink it in.

Can you make hummus like this?

Turns out you can!

1 can chickpeas, drained
2-4 Tbs olive oil
(tahini if you have it -- I never do)
1-2 Tbs lemon juice
parsley, cumin, garlic, salt

Now some blenders do not like to blend anything that doesn't have enough liquid in it.  If yours is like that (mine is) make sure the oil is added at the very beginning, and add more if it's not blending.

Bean dip is good on crackers, bell pepper slices, carrot sticks, celery sticks, cucumber slices, and so on.  If you eat the last of it with a spoon, I'll never tell.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Bad news for rural mothers

Since I was in college, I've heard bad things about our local hospital, Warren Memorial Hospital (WMC).  It was understaffed, it took forever to be seen, the ER waiting room was always full.  When John was hospitalized there years ago for diverticulitis, it took hours for him to get any pain meds and he was kept without food for half a day longer than he needed to be, because that's how long it took to see a doctor.

But the doctors and nurses there didn't seem to be incompetent, just too few.  And in recent years, I have been hearing it's been a lot better.  It might be Obamacare--forced and subsidized insurance means they're not carrying the burden of all the uninsured people in the county, as they previously did.  Or it might be that the hospital was bought out by Valley Health, a big hospital group.  The town has started to be spotted with Valley Health signs: my doctor, the kids' doctor, the lab, the nursing home, the urgent care.  Everything's owned by Valley Health.  But they do a good job, so far as I know, so I haven't been making a big fuss about the monopoly.

It turns out I should have been.  Lately the government put in a big, beautiful road which goes around town and makes it a lot easier for people in certain neighborhoods to get to the freeway.  And on that road, Valley Health is building a new hospital.  The plan is to close WMH, which is admittedly old, and build something much nicer.  So far, so good.  But they're not building a labor and delivery unit.  No ob/gyn services will be offered at the new hospital.  The staff of the women's care wing are getting laid off, and women with delivery dates after June are being told to change their plans to deliver at the next closest hospital, Winchester Medical Center (WMC), half an hour away.

Half an hour isn't that far.  But, of course, it's further from some parts of the county.  And even half an hour is a long time to ride in a car when you're in labor.  I'm a person who has had very fast labors, so I wouldn't have wanted to deliver somewhere so far from where I live.  And what if it were in rush hour?  It's taken me an hour to traverse the same distance once, when there was a traffic jam.  I don't know about you, but I wouldn't be keen to deliver on the side of I-81.

Of course, I have homebirths.  But I had homebirths in part because I knew we were very close to a hospital and could have been there in five or ten minutes in an emergency.  I didn't have a homebirth because I wanted medical help to be unavailable; I had one because I wanted to stay in the safety of home so long as there weren't any worrisome warning signs.  There weren't, and I never went in .... but imagine my midwives trying to transport a laboring woman for 35 minutes, while the baby is in distress or the mother is bleeding.  That is much, much too long.  Women aren't going to want to sign up for a homebirth if there's no closer care than that.

And then there's the question of prenatal care.  Not everyone in town has cars, but the bus only goes around town.  It doesn't go to Winchester.  You can take a cab, but round-trip cab fare to WMC runs about $70.  A lot of people here can't spare $70 a month, on top of the doctor bill, to get checkups.  That means warning signs like high blood pressure will be missed.  High blood pressure, leading to pre-eclampsia, is one of the leading causes of maternal mortality.  That's why women who don't have access to prenatal care are much more likely to die.

That's really what this comes down to: women and babies dying.  Rural women are 60% more likely to die in labor, and lack of access to ob/gyn care may be why.

WMH has been delivering about 375-400 babies a year in recent years.  That's not a lot -- way less than WMC -- but it's been enough to have an L&D unit all this time.  So why isn't Valley Health keeping it now?

The answer is that Valley Health also owns WMC.  They're not losing any business by this move, because there's no hospital closer than WMC for people to go to.  They want to save money on building a new L&D ward by diverting all those people to WMC.  Yes, it is likely to raise maternal and infant mortality in our county.  But!  It helps their bottom line, so what else do we expect?

Our struggle here is echoed around the country.  Hospitals are closing L&D wards in rural areas, to the detriment of maternal and infant health.

Right now women in the area are protesting the decision, hoping it's not too late to save maternity care in the county.  They've got a facebook group and had a protest.  There's a bigger rally coming up soon -- March 17th, at the gazebo.  I just don't know that Valley Health is going to listen to us.  Most of our elected representatives seem to be on our side, but the hospital is privately owned -- it doesn't have to keep an L&D unit open if it doesn't want to.  I just hope the bad publicity and the weight on their consciences will do the trick.
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