Can I Get a Witness? (Part 2)


"It was a large room. Full of people. All kinds. And they'd all arrived at the same place at more or less the same time. And they were all...free. And they were all asking themselves the same question."
 - Laurie Anderson

On one side of the road, an old, traditional church, with walls of big grey stone, stained glass windows, uncomfortable wooden pews...and no one inside.

On the other, a squat, white, square, single-storey building that wouldn't be out of place in an army barracks - apart from the signs announcing it was a "Kingdom Hall" - or Jehovah's Witness church.

Inside, 150 people dressed like they'd designed their wardrobe from descriptions of the most formal attire in the world, but never actually seen it. Small children in immaculate bright white suits and pink bow ties. Elderly women, some in wheelchairs, dressed entirely in shades of mauve. Black men in cream boubous with gold lace and sky blue fezzes. White men with meticulously clipped beards and tweedy suits from the 70s that must get worn once per year.

And me, in threadbare black teeshirt, baggy jogging bottoms...and running shoes I found thrown in a gutter some years ago.

Yes, for JWs, the memorial of Jesus' death is the holiest ceremony on the most important day of the year. I did ask why the resurrection wasn't more important than the crucufixion, and apparently it's because the resurrection was just god reanimating his son on a whim, whereas the death...um, is complicated.

I've been shown a lot of JW videos, and the overall impression is of high production values...and immense cheesiness. Looking around the two prayer rooms, with solid chairs facing a polished lectern on a stepped podium in front of expensively leatherbound books...it's the same impression - expensive opulent taste as imagined by the poor.

And the singing of hymns...same again. No badly tuned upright piano for accompaniment, and no casio electric organ either. Instead, pre-recorded lush synthesised orchestral strings...with live vocals in the style of a crowd who want to give the impression of joyfully singing the praises of their god, but don't want to do anything so crass as show enjoyment. Very British, very Anglican.

And on to the first, nervous looking, preacher, who's job was to introduce the second nervous looking preacher, who's job was to make a few admin announcements...and introduce "Brother Piper" to do the actual preaching.

Brother Piper is about 20 and almost succeeds in sounding confident. He has the kind of over-chiseled good looks and waiflike slimness that come from undernutrition and stress. His suit is of course immaculate, but three sizes too large.

If you watch enough videos of ordinary people trying to explain quantum mechanics, or trinitarianism, or common core mathematics, you get to notice the little twitches, sideways glances and uncomfortable pauses which show they don't understand what they're saying - or that they don't quite believe it.

Brother Piper twitched quite a lot. It was a rambling train of disconnected metaphors, but the gist was this:

The universe is 13 billion years old, and God made Jesus right at the start, so the two must be really great friends to stay together so long. 
There's also the holy spirit, which isn't a separate entity, but simply the presence of god when he's on earth doing a miracle. Except when it's not. 
God's plan was that everyone would be immortal with eternal youth, but Adam messed everything up by making a decision for himself, introducing sin and therefore aging, death and suffering into the world. And we're inherited result because sin is genetic. And so is sinlessness, but not yet. 
But at some indeterminate point in the future, God will finally win the battle with Satan that he could have won at any time, but chose not to for some reason. And after that, everyone will be immortal again. And they'll still have free will, but they won't be able to make the wrong decision. Because that's how "true" free will works. 
And not only that, but 144,000 extra-special people will be selected by god to be his civil servants in heaven for eternity, functioning as a government for the perfected earthly people who no longer need a government. 
But amazingly, these 144,000 will not be chosen by religious affilition. And god doesn't need the JWs to win. Making the entire JW church pointless in its own cosmology. 
Oh, and it caused God so much suffering to kill his son, it would be ungrateful not to obey all his rules.

Cue more singing, and the ceremony of passing around the unleavened bread but not eating it, and the same for the wine. I liked the way they used stale mouldy pittabread just to make sure no one had a nibble.

End of ceremony, and much milling about making small talk before going home. I did my routine of chatting with everyone, asking simple, obvious questions and being very understanding when they couldn't answer.

Why does god need a civil service? Doesn't eternity pushing paper sound like hell? If angels have free will, why can't they sin - except for the one who did, even though the bible doesn't say so? And if free will doesn't entail sin, why did God make humans such that it does? 
What obscure rules was god bound by when he had no choice but to kill his son to renew a contract he made with humanity? Do immorals make babies? What does "son of god" actually mean? Why are you performing the pagan rite of Dionysus?

The answer, apparently, is that the bible answers all these questions, but in scrambled order. So to find the answers, pick half a dozen random paragraphs from different books, then pretend they're a connected explanation. With enough wild guessing, you can make it mean something, which you can then pretend was God's intention all along.

Except it only works at JW prayer meetings, which I got invited to, several times. But I'm neither that much of a masochist, nor that much of a sadist. Fortunately for us all.

Can I Get a Witness? (Part 1)


Jehovah's Witnesses. The steampunkers of the christian world. They try to live according to rules actually found in the New Testament, without the interpolations and traditions that grew up around it.

So whereas the catholics have to retcon 2000 years of contradiction into an enormous wobbly heap of handwaving, the JWs have only the first century of contradiction to worry about.

They don't believe in a spiritual afterlife, but that after the end of the world, you get a new perfect body on a new perfect earth forever - unless you were evil, in which case you just cease to exist. Because that's what Paul wrote, before Hades got imported from Hellenistic religions and conflated with Tartarus.

They don't accept blood transfusions, because Leviticus says we mustn't eat blood. Even though (1) transfusion isn't eating (2) they ignore pretty much everything else in Leviticus, and (3) blood transfusions are a jolly good idea.

Which only leaves the question: Surely you'd drink blood?

They don't celebrate Christmas, because it's the Roman Festival of Saturn, and therefore pagan. They don't celebrate Easter, because symbolic rabbits and eggs come from fertility cults, and are therefore pagan.

They don't perform the Eucharist, because eating metaphorical god-flesh and drinking (eating?) metaphorical god-blood is the festival of Dyonisus - god of grain and therefore what you make from grain. So it's pagan.

What they do instead is...once a year take a sip of wine (representing blood) and a bite of bread (representing flesh) to commemorate the death of Jesus.

So what's the difference? The difference is: They don't call it the Eucharist. So when they do it, it's not pagan.

They are also the nicest nutjobs I've ever met. I've chatted and debated with dozens of flavours of christian over the years, and the JWs are the only ones who've never threatened me, lied to me, or assumed I must be an idiot because I didn't agree with them.

Well, tonight they've invited me to their not-Eucharist. So I'm going, and coming up in Part 2, my impressions.

I Dream of TV


Six months ago I had a tooth abcess. For the modest fee of GBP200 (or USD290 in international money) my dentist performed a root canal to drain it, making such comments as "Wow, that is a big abcess" and "Yes that must have been really painful".

Three months ago, I started to get what felt like a return of the same pain.

Last week, on Friday 29th January, I woke up in incredible pain. I've had shingles twice in my life, and kidney stones on two occasionals, and the level was comparable. So I did what anyone else would do; I took absurdly large amounts of ibuprofen, paracetamol and codine until the pain went away.

They were actually prescribed to my mother for post-operative pain, but on principle she takes the minimum amount she can to get the pain down to managable levels while being a tiny bit paranoid about addiction. I prefer to clobber my nerves into submission.

On monday I saw a doctor...who refused to give any advice or prescribe any medication, on the grounds that he was a General Practicioner and not a dental specialist. But he did recommend I see a dentist who could refer me to a hospital who could do surgery. And not take so many pills.

So I saw a dentist, who prescribed antibiotics and refused to refer me, on the grounds that he was only providing cover for my own dentist.

So I saw another doctor...who proscribed me Tranadol. Which works in 15 minutes, slays the pain like an ancient Sumerian warrior, and turns you into a shuffling zombie. It also has absolutely no narcotic effect whatsoever, so I have no idea how people can take it recreationally.

And then I was able to see my actual dentist, fresh and revitalised back from his holiday. Through my vague haze I gleaned that he was horrified at how much paracetemol I was inflicting upon me delicate liver, and extremely unimpressed that anyone would prescribe Tramadol ("a horrible drug") for dental pain.

So he prescribed me Dihydrocodine. 100 milligrams every six hours, to be taken with food...and with Metrodidazole, a second antibiotic that attacks the kind of anarobic bacteria that swarm under teeth. Then I could come back on Friday, with inflamation hopefully sufficiently reduced that the x-rays could show clearly...just where the infection was. And thus what exactly needed treating.

Dihydrocodine takes an hour to start working, isn't as effective a painkiller as Tramadol, and makes you sleepy in the same way a tidal wave makes you moist. With the result that I started sleeping 18 hours a day, but was actually capable of thought the rest of the time. I'm typing this two hours after taking a dose.

Small detail: The pharmacist refused to give me the dihydrocodine until I went home to fetch the tramadol to exchange for it, on the grounds that I might, under the effects of the tramadol, get confused and take both drugs, which would interact, and I'd find myself unable to breathe, and suffocate to death. So, yeah.

My head now somewhat clearer, I found myself able to reason thusly:


  • Dental x-rays don't definitively show an abcess - just some small and vague dark patches that could be anything, or nothing.



  • The pain may feel centered on a row of three teeth - one of which is actually a gap from a previous extraction - but it spreads through the right side of my face.



  • Specifically, the back of my neck, the soft tissue below my jawline, my right ear, my right eye, my right temple, and the fusion line of my infant fontanelles on my shaved head.



  • That sounds like the symptoms of nuralgia, not an abcess at all.



  • According to Dr Google, it sounds like occipital nuralgia, which is treated with anti-inflamataries.



  • Anti-histamines are also anti-inflamatories.



  • So if I take some anti-histamines, it might help.



  • And wouldn't do any harm in any case.


  • So I spoke to a (different) pharmacist. Who told me that, as usual, Dr Google was slightly but crucially wrong, and anti-histamines wouldn't help. And if I did have nuralgia is would be the trigeminal type, and if I had that I'd be hospitalised and howling in agony. With sharp stabbing pain as opposed to my dull constant type. Oops.

    Well, on Friday I turned up for more x-rays and surgery. Except the x-rays were still inconclusive. And apparently while on Wednesday I'd thought I was slightly out of it, my orthodontist (lit: "Tooth Straightener") thought I'd been really out of it.

    However, we were both a little perversely pleased at being presented with a non-trivial diagnostic puzzle. Through a process of logical deducation and selective injections of novocaine, we narrowed the possibilities to two:

    (1) An abscess on the upper-right lateral incisor. Treatment: Extraction.
    (2) A broken root on the upper-right crowned canine next to it. Treatment: Extraction.

    ...and no good way to tell which it was.

    Conclusion: Another round of pills, and another week of waiting for the swelling to go down, at the end of which, another set of x-rays, and a decision. After which I go home with one tooth fewer. And some more painkillers.

    In the meantime...I have my dreams. 18 hours a day of them.

    Yesterday, in fitful bursts of sleep, I dreamed an entire Dr Who adventure from the 70s. 2016's Tom Baker Doctor took 1990's Sarah Jane Smith back in time to change the timeline of a previous adventure, with 70s Baker and Sladen, and daleks on a space station trying to blow up the earth. Back To The Future II style, with episodes 3 and 4 abrogated and set on a different path when Sarah Jane heroically tries to save earth by blowing up the dalek ship with her on it, but the Doctor freezing time at the last moment.

    Today, I got a lost Star Trek TNG story. The one where Picard loses the emotional center of his humanity after being infected with an engineered alien nano-virus. So he has to regain it by trying to define what it is to be human in philosophical converations with Lieutenant Commander Data...while a giant green humanoid stands in for him in the captain's chair, symbiotically linking with the Enterprise.

    It seems my unconscious brain is nerdier than my conscious one.

    Creepypasta: Daddy Long Legs


    A blog is a place to write about whatever interests you at the time. I'm not very interested in my own life right now, but I am interested in creepy campfire stories, and solving certain technical challenges.
    So, having re-thought and re-re-thought the latter...I can post the former.
    Goodnight, children.

    Dots and Dashing Off


    I often think, the more active your life, the less active your blog.

    I have been very active...with extremely boring things. Things like: How can you get a computer to recognise when a full stop is:

    (1) At the end of a sentence
    (2) At the end of an ellipsis
    (3) At the end of a paragraph
    (4) At the end of an abbreviation like "Dr." or "Mrs."
    (5) Part of an abbeviation like "C.I.A"
    (6) A decimal point
    (7) Something else, probably.

    The answer is: It's complicated, but I've cobbled together an algorithm that gets it right 99+% of the time.

    As for why I would want to do such thing...that's also complicated. And boring. Or rather, complicated and boring to listen to someone explain, strangely fascinating to figure out.

    Short version: I'm doing audios of stories. The easy part is talking into a microphone. The hard part is getting your computer to guide you doing so.

    But that's what a computer is, right? A tireless but extremely stupid coach.

    But now, an unexpected christmas break. Because I've been rather suddenly invited to spend a week in Barcelona. By an old friend who's exactly the kind of person to impulsively book a week-long trip to Barcelona because it sounds kind of interesting somehow, and then impulsively invite a randomly chosen aquaintence to come too.

    Which makes me the kind of person to go along with other people's mad impulses. And, I suppose, my own.

    So, coming soon, some blogging about the trip to Barcelona that I will have just had.

    In the meantime, work out the tense structure of that sentence.

    An Enforced Holiday


    Computer dead. New one arrives in a month. So all my little projects are suspended for a while.