Godwin's law, the Rand Version

"Do you know that my personal crusade in life (in the philosophical sense) is not merely to fight collectivism, nor to fight altruism? These are only consequences, effects, not causes. I am out after the real cause, the real root of evil on earth — the irrational." -Ayn Rand
So this image showed up on my Facebook feed today,

    What followed the image in the comments was the predictable feeding frenzy that you witness when your throw bloody meat to sharks. Today's cleaner, nicer internet breed of human doesn't seem to understand the dirty nature of real life as it was before the internet made it possible to live and never leave your house.

    For the record, she said these words, at least according to Wikiquote (couldn't find it in the Lexicon, but I remember reading them) although I prefer the quote that follows it, the one I started this post with.  There you have it, Rand gives us all permission to steal from native peoples. That is, if you just blindly do what someone who lived before you and wrote influential works tells you to do. 

    Blaming Ayn Rand for the plight of native peoples around the world is no different than ending every observation of fascistic tendencies with the phrase "like Hitler".  In reading her works it's easy to see how her ideas can be turned to evil, how they could be seen as evil when they are brought up out of context in an image like this.  It's no mystery why people like Paul Ryan and others cite her writings when they want to punish the poor and reward the rich. I myself, as someone who still (provisionally) self-identifies as objectivist, cringe at the words above, and wondered at Rand's blindness to the fascistic applications her ideas could give credence to.

    But then we've moved a very long way along the knowledge curve since Alisa Zinov'yevna Rosenbaum
     immigrated to the US in 1926.  Rand herself didn't even understand what it meant to be "objective", or rather, the barriers to objectivity that stand in the way of even the most clear-headed observer, something we've discovered and proven in the last score of years or so. Motivated numeracy alone can lead one to deny proven science if it conflicts with your political views, so consequently most of the people who adhere to Ayn Rand's labels and words have even less of a clue about the pitfalls of thinking oneself perfectly objective on a subject.

    What she was trying to express about primitives and their rights to continue the nomadic lives they had lead, can't be illustrated simplistically with concepts like property and profit; it makes her look mean and cheap, which may or may not be an accurate description of Rand the person. You certainly can't explain the process of national expansion to people who accept the natural fallacy without question, even if you really, really try.

    It pays to reflect that the followers of the dominant philosophical ideal of the time, state socialists, had no problem taking life and land from anybody for any reason that they deemed suited the cause of the people (which in state socialist terms meant the body politic) the defense that Rand is offering is at least logical, if bereft of emotion.

    Better to ask the people encroaching on tribal lands without negotiating in good faith with the natives what their goals were beyond profiting themselves. Too bad none of them are around to ask anymore.

    You might well ask well how should I interpret those words, then? As I've done previously when people ask about Ayn Rand (unlike other Objectivists) I point them towards The Passion of Ayn Rand; Book or The Passion of Ayn Rand; Movie (Helen Mirren is great in the latter) because that is what someone who knew her but was kicked out of the inner circle really thought about her and her life.  If you want to see what the most negative parts of her life look like from outside, there is no starker image than these. 

    On The Other Hand, if you really want to understand what she was trying for with her work, I recommend the documentary Sense of Life rather than her fictional works themselves. You can't get an overview from them. You certainly can't get a feel for her at all, from either the detractors who have always hated her, or the mindless randroids who take her name in vain these days.

It is worth observing (hindsight being 20/20) that without people like Rand, people willing to state that it was OK to not sacrifice yourself for the good of the many, that you could lead a worthy life without being poverty stricken and suffering, that we wouldn't be living in a world that is rapidly seeing the decline of dictatorships as vehicles of social change; that dictatorship is now almost a quaint historical artifact, like feudalism. Social change is once again in the hands of the people.  Right or wrong, where it belongs; with individuals willing to work for change.

(portions of this were cribbed from an earlier work of mine)

My Shambala

A friend of mine on Facebook posted a link to a version of Shambala a bit ago.  I can (and do) appreciate his posts, but for me there is only one version of Shambala.

I say sorry Jim, because Three Dog Night's Shambala was part of an 8track of hits that they played at the Wichita County swimming pool (Leoti, KS) in 1976 (had to be 76. Summer of the bicentennial. Cross-country bicyclers hanging in the city park. Crazy year) and I had just learned to swim a few summers previously.  Swimming was my first love, and I say that as someone who just celebrated his 25th year of marriage, to someone I'm still deeply in love with; but even so, swimming remains my first love, a communion with nature itself for me.

Spending a carefree afternoon at the pool, eating icees and listening to music that wasn't played anywhere else, as far as I could tell, was as close to pure joy that child me ever experienced. We waited for the pool to open, and for the weather to get warm enough that you didn't freeze, and then every single day that I could get away, I'd ride my spyder down to the pool (got a ten speed later. Bicycling was my second love) and stay all day if I could get away with it.

In rural Kansas the only radio stations you could pick up reliably were country stations.  I can listen to just about any kind of music, so Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn, Merl Haggard and of course Johnny Cash (who was a 'bad boy' in my mother's eyes if I remember correctly) figured highly in rotations for the stations that my parents tuned when I was a child, and I didn't mind.

But the pool was supervised by high school students (with maybe a school coach checking in now and again) so the sound system they rigged up only played their music. The intro riff to Shambala plays, and I can smell the steam coming off the concrete decking, taste the ice cream, remember what it was like to be carefree.

It's a weird coincidence that I remember the song at all.  The other song that I remember them playing I rediscovered long ago; it had a catchy refrain about a shaker of salt, and while I couldn't ever figure out what he wanted salt for (I was pretty sure at the time I was hearing it wrong, water in the ears or something) I did eventually discover the song was Margaritaville, and I have been a parrothead ever since.

The weird coincidence? I was watching LOST with my wife. She had gotten me interested in the show, and it became a bit of a weekly ritual to catch each episode as it aired. It was a pretty good episode involving two of my favorite characters in the show, Charlie and Hurley.  Hurley was certain he was cursed, that the numbers he used to win the lottery, that were on the hatch, had been a curse.  This was the crucial scene of the episode;



The song comes up, and the memory hits me like a blow to the head.  THAT SONG! I remember that song! It was like a trip to the past, so powerful it brought tears to my eyes (it still can) mom and dad were still happy together, Gramma & Grampa still breathing and living just a few blocks away to save me if I needed saving. The world was bright and full of promise...

...That was my Shambala. That time when everything was perfect (even though it never could have been as perfect as you remember it) all of the people you knew caught like insects in amber and preserved to be revisited.

Except you really can't go back there, because it never really existed in the first place. The rot was already present, present from even before I was born, just waiting to tear everything apart. Now that I've started losing my hearing, even the song itself is a memory that I replay.  I can't really hear it like I did then, echoing off the hot concrete I would rest my head on to make my barely functioning sinuses open up and drain.

But the memory of the song is like a siren...
"Everyone is lucky, everyone is so kind, on the road to Shambala" 

Leveling With Myself

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
I have been facing the world's worst case of writer's block, for quite some time now.  Anyone who knows me, read this blog, or runs across this new post will probably figure that out pretty quickly. My first post on the blog since stumbling across the solution to my problem was the one redefining myself; but even so, I've found it insurmountably hard to write. I guess I need to keep reminding myself of this fact;

I have stopped being honest with myself. Time to tell myself the truth.

I was a libertarian for 20 years because of the idea that individuals doing the 'right thing' voluntarily was the best solution. In the end, some systems require support whether we want to contribute or not though.  If the answer is not then force has to be applied.  Otherwise human nature will dictate that no one will pay for the systems, since most people will only do what they are required to do. I have no answer for "what if people won't pay?" other than to state "I will shoot you myself".  I don't rely on the state anymore than I am required to; and yet the state does many things which are of use, one of them paying me for my disability.  I would ask "why did I have to spend three years fighting for something which I clearly need?"  you might ask "what makes you think you deserve it?" I deserve it, because I paid for 20 years on a contract that the government should honor.

I have never been an anarchist, which is (as my redefining post pointed out) what libertarians really are.  I find anarchists to be some of the most delusional (and generally harmless) people around. Humans have always adhered to some form of tribal authority and work best in groups aligned on a common goal. An individual can survive but it cannot thrive without the group and it's 'greater than the sum of its parts' compiled results. To suggest that we can simply do away with governments and tribal authority and replace it with nothing is to ignore reality; and the solutions offered by anarchists as a replacement don't look any better to me than current government solutions, really any different than tribal leadership. So government exists and will continue to exist, and force will occasionally have to be applied to individuals who simply want to not have to pay for services that they will eventually use.

Studies have been conducted that show that people do not contribute to charity at a level that would make services available that are needed, necessary and require funding; that in fact the wealthy on average contribute a far smaller percentage of their wealth than the poor and middle class.  That the wealthy feel they are entitled to the privileges of wealth, even if they are granted unfair advantage at the outset of a game designed to test just this attribute of being well off.

Every time I write on a subject that expounds on scientific findings that I've read, I am challenged personally by people who disagree with the findings; as if the workings of science answer to what I or they might think or believe; as if the actual path of past evolution could be altered just because we want it to be different.  It remains a fact that people (in general) will avoid doing work that they think others will do given time, or if not doing it doesn't impact them immediately.  Consequently young people don't buy health or life insurance, and bridle at being told they must invest in their future.  The average person dies without ever expressing their wishes in a will, because making those plans is an admission that they will actually die someday.

So maybe that is the point of this post. What I want has nothing to do with what is, what exists and its nature. That the most I can hope for is to be able to carve out a little space for myself, preferably one not backing onto a high traffic area of the house, where I can be pestered every 5 minutes like I'm the house information system (where are my keys?  Where is my phone?  Is there milk in the fridge?) a place where I can find the peace to write.

The Wife

(This was originally posted here. I've edited and expanded it a bit)

"Doesn't she have a name?"

Why yes, she does. She just doesn't want me to use it here. Probably doesn't want her name associated with her like the name "Margaret" has been associated with an amazing ability to argue about anything. I started calling her 'the wife' because it annoyed a co-worker to hear me refer to her that way (several years ago in a previous working life) So, being the considerate person that I am, I've used no other reference for her since. She has always referred to me as her 'Significant Other', which I find clever and cute at the same time. Probably why we are still together after 25 years.

That is the difference in 8 years passing (the time since I first wrote this narrative, and now) I no longer think that the 3 years before we tied the knot matter that much anymore.  The proverbial "I can't remember when we weren't together" moment has occurred for me. I know those moments existed, and that they mattered at the time. My life is now defined by the beautiful woman I've been married to for a quarter century. The two children that we both simultaneously love and want to kill. Yes, two children. One of them isn't much of a child anymore, but we can't seem to get her out of the house (teasing you, don't bridle) the other is in high school.  That fun age.  Come to think of it, that isn't much of a child either. Wait, does that mean I have adult children?  That I'm old?  Bullshit, I'm not buying that.

Twenty-Five years ago today, we got married. Well, actually, that's not the half of it. She graduated college on Friday, we got married on Saturday, and we moved to Austin on Sunday. It was a weird weekend. The wedding was planned by several friends. It was beautiful, right up to the point following the kiss, when they realized that they hadn't planned how to exit the arbor we were in. "Weddings over, see you at the reception."

Did you notice the 'arbor' reference? Yes, we were outside. It rained. Not much, we were dry before the ceremony was over. My best man and my brother the bridegroom went out for donuts right before the ceremony; none of us had breakfast, all were famished. They stopped for donuts, there was a delay getting the breakfast, they were late. The-soon-to-be-Wife paid the final gas bill in her wedding gown while waiting for them (remember, moving next day?) I was instructed to 'aim for his head' when opening champagne later that day.

[we wrapped 'his' wedding present in donut boxes when he got married a few years later. I don't think he ever appreciated the joke, myself]

Is that all? Not really. The batteries on the stereo gave out before the wedding march ended. Her garter fell off (more than once) and had to be retrieved, so that it could be removed properly at the reception. I could go on, but I'd like to save some blackmail material just in case I might need it.

I start our time together from the first moment we met driving test cars rather than the wedding day. Yes you read that right, but it's not the job you think it is, trust me. Every tire on the road today was tested on the route that we drove. From San Angelo nearly to Del Rio and back; and then North of San Angelo to Robert Lee and back. Some of the most tedious work I think I've ever done. Four car convoys, correct 4 second spacing, dead level 55 mile an hour rate of travel. For 8 hours.

My best friend at the time was 'lead' (the car in front, the guy in charge) on the convoy that I drove 'tail' with.  (how we ended up working at the same place at the same time is a story in itself) Some of the areas we drove through were pretty remote...

[One night, down on the Devil's river, we came across a jeep that looked like it had been on the loosing end of a bear fight. Blood, bullet holes, no windows, dented, etc. On another night we came across a wreck in the clearing stages. Car hit head on with a tanker truck. As I'm sitting next to the wreck waiting to be allowed to go, the cop wanders over and casually kicks a shoe, with the foot still in it, back over towards the wreck. Won't be forgetting either of those nights.

At least I never hit a deer. The wife hit three. Well, technically she ran over one that jumped onto the road in front of her and fell down, got hit by one that ran into the side of her car while she was passing, and then actually hit one in the test car she renamed 'rocky' because they had to wedge the headlights back in with rocks so that she could make it back to the shop. Ask her about the cow sometime. That's a funny story]


...And since the vehicles traveled 800 miles a day 7 days a week, they tended to break down unexpectedly; and if you were the lucky one you were stranded with a broken down vehicle until the tow truck could come and get you. Some of us were a little edgy about this situation and would carry weapons with us on the off chance that we might need them. I didn't want to hassle with a gun myself, so I carried a decent sized butterfly knife which I barely knew how to use.

Well, my buddy (who ran the convoy) got to talking to other leads one night and discovered someone that I needed to meet. She had a larger version of the knife I carried, and she knew how to use it. The next night, he takes me over to introduce me to her as we are trading cars at the end of the shift. So she shows me her knife with a gleam in her eye (have I mentioned that I'm a bit skittish around knives? There was a reason I didn't know how to use it) and proceeds to flip it around and demonstrate how you gut your opponent with one smooth motion. All the while grinning like the proverbial cat with the canary.

Honestly? She scared the living shit out of me. I thought I was a dead man. If I ever got away from her, I was not going to be looking back. I told my buddy as much afterwards.

Never did manage to get away from her. Drove in her convoys a few times after that when one of her drivers failed to show up. San Angelo is not a big place, so we ended up running into each other outside of work as well. And so I married her instead. True story.

25 years ago today, babe. Happy anniversary.

The House I live In; can we say "Insane Drug War"?

I finally got The House I Live In from my Netflix queue last week. I tweeted several times about it, but I just feel like this subject deserves more light (hashtag search on twitter) since a quarter of our prison population (still the highest per capita of any country in the world) 500,000 people, are held for non-violent drug offenses.

As the film goes into at great length, the drug war really isn't about drugs, it is about poverty and race; as drugs used by poor immigrant minorities are almost always the target until you get to the modern day and methamphetamine.  It still targets the poor, but now those poor are largely white people.

The film lends weight to President Obama's (belated) recent move to offer clemency to people convicted and sentenced under harsh mandatory minimum drug laws that had people being put away for life for possession of a few ounces of cocaine.  Those of us interested in justice on this subject continue to hope that this turns into more than a PR stunt.



Carl Hart and his book High Price were the big finds in this film, although his screen time was pretty light. I've seen him a few times since the film came out including on MSNBC with Chris Hayes;
Did you know “meth mouth” is fake? Or that meth has the same effect on the brain as Adderall? Oh, you probably think crack cocaine addicts can’t think rationally, but actually they can…and they do! Columbia Professor Dr. Carl Hart sits down with Chris Hayes for an extended interview to debunk the myths we buy into surrounding drug addiction.
The interface on MSNBC's website is more than a bit flaky, so I went looking and found this video of him on TYT;



Yea, it's an hour. So sue me. He's a very engaging speaker, and he has a story to tell. What kind of story?  Well, how about the fact that Philip Seymour Hoffman would still be alive today had we actually invested in a proper drug education program all those years ago when Nixon decided to declare a war on drugs.



The thing to remember about the drug war is, it isn't our first attempt at prohibition; and the first attempt wasn't a success, either.  Contrary to popular belief, it appears that jury nullification ended up being the death knell of alcohol prohibition, with prosecutors being unable to get convictions from juries for alcohol crimes.  Something to remember as this attempt a prohibition turns a corner and is revealed as the failure that it is.  If you find yourself on a drug trial jury, remember that you have the right to sit in judgement of the law as well as being the judge of the accused. Visit the Fully Informed Jury Association for more info on that score.

We are the government.  We ultimately decide which laws will be enforced, and which will not.  We need to find our feet again as a people, and stand up for justice; not just in this instance, but across the board.

Years of Living Dangerously & Katharine Hayhoe

I've been watching "Years of Living Dangerously" every week (it's moving to Monday this week) since it first aired. It's free for the rest of today on Showtime online.



I like the presentation of the episodes through the eyes of the various personalities (Arnold Schwarzenegger, Harrison Ford, Don Cheadle, etc) but I especially can appreciate the careful approach they've taken to show just how far climate denial is from the reality of climate change, and taking the time to talk to some of the more vociferous climate deniers, as well as including the wide range of people who want to act to prevent further harm to the climate, including climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe.

Katharine Hayhoe was also the featured interview last week on what is rapidly becoming my favorite podcast; Inquiring Minds. Here is a snippet of the blurb from their Soundcloud page;
Why is Hayhoe in the spotlight? Simply put, 25 to 30 percent of Americans are evangelical Christians, and their belief in the science of global warming is well below the national average. And if anyone has a chance of reaching this vast and important audience, Hayhoe does. "I feel like the conservative community, the evangelical community, and many other Christian communities, I feel like we have been lied to," explains Hayhoe on this week’s episode. "We have been given information about climate change that is not true. We have been told that it is incompatible with our values, whereas in fact it's entirely compatible with conservative and with Christian values."
I highly recommend both the podcast and the show. Give them a try, you may learn something.

(Originally posted here)

In My Dreams I Sound This Good While Ranting

Give this a listen, and you'll hear what I mean.




This is topical for the conversation I was just relating in my previous blog entry (three in two days.  I'm going to burn out!) However the draft has been hanging out on the blog interface so long that the activity Tim was involved in was Jesus Christ Superstar, which had just released it's DVD.

I tracked 'Storm' down after listening to The Skeptics' Guide To The Universe - Podcast 184 and hearing him mention it in the interview. I already had a weakness for White Wine in the Sun.

I went trolling back through the drafts looking for something completely different and found this. Oh, the treasures you find in the back alleyways of your long forgotten notes.

Religion/Spiritualism? How about Pragmatism.

I updated my ghost story yesterday because I was engaged in a long running conversation on this thread on Facebook.  Started with a meme image composed mostly of the text "Religion is for people afraid of going to hell, Spirituality is for people who have already been there" can we say "false dichotomy"? I knew that you could.

I'm sticking to my guns on the subject.  Skepticism (and through it pragmatism) is how you live in the real world, not getting sidetracked by all the woo we encounter in our daily lives. If you disagree, prove any of the stuff that skeptics question. Should be easy enough if it's true. If you know of a medium that you think of as reliable (a mediumship conference being where the image that started the thread was found) I would recommend you send them to The Million Dollar Challenge, or one of the other testing challenges (this is one of the points I've changed my opinion on since jotting down my ghost story the first time.  There is a value in exposing the vast number of charlatans out there who prey on the believing. The number is growing, even) They are looking to find someone with a genuine talent, and not someone engaged in cheap theatrics.   Haven't found anyone yet.

On a related note (in case you are confused on the subject) Climate deniers are not skeptics; they are peddlers of woo as certainly as any charlatan medium who claims to speak to the dead. Deniers in general are not skeptics any more than religious people can be Objectivists; there is a standard for evidence which must be met for a belief to be established as fact in both those systems. Denying science disqualifies you from claiming the label skeptic or the label objectivist.  I only wish I could stop people from claiming labels that they don't deserve.  The most I can do is pushback against their unwarranted claims, exposing the manipulation behind the curtain.

I don't embark on this course because I see no value in a good yarn, or the thought-provoking nature of a good parable.  I put the brakes on this journey down woo avenue because, in the end, science is the only method we've ever discovered for determining what the truth is. An anecdote (like my ghost experience) remains exactly what it was. You cannot pile up anecdotes and create evidence. You simply have a pile of anecdotes.

Scientists are not altering what is acceptable evidence, or the scientific process. Those that do fall prey to false patterns and charlatans, Randi proved this by recruiting shills into some of the early paranormal studies, demonstrating that a good magician can create the illusion of paranormal activity quite easily.

The problem with any psi phenomenon is that there is no known mechanism which can explain how these things happen. Without a mechanism, there is no basis on which to gather evidence. That is where psi research has been stuck since the 60's.

The best defense, for the flawed pattern recognition machines that we are, is to remain skeptical. Had I accepted what believers told me back when I had my experience, I'd be deep in the woo now, trying to defend photo and sound anomalies as legitimate signs of paranormal activity (probably desperately trying to prove that rods exist) rather than looking into the machines used to capture this 'evidence' and discovering that the machines themselves are the cause of them.

The experiences remain exactly what they always have been. Inexplicable experiences, until we find a mechanism that might cause them. Then they aren't paranormal experiences anymore. You might say, of your own experiences "I wasn't hallucinating" and yet it remains entirely possible. The human brain is quite an amazingly adaptive organ. The process of remembering the experience alters the experience in memory. The more times you remember it and recount it, the stronger the memory can become, lending more reality to the images you think you saw. At some point the memory ceases to be a true recollection and becomes a story you tell yourself about the event(s).

Without scientific rigor, there isn't anything we can say we know.

Paranormal? Ghosts?

This post was re-edited from this previous post on the subject.  So many of my opinions from that time have changed, I feel I cannot direct someone to that post and have them understand what it is I'm trying to communicate.  So here is my ghost story. Except it isn't a story.

I'd like to say up front that I am not a believer in the paranormal, and especially do not subscribe to a belief in the supernatural. But having had experiences with what most people refer to as spirits, experiences that I cannot explain, I can't dismiss the possibility that something exists beyond our ken.

The Wife's father could witch water wells. All the farmers in the area swore by him. Now, this man was no ignorant Oklahoma farmer. He was a college educated man, served his country in the secret service during WWII. Worked as an extension agent later in life, teaching other farmers in the area how to make their farms produce. And he was a water witch. When his partner wanted a well dug, he refused to rely on that 'water witch' rubbish and hired an engineer to drill his well. Several thousand dollars and several hundred feet later, they hit some rather poor and slow running water that the engineers said was the best they could do. After a few months, the business partner gave up and asked my father in law to try a hand at finding better water, which he did. About 15 feet away and 30 feet down. Better water than could be found on my father-in-law's own property. I never saw this occur myself, and Dad has been gone several years now. So I have no way of testing the veracity of his claims, and I remain unconvinced that the ideomotor effect is sufficient explanation in and of itself for experiences like his.

Most ghost experiences are actually quite normal.  There are documented physical properties of sleeping that lend themselves to the idea of abduction (Sleep Paralysis for one) or can lead you to believe that you see people who aren't there just as you begin to fall asleep, or immediately upon waking (I have a recurring nightmare lately where I see light patterns that remind me of Threshold. I have no idea why.  They persist into wakefulness, and have to be actively brushed away in order for me to quit seeing them) I've had both experiences several times, myself. Once you understand what causes them, they become far less frightening.

The problem with the supernatural or paranormal is that it doesn't reproduce itself on demand so that peers can verify the existence of this or that phenomenon. Time and again as I watch some show dealing with these types of stories, I think to myself "well, that could have been faked" or "this is how that chair could have moved". It's all too easy to be debunked, unless it happens to you; and once it happens to you, cannot simply dismiss the very real (for you) emotions that the experience generates.  You want the phenomena to be true, as in accepted by your peers (something the author of Fringeology goes out of his way to try to justify) as true. However, no one can understand what it is you experienced, no matter how much they may want to.



In my years of service in the architectural field, I have spent innumerable nights in the office, working until late in the morning hours, most times all by myself. While I was generally downtown in some not-so-nice areas late at night, I was never really afraid. I'm not a large man, but I can run fast, and I do know some basic defense tactics.

When I took a job for a firm whose office was in one of the older buildings downtown, I never really thought much about the history of the place, or the particulars of it's location, or what an impact that might have on my ability to work the late hours that are generally required of architects, but it had an impact none the less.

I was struck, at first, by how quaint the structure was. Nestled against the side of an old quarry, it was backed by an old carriage house that had been renovated into offices as well. After a few weeks of work I settled into my usual routine of staying late and cranking out the work after everyone else left. Gradually I noticed that everyone else tended to leave earlier than usual in the evening; earlier than usual for an architectural office.

After a week or so, I noticed that the place started to feel less quaint, and more threatening, especially at night. I kept hearing people walking, when I knew I was alone in the building. It really started to get weird though, after I traded places with another architect. She wanted to move to the tiny little cramped cubicle that I was in, and was willing to give up a double sized cube space in order to do it. I thought it strange that she would want the cramped space I was in, but jumped at the chance to spread out a bit in a larger space.

Slowly, over the course of the next 12 months, a spiralling series of experiences convinced me that I was either losing my mind, or that there was something wrong with my environment, something I could not explain.

I began to feel like someone was watching me. It wasn't all the time, that I could have explained. Weirdly enough it was right about 7:30 pm, pretty much every night. I dismissed it at first as having my back to the floor entrance (a dog-leg stair from the upper floor) but I could not figure out why it didn't bother me until evening time.

There were windows all around, but it didn't feel like there was anybody outside. No matter how many times I looked, I never did catch anyone peeking through the windows. Peeping would have been hard anyway, technically we were on the second floor above the quarry bottom, but the front entrance was on the floor above and opened onto the original street that bordered the quarry. The window in my cube tended not to reflect any light off of it, almost like it opened onto nothing (the opposing building wall that was no more than 10 feet away always seemed invisible at night) which was a bit disturbing on its own.

I can't tell you the number of times I heard footsteps on the upper floor, or walking down the stairs, only to investigate and find no one there. Once, with another architect present, we listened as footsteps appeared to walk the length of the upper floor and go right through a wall on their way out to the street.

Then there was the crowding and the touching. I kept feeling someone leaning over the back of my chair, pushing me into the desk. I kept having to consciously push myself away from the keyboard so that my arms would quit cramping. Something kept touching me on the neck, like fingers brushing across my skin.

It got to the point that I would leave as soon as the eyes started watching at 7:30. If I didn't leave then, and stayed until the presence was in the cube with me, then when I attempted to leave I would feel as if I was being pursued. All the lights on in a clearly vacant room, and I'm terrified that there is someone who intends me harm, right behind me. Try as I might, I could not shake the feeling.

It was all I could do to make myself walk calmly up the stairs and let myself out. There was frequently an inexplicable cold spot at the top of the stairs, where the warmest air in the building should have been. As soon as I had exited the building, the feeling went away. I'm standing on a dark street, next to a vacant lot that is several feet deep in overgrowth; a place where the homeless were known to congregate, and I feel safer there than in the building.

I began to feel like there were two buildings in the same place at night. One was finished in the clear varnished oak and carpet that I was familiar with; the other was painted dark, cut into small rooms with old fashioned panel doors. Dingy little apartments. I can't explain why I began to see this juxtaposition in space, I can only say that I did.

Once, when I heard a loud thump on the floor behind me, I spun around to find, just for a second, someone or something standing behind me. There and then gone again. I caught the same figure out of the corner of my eye a few more times after that. Ragged coat. Hat pulled low. Dirty worn out boots. Watching a door in the dark hallway. Waiting for someone. Waiting for someone with violence in his heart.



I wish I could write a fitting climax to the story, but I can't. I was let go from the firm not too long after that time, and I haven't had any urge to go back.

I would say that this was "the god's honest truth", but I don't believe in god. It is the truth, exactly as I remember it. I didn't believe in ghosts. I don't know what I believe now, but I know that I can't explain what happened in that building in the evenings. I just know that I wouldn't stay late at work in that place again, not even if you paid me.

I could go on about the hours spent trying to find disappearing farm houses, exploring weird old graveyards, or the time The Wife and I saw a UFO streak away at impossible speed. Suffice it to say that while my ghost encounter was single-handedly the weirdest thing I've ever experienced, it isn't the only inexplicable thing.  But even with all that, the anecdotal evidence itself is not enough for me to insist on supernatural explanations, paranormal explanations.  I simply don't have an explanation.  Perhaps the weirdest part of all is, the lack of explanation doesn't bother me.

A Freeloader In the Flesh

I have been accused of being a disability freeloader (by family, even) in the past.  I'd like to introduce you to a real freeloader.
Vanderboegh said he once worked as a warehouse manager but now lives on government disability checks. He said he receives $1,300 a month because of his congestive heart failure, diabetes and hypertension. He has private health insurance through his wife, who works for a company that sells forklift products. 
(Democratic Underground link  Washington Post link)
I can say for certain the man is a freeloader, because disabled people don't make their way halfway across the nation and threaten a sitting Senator with violence;
One of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy's supporters did not hold back his disdain for Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), hurling a painful threat in the process.
In a video posted by Right Wing Watch on Wednesday, Mike Vanderboegh warned followers that "we are still staring Civil War in its bloody face." He pulled out a soap dish for Reid, calling it the "2014 award" for inciting such conflict.
"I will send it as a reminder, with the message 'Don't poke the wolverine with a sharp stick, Harry, unless you want your balls ripped off,'" Vanderboegh said, drawing boisterous "yeahs!" from the crowd. 
(Democratic Underground link  Huffington Post link)
I"m not too worried about Senator Reid, He's proved he's a scrapper. However, as a person who lives on disability himself, who only regretfully applied for disability (and received it after three years of fighting) after suffering from the symptoms of undiagnosed Menieres disease for at least a decade, I find this man's hypocrisy particularly troubling and revealing. Troubling, because his activity proves there are freeloaders on disability. Revealing, because these types generally do assign their own 'sins' to everyone around them. 

...My family and I are thankful, every day, that the government was there to keep us in our house, my kids in school, food on our table, etc, etc, etc. Had the government not taken the steps to insure me for disability, my children would be homeless, and I would probably be dead. 

There is a reason *why* the government steps in to cover matters of public health, and I personally am glad, now, that they do. I wasn't always this enlightened. Had I not been taken ill, I might very well have been as deluded as this guy, still believing that the government was my enemy. At least my sickness saved me from that mistake. If he was really ill, really had time to think about his predicament as I do, he might be spared his current hypocrisy. In any case they should probably stop cutting his checks. Clearly if he can take part in an armed insurrection, he can do some real work.

(h/t to Jim Wright of Stonekettle Station for bringing this to my attention)