No paddle needed

New Hope Creek in Duke Forest
I am making progress on various projects, which is good, but it means posting is slow, and since you’re reading this I can apologize to you. Some of these projects should produce things of potential interest a little later on, so there’s also that, right?

Anyway, I got out yesterday with the extraordinary Al Bugg to check out a couple of areas, one of which I hadn’t been to in a while: Duke Forest. Well, that label actually applies to several noncontiguous patches of forest across two different counties, but it’s still accurate. This section of it was bisected by New Hope Creek, a portion of which you see above. Spying the wildflowers on the bank and getting some sudden blue sky right before this image was taken, I had to go for it.

Now compare it with this one:
New Hope Creek in Duke Forest
Same scene, about 5 meters farther back, but aimed downwards slightly to catch that tiny splash of bright color from the lone iris, thus eliminating the sky. Presents a whole different feel, doesn’t it? Neither one actually has direct sunlight in there, since a small cloud had temporarily blocked the sun in the immediate area, but the lower one communicates this more without the sky or the reflection thereof in the water, and seems like it’s a bit deeper in the woods. Isn’t it fun how you can make subtle adjustments and change the mood of the image?

Northern water snake Nerodia sipedon sunning itself on rock by creek
Northern water snake Nerodia sipedon in alert poseIf you’re looking for water snakes in central NC, this is the place to go – I’m not sure I’ve ever been here during their active months and not seen a snake. These are both northern water snakes (Nerodia sipedon,) which tend to be large, impressive snakes, almost always less than a meter in length but sometimes as thick as my wrist. Both were seen from the concrete apron that crosses the creekbed, which yesterday was showing the effects of the recent rains in that the creek was spilling over the top up to 15 cm deep. These two images give a faint impression of how hard it is to illustrate snake markings; even though they’re the same species, you can see the difference in coloration, and the brightness can vary even more than this, partially due to genetics, but also due to how long it has been since the last time the individual has shed its skin – they’re darkest when due, and brightest immediately afterward. It also varies depending on how long they’re been out of the water, appearing brightest when wet. Not far from here, we also saw a queen snake (Regina septemvittata, what a great name,) which is considerably less impressive in appearance though similar in behavior.

Both of these species are harmless to humans, but the ones in the photos here are occasionally mistaken for cottonmouths (Agkistrodon piscivorus) or copperheads (Agkistrodon contortrix.) The former is somewhat understandable, since the marking differentiation can be pretty subtle, but the latter borders on ludicrous if you’re ever seen both species. In fact…
corn snake Pantherophis guttatus and two copperheads Agkistrodon contortrix
Copperheads are to the right, with a corn snake (Pantherophis guttatus) to the left – this was shot in a terrarium at the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher. Note not just the coloration, but the shape of the head, and you can see another image of the species from directly above here. I mean, c’mon…

eastern fence lizard Sceloporus undulatus in action pose
We also came across perhaps the largest eastern fence lizard (Sceloporus undulatus) that I’ve seen, looking like it measured 5 cm across the midriff. They’re wonderfully thorny-looking lizards, but most times their camouflage against the tree trunks and logs is so adept that they won’t be spotted unless they move. This one, however, might have been hungry and so was willing me to creep in a little closer…

Morgan Creek down at water levelWe hadn’t really exhausted all of the possibilities of Duke Forest, but I had an errand to run, so after that we went back to Mason Farm Preserve for a short while, where I stuck to fartsy images, like getting into Morgan Creek and taking this frame down just above water level. I’m shooting with a Canon 30D, which doesn’t have a fancy swing-out LCD or real-time display (old-fashioned optical viewfinder – I know, right?) so this one was shot blind. Except for a slight tweak back to level, this is the perspective I was after.

Foliage is, finally, getting in thick enough not to look bare, which means lots more to shoot – only two weeks ago I believe, we brought a bunch of plants indoors because of an overnight frost warning, so it almost seems odd to be knee-deep in the hoopla creek in shorts and sandals – the water is still a little chilly, but nothing a hardcore nature photographer can’t handle.

On the banks of just about every body of water I come across larger than a puddle, the frogs are basking – the overall rule is I never see them until they leap into the water to escape, sometimes with a startled-sounding squeak. I will work on getting closer to them in the coming days, quite possibly by going out at night with a headlamp and spotting them that way; this is often confusing enough to them that they don’t move, because it fails to trigger the criteria they have that spells out “hazard” to them. We’ll see what happens.

Now, I know what you’re saying. “Where are all the spiders, Al? How come you’re not posting photo after photo of some arthropod doing something icky?” I hear ya, and be cool, they’re coming – with the foliage comes the bugs, and I already have several such images waiting their turn. Sometimes you have to mix things up a bit, you know?

And so, I’ll close with a photo from the side of the pond, pretty much the exact same place as the lightning photos from just over a week ago, though considerably closer to the ground. It even has an insect in it, so I haven’t forgotten you.
Pond scenic with reeds and dragonfly

On the negative side 2

don't drop your camera in the waterI guess I’m not shocking anyone when I say this is not how I intended this image to look at all. And it’s a shame, because it was a rare opportunity that might actually have come out with some artistic merit. I know, right?

The scene opens on a casual photo competition on this thing that used to exist called, ‘Usenet,’ that somehow died in favor of chatrooms (pretty much the same damn thing) and Tumbler and Reddit and such – don’t ask me, people are weird. The challenge for this week was to get an interesting photo with a disposable film camera, the basic premise being that good photographers could produce something compelling regardless of the equipment, which is a point I’ve often promoted myself. These little plastic, inexpensive cameras were about as simple as they could get, and of course extremely limited in their abilities: single molded acrylic lenses, fixed shutter and aperture and focal length, questionable quality control and accuracy, and preloaded with a specific film. Nobody was expecting National Geographic images, but what would we be seeing?

While I had used these from time to time before, because waterproof ones were available and, at that point in history, the only way to do subsurface or water-sports images without spending a lot of money on specialized equipment, the one I purchased for this attempt was not waterproof, but included a flash instead. I was out prowling around with the camera in a shirt pocket, and visiting one of my haunts in Florida, a wading-area that stayed shallow for hundreds of meters out, playing home to horseshoe crabs and manatees and the occasional dolphin.

I noticed that the light conditions were producing an effect that I’d used before, where looking downward into the water near my feet produced a clear view, but as my gaze went further up and out, the water gradually turned reflective and showed only the sky, producing a nice fading effect and color change – I was determined to capture this visual curiosity, and went in search of something under the surface to provide a focal point for the transparent water portion. With delight, I spotted a stingray not far away, and managed to get quite close to it without spooking it, an accomplishment of its own since they’re notoriously sensitive to movement in the water and don’t tend to hang around people. While the focal length listed for this one seems short, it’s on an earlier small-sensor digital camera, and is an equivalent of 190mm, moderate telephoto.

So I framed the image the way I wanted just as the stingray became aware of my presence and bolted – it’s barely visible in the photo, the only shape right at the edge where the water goes from green to purple (we’re getting to that – just be patient.) The ray is facing away, the tail towards the bottom left corner if that helps. Obviously my ability to keep the camera level in my haste left a bit to be desired, but I succeeded in nailing the stingray right at the transition from transparent to reflective. Cool!

And then, a short while later while wading in the same location, I bent over to scoop up something at my feet and the camera vaulted out of my shirt pocket and into the water. I immediately snatched it up, but really wasn’t holding out much hope that the snap-together construction would be sufficient to prevent or even slow the incursion of saltwater into the depths of the camera, especially when the flash capacitor discharged into my hand as I picked it up (I do not recommend this experience, by the way – it’s a hefty amount of voltage and god will damn you to hell for cursing.) Nevertheless, I took it in to be developed, and managed to salvage a few images from early in the roll, tightly wrapped by successive layers of film. This, however, was not one of them, and the salt damage is rather prominent.

There is a curious, somewhat illusory effect within, as well. The deep purple spot in the sky is not what happened to the sun, since I was facing north, but just a random reaction of the emulsion to the salt and mineral content – even though it appears to produce a reflection from the horizon beneath it. It’s just coincidence, but one that’s easy to slip past us because it mimics something we expect to see.

This event occurred in those tumultuous days when digital was gaining popularity, and the early adopters were seeking any examples they could to denigrate film. This image might have caught their attention momentarily, until they realized that a digital camera would probably have fared a bit worse with the dunking…

Monday color 10

four-o-clock flower Mirabilis jalapa with pollen and raindrops
I had completely forgotten what this flower was, and just spent way too much time trying to find out. Which is funny, because I have a ton of photos of it, including one in the header images, but my image database is not up to date. Anyway, it’s a Mirabilis jalapa, more often known as a four-o-clock flower – one I specifically planted in order to attract hummingbirds (which never worked.) I always liked the contrast of the pollen against the petals. Maybe I should buy some more seeds…

No choice but to go green

pollen staining local pondOr, kinda chartreuse.

It is that season here in NC, when the wretched longneedle pines are shamelessly engaging in an arboristic orgy. Dissatisfied as they are with the rather gauche and needy technique of relying on pollinators like bees and butterflies, pines instead fling their emissions wantonly throughout the air, firmly believing in the concept of quantity over quality. If you fire enough rounds, one of them has to hit something.

The result is as you see here: pine pollen staining everything for the next couple of weeks. Cars are covered with it. Puddles have a yellowish-green patina to them. As I walked around this pond this morning looking for photo subjects, I got enough pollen on my feet that I was raising little puffs of pollen dust with every step. Last night, while out looking for photo subjects (we see a pattern developing here,) I could see the stuff blowing past in the beam of the headlamp – yes, the amount that is breathed in must be disturbing. I think the thunderstorms from the previous posts, rather than washing the stuff away, either sparked the trees to release more, or perhaps caused the pollen to be suspended in the atmosphere better by static charge. Whatever – the effect has been hard to ignore.

pine pollen swirls on water surface
Mostly, it’s this yellow-green color, but occasionally (as seen in the first pic) it gets stained a rust color – perhaps by mixing with red clay erosion during the rain. It certainly has the appearance of some kind of toxic waste. Notably, however, it is not the stuff responsible for the allergy woes in the majority of people; pine pollen is very low on the list of things that provoke histamine responses. Many people assume it’s the culprit from simple association: I can see the pollen, and I’m having an allergic reaction, ipso ergo facto. But a lot of other things are in bloom at the same time, most of which aren’t even one percent as visible as pine. While it remains possible to react to pine pollen, it’s rare.

Let’s put it this way: considering the visible sheen that appears on the table on the screened porch only a few hours after cleaning it off, if anyone was allergic to it, the amount in the air right now would probably cause them to explode…

water beetle leaving track in pine pollen on surface of pondThe fast-moving water beetles produce some great tracks in it, though, and it’s a nice way to study turbulence. I have yet to snag an image of a frog or snake that has surfaced from underneath it, but I’m still looking.

water beetle pausing in pollen coating
Here’s the same kind of beetle, likely some species of Hydrophilidae, that has paused after stirring up the coating, admiring its own surreal handiwork. Or maybe I’m assuming a bit much there.

But when I say it gets all over everything, I’m not exaggerating at all.

unknown inchworm species on azalea bush with dusting of pine pollen
There are a lot more pine trees surrounding us here than there were at the old place, and the effect is noticeable, even though I was still seeing it on the mantis nymphs last year, before the move. It’s not quite microscopic, though it’s close.

wolf spider with dusting of pine pollen
Everything. If some species ever evolves to eat the stuff, they gonna take over North Carolina…

Once again, with feeling

lightning over local pond
If you’re thinking these are just more pics left over from the previous post, you’re wrong! (Boy, I enjoy that way too much.) Instead, we had another electrical storm roll in right around sunset, mostly well to the south, when the sky was still too light to do time exposures. I had considered trying for more shots once the sky got dark enough, but the front seemed to pass before that happened. Then, another blew in, and I skipped over to a nearby pond because the angle was right for that one. Two electrical storms within 24 hours is rare enough; catching lightning photos in both, after going years in some cases without anything at all, is almost scary.

very bright lightning over local pond
This particular strike simply maxed out the exposure, even though I was using the same settings as the other frames – it happens sometimes. It’s a little ironic in finally capturing a decent bolt placed well in the frame and having it far too bright to be useful, totally bleached out. In fact, let’s take a closer look:
overexposed lightning with stringers
This is a detail crop of the part at the treeline, showing the peculiar effect where the outlines of some of the arms are just barely registering. More interesting, though, is when we turn our attention to the reflection in the water below:
reflection of over-exposed lightning much more visible
Because water darkens (and polarizes) what it reflects, the bolt itself was reduced enough to become visible. If you scroll back up to the full-frame image, check out the trees to the side, which received enough light from that strike to become faintly illuminated in the frame. That is, seriously, a lot of light from that few milliseconds.

lightning over local pond
While I captured several quite compelling frames (at least, I think so,) I also have several where a distinctive bolt fell just outside of the field of view, throwing some glow in the sky and sometimes a thin arm, but nothing else. Considering that the entire shooting session lasted 11 minutes, there’s no way I’m complaining over the results.

My favorite is a vertical, so we’re going to go long for this one:
lightning over local pond
I wanted to try and get more sky and some more foreground branches in, and this bolt obliged nicely. The rain, which had held off until literally ten seconds after I’d called The Girlfriend to come join me for the show, had started up for this frame – not getting onto the lens, thankfully, but showing in the water. And that crop makes for another fartsy composition by itself.
lightning reflection in rainy pond
I’m not terribly accomplished at finding surreal aspects to capture directly, without camera tricks (though it happens sometimes,) but when I do, I’m happy. Soon after this the rain had become too hard to trust having the camera out, and I wrapped up and trotted home, the camera safely within the bag and staying drier than I did.

I was in the process of editing these pics for the blog when the front seemed like it was centering directly overhead, which is a recipe for a power surge that can fry computers, so I shut down. About ten seconds afterwards, a strike occurred so close that it sounded like a car hit the house, and somehow the damn smoke detector got triggered for a few seconds (still not sure about that one, since the power didn’t seem to trip.) The Girlfriend’s Younger Sprog was out on the screened porch and came in half-deaf – it was pretty impressive. But this delay meant I couldn’t actually post on the same day these were taken, it now being past midnight. Such disappointments.

Early morning storm

I was just about to go to bed when I heard the soft rumbling, and went outside to note the flashes in the sky, from all directions that could be called, “west.” I came back in and pulled up this lovely site I stumbled across, a real-time lightning map. From that, I could see the bulk of activity was west-southwest of us, and appeared like it would pass to the south. So I loaded up the equipment and headed to Jordan Lake, which is one of the few locations close by with a wide-open view in a number of directions, as well as foreground elements that can be exploited at times.

electrical storm over Jordan Lake
electrical storm over Jordan LakeI’ve said it before, numerous times, but lightning photography can be challenging. Where and when the bolts will appear is, of course, wildly variable, and getting a good setting, preferably with some foreground interest, lined up with the active part of a storm is also tricky. And then there’s the rain, which naturally you won’t want your equipment in even if you’re cool with it yourself. It was raining hard enough that I not only was shooting out of the open side door of the van, but I had to back up a bit to keep the wind from blowing rain onto the camera. In the image above, you can see the edges of the van intruding into the photo, but one other thing which I would have liked to have occurred more often: a bright strike had occurred behind me, illuminating the foreground trees just enough to give them a little color and distinction beyond ‘silhouette.’ Too bad that’s the only thing that image has going for it. Both of these have barely visible bolts within them, but well off to the side, small and undramatic. That happens a lot too, but I have even more frames with just cloud glow, no visible lightning at all.

By the way, I feel the need to point out that it was full dark all during these frames – the light is all produced by the lightning, and when I didn’t capture enough flashes, the frames were quite dark. These were facing north, where I’d just come from and where the brunt of the storm had passed – The Girlfriend informed me that it pretty much blew straight through the neighborhood, and sleep was out of the question. So much for that prediction.

electrical storm over Jordan Lake
However, seeing which way the wind was blowing (sorry,) I had switched positions, and these are now facing east after the storm had passed. The foreground is better, and I captured a few distinct bolts within the frame, even though most of what I was seeing were still cloud flashes. This is at 19mm and f6.3 to f8, ISO 250, exposure times varying – I was judging how long to have the shutter open by how many flashes occurred, and how bright they were. There are really no good guidelines for this, except that if you’ve captured three bright flashes, close the shutter and try again. It’s easy to super-expose the sky and lose any of the cloud detail that might have been there, plus you have to recognize that the clouds are moving while the shutter is open, which won’t show up unless they’re illuminated by lightning enough times, in which case you might overlay several different positions atop one another and muddy them out.

Sometimes, however, you know exactly when to close the shutter.

electrical storm over Jordan Lake
This isn’t half as close as it appears, and certainly did not hit that tree – the strike was actually kilometers away, and I barely heard a rumble of thunder from it. But this was what I’ve been after for a while: a distinct lightning bolt taking up a significant portion of the frame, with a worthwhile foreground element.

Except… it’s actually too centered. I mean, just a little off to one side or the other, and it would have been so much better. This is full-frame, so I’ll play around with the cropping…

Also, if you look closely, you can see the evidence of raindrops on the lens, especially right under the island – thankfully they didn’t obscure the bolt. I’d been trying to keep the lens clear, but it was all up to the wind gusts. The camera, as I type this, is out of the bag and both are drying out – keeping a camera in a wet bag is a great way to drive humidity deep within, not a good thing.

Anyway, that was the start of my day. I’m probably not going to top this.

[While I’m on the subject, you should also check out the last storm I was shooting in, this past September.]

Well, crud

Not too long ago, I picked up a simple USB microscope, primarily to see if it could be used to capture insect behavior. There has been no opportunity to try that out yet, though I suspect with the extremely short depth of field, my selection of subject matter is going to be rather narrow.

In the interim, however, I thought I’d check out how it worked on the Triops, restrained as they were in the tiny macro tank (actually a hole drilled in plexi and affixed to a slide to make a little well for a couple of drops of water.) As I was arranging the lighting and focus, I saw the Triops start to behave erratically, bent almost double and struggling. It took me another few moments to get the USB video camera ready to go, but once I did, the Triops was back to normal, more or less, and I realized I’d just missed something. Watch near the top of the well:

First off, I apologize for the lighting issue – the camera has its own set of LED lights, but I dimmed them as far as they’d go and was using an LED flashlight for backlighting, so that’s what all the flashing was about. But, you noticed the recently molted exoskeleton, right?

I mean, seriously – I had the video camera in hand and a marvelous opportunity for some interesting behavior, and missed it by a minute.

molted exoskeleton of Triops newberryi

molted exoskeleton of Triops newberryi
By the way, I can focus sharply on the exoskeleton because it’s not freaking moving!

Now that’s a Triops

Triops newberryi at 3mm
After my failed attempt to hatch them late last year, I purchased a packet of eggs online and tried again a few days ago, this time actually producing several examples of Triops – click on that link for more basic info. I have been told this is a Triops newberryi, a less-common species, the only other North American one being Triops longicaudatus. This specimen here, hyperactive enough to be exceedingly difficult to focus upon, much less obtain a nicely detailed image of, is roughly 3mm in overall length. They are capable of getting a lot bigger, 20mm or more, so keep checking back to see what happens.

Monday monochrome

Hibiscus flower in green channel monochromeI felt like I just had to do this, for some reason…

Now, the intention was that this would introduce a new webpage I’ve been working on. But my time this week has been scattered, and so the page isn’t ready yet. Thus, this serves as a teaser instead, a hint of things to come. I’ll be back within a few days to provide the update and the link. Remain calm.

Dogpile

A few days back, in the comments to an article regarding the really piss-poor showing of Americans in their acceptance of evolution, someone argued about the poll question which delivered these results by pointing out that the concepts of god and evolution “are not mutually exclusive.” For instance, god could have created the Universe and/or Earth, and set in motion the evolutionary processes, then left it all alone.

Of course, this isn’t the first time I’ve heard this one; the view is held by a very large percentage of people, with innumerable variations on how and when and to what extent god acted – it is probably far more accurate to say that every religious person has their own personal view of how things are supposed to have occurred, rather than believing that people in any given sect all follow the same beliefs. Yet, allowing for broad categorizations, the idea that evolution and creation are not incompatible is supported by no small number of people. Which is scary it itself, because it says so much more than it appears on the face of it.

Should someone ask you about riding the bus while wearing scuba gear, you could honestly and accurately tell them that these were not incompatible. They would of course be delighted about this, because their scuba gear must fulfill some aberrant desire in their lives – otherwise, why would they even bother asking about such a wildly irrelevant and pointless pursuit? And that’s pretty much where we are with the ‘compatible creation and evolution’ viewpoints – or, indeed, any attempt to tie together religion and science. [Professor Ceiling Cat, under the pen name of “Jerry Coyne,” has a soon-to-be-released book that tackles this subject, and I’m curious to see how similar our approaches are.]

Let’s start with, science is a method of producing not just knowledge, but functionality as well – which, really, is the entire point of knowledge, isn’t it? When Darwin proposed descent with modification, it inferred that there would be a physical catalyst for this, a method of transferring biological information from parent to offspring – it predicted the presence of DNA. The Big Bang theory predicted the presence, right now, of residual energy from an event that occurred 13.8 billion years ago. Both of these were absolutely true. Moreover, our knowledge about them and how they react is able to be used – technological and medical advances, predicting further aspects, and so on. That’s why science is so beneficial.

Religion, on the other hand, does not, and cannot, serve in any such manner. If we are to believe that god started the evolutionary process, what does this provide? How does it change evolution? What does it predict will happen? How does this differ from the idea that evolution is only a function of physical laws? In other words, how does created evolution differ from ‘just happens’ evolution? Only one of them could be True™, so how do we determine which?

All right, that’s unfair of me, I admit it. Let’s start a little simpler: what evidence do we have that points to created evolution in the first place? There must be some reason why people would believe that not only a god exists, but it at least started this process. This book, you say? Okay, sit tight, let me see what it says. Hmmmmm. You know, I’m not seeing a goddamn thing about evolution in this book at all – did I miss something? I mean, I see some really weird shit in here about where species came from, but even allowing for poetic license or metaphorical usage I can’t even tie this in with natural selection in any coherent fashion.

I’m not going to apologize for the sarcasm, because it’s well deserved. I didn’t even specify which holy book was being used, because it doesn’t matter; they’re all ridiculously wrong about evolution – as well as, let’s be frank, virtually everything else about where the planet came from and what the sun and stars are. One cannot use religion in any form to generate knowledge or promote an understanding of our world. There are some rather telling aspects of this too, like how it took thousands of years to come up with evolution when we supposedly have this great explanatory text given to us. And how once we stumbled upon it by ignoring the preconceived notions and actually paid attention to bare reality, all the churches were soooo quick to accept it and hold it up as the evidence that their books were right all along…

Yeah, there’s that sarcasm again. Because we all know what’s really at work here. When science has demonstrated, through stacks and stacks of evidence, that such scripture is dead wrong, people are still desperate to find a way to retain their core concept of a sky daddy, and may adopt whatever bastardization works to try and cram them together (while others will openly deny stark reality, mostly because their holy men told them to and they remain too feeble-minded to think on their own, much less actually have any standards of evidence.) It does not come from the explanatory power. It does not come from the usefulness and functionality of ‘creation.’ It does not come from the accuracy of the predictions – most times, no predictions can be found at all. It only comes from self-indulgence, the desperation to hang onto this cherished worldview, in total disregard of how little it works for anything.

That’s not the ugly, ridiculous part. Because the very idea of this sky daddy comes from scripture (and to no small extent, social pressures.) But to consider creationism and evolution to be compatible in any form, significant portions of this very same scripture must be disregarded wholesale. In fact, I have yet to see any religious person, anywhere, who has not purposefully selected the portions of scripture that they want to hold up as the word of god, while treating other portions as irrelevant or poetic or just plain beneath notice. Isn’t that fascinating? It must be a special skill, being able to adjudicate the veracity of the holy books so effortlessly…

Also interesting is how often the demarcations are seen, where ‘moderate’ religious folk distance themselves from ‘fundamental’ religious folk, not wishing to be seen in the same room and often defining exactly what a proper religion is – again, these special interpretive skills over scripture. It is extremely easy to unite these folk, however, by using one’s own interpretive skills to declare the entirety of scripture as irrelevant and pointless. No matter how many different aspects have been ignored by the religious, no matter how selective or creative they are in interpretation, that conclusion is simply unacceptable.

We can’t ignore the frequent argument that religion and scripture serve a purpose in providing appeasement to people, giving them a worldview that they like – that’s really why this whole compatibility issue even arises. One must ask, however, how important this indulgence really is. First off, does it actually make sense to believe in something completely unprovable and wholly inapplicable to everything we can experience, and not just believing, but making decisions based on such beliefs? How many other fantasies should we be running our lives over – not to mention the lives of others? I always had the impression this was a bad thing. I also had the impression ‘personal choice’ was this thing that isn’t intended to affect anyone else. But more importantly, I myself would really, really like to take all of the people incapable of using driving lanes and turn signals properly, and run them right off the road into a ditch – it would make me feel so much better. So let me know how important self-indulgence is, because I have errands to run this afternoon.

Yet, no matter what religious folk tell me is okay by their example, I’m still going to go with what both experience and critical thought tells me is best, which is to see the world as it is, to follow the evidence, and to put my trust in something that has demonstrated its functionality and worthiness of that trust. There might be things that I would like to be the case – for instance, that the vast majority of people put emphasis on rational consideration – but believing it just because I desire it to be true is delusional. Our brains are capable of accomplishing a lot more than that.

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A few days back, the aforementioned Professor Ceiling Cat featured this video by Brian Dalton, otherwise known as Mr. Deity, and I figured I should go ahead and embed it here, because I couldn’t have said it any better myself, even though I have said quite a few aspects of this before. Anyway, here’s his take on being a ‘fundamentalist atheist.’

By the way, the tag, “The Way of the Mister,” has two meanings, one referring to his Mr. Deity skits, the other an obvious mockery of The Way of the Master, a series of inept religious apologist videos featuring Kirk Cameron and Ray “Bananas” Comfort. Interestingly, this mockery is somehow exponentially more intelligent and incisive than that which it mocks, and as a guy that grew up on Mad Magazine, I can appreciate this.

*     *     *     *

It’s Eostre, and so I must once again feature this quiz, courtesy of David Fitzgerald for the content, and Phil Ferguson at SkepticMoney for the hosting.

8. When/Where did Jesus ascend back to heaven?

a. Jesus returns to heaven on the same day he arose, right after dinner, from a room in Jerusalem.
b. We don’t know exactly, but it’s at least 8 days after the resurrection, when the despondent apostles have gone back to being fishermen on the sea of Tiberias.
c. After his resurrection, Jesus spends at least 40 days of teaching his disciples in Jerusalem before ascending to heaven from the Mt. of Olives.
d. Jesus didn’t ascend into heaven; he met his disciples in the mountains of Galilee and told them he would be with them always.
e. We don’t really know; Luke is the only gospel writer who actually mentions the ascension.

Remember what I said about selectivity? Yeah…