Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The many elephants in the room in Ferguson, Missouri

As long as I'm pointing out the obvious, I figure I should point out a few of the proverbial elephants in the living room in Ferguson, Missouri: the town is 70% black, but the government is overwhelmingly white.  There are only two possible reasons for this: either blacks think that having their town run by whites is just hunky dory, or blacks in Fergusson don't vote.  Unsurprisingly, the latter turns out to be the case.
According to a Washington Post analysis, an estimated 6% of blacks and 17% of whites turned out for the 2013 municipal elections in the township
I was shocked by these numbers.  It's not just that blacks don't vote, nobody votes in Ferguson!  Let's do the math: Ferguson has about 21,000 residents.  70% are black, 30% white.  So 21,000 x 0.7 x 0.06 = 880 black people voted, and 21,000 x 0.3 x 0.17 = 1070 white people voted.

As the mechanic who opened the hood of the non-function car only to find that the engine was gone said, "Well, there's yer problem right there."  It would only take an additional 250 black voters showing up to completely reverse the power dynamic in Ferguson.  That (and remember, this post is about pointing out the obvious) is far fewer than the number showing up to protest in the streets.

If there is a silver lining to Michael Brown's tragic death it is that Ferguson's black community might be finally driven out of their complacency.  There are renewed efforts to register black voters there.  And also unsurprisingly (pointing out the obvious again), Republicans are not happy about it:
In an interview with Breitbart News, Missouri RNC executive director Matt Wills expressed outrage about the reports [of efforts to register black voters].
“If that’s not fanning the political flames, I don’t know what is,” Wills said, “I think it’s not only disgusting but completely inappropriate.”
So black people registering to vote is "disgusting and inappropriate" according to the Republicans.  I'll say this for Matt Wills: at least he's willing to stand up for what he believes.  But as long as I'm pointing out the obvious, I will once again celebrate the fact that we live in a great country, where everyone has a right to express their views, no matter how repugnant.

Finally, no discussion of Ferguson and repugnant views would be complete without giving a shout-out to Professor Sunil Dutta, an ex-police officer who opined in the Washington Post that the best strategy for not getting shot dead by a police officer is to unquestioning obsequiousness.  Pointing out the obvious is starting the get a little old, so I'll leave it up to the fine folks at Reason.
If you have the attitude that you are owed deference and instant obedience by the people around you, and that you are justified in using violence against them if they don't comply, we already have a problem. That's especially true if official institutions back you up, which they do. 
If you really think that everybody else should "just do what I tell you," you're wearing the wrong uniform in the wrong country. And if you really can't function with some give and take—a few nasty names, a little argument—of the sort that people in all sorts of jobs put up with every damned day, do us all a favor: quit. 
The law enforcement problem in this country goes well beyond boys with toys. It's much deeper, and needs to be torn out by the roots.

This is what real religious persecution looks like, part 2

Religious persecution does not look like this.  It looks like this:
Saudi Arabia’s Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice has asked the interior ministry to arrest several people for apostasy and atheism. 
The commission did not divulge the number of people whose arrest it requested, but it said that they insulted God and Prophet Mohammad (PBUH).
 And this:
In 13 countries around the world, all of them Muslim, people who openly espouse atheism or reject the official state religion of Islam face execution under the law, according to a detailed study issued on Tuesday. 
And beyond the Islamic nations, even some of the West's apparently most democratic governments at best discriminate against citizens who have no belief in a god and at worst can jail them for offenses dubbed blasphemy, it said.
And this:
Israeli police on Sunday blocked more than 200 far-right Israeli protesters from rushing guests at a wedding of a Jewish woman and Muslim man as they shouted "death to the Arabs" in a sign of tensions stoked by the Gaza war.
(The persecution in this case, of course, being perpetrated by the mob, not the police.)

There really is very little sport in finding examples of religious persecution around the world, but not in the U.S.  What you will find in the U.S. is a fair number of bigots whining about the decline of bigotry in polite society.  You'll also find people who think the earth is flat.  Some people are impervious to reason.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

What's wrong with this picture?

Here's a hint: Dick Durbin is not a Republican.

This is what real religious persecution looks like

Just in case your persecute-o-meter needs calibration:
National spokesman for Iraqi Christians and Chaldean-American businessman Mark Arabo said the "evil" being carried out by ISIS militants in Iraq now includes shocking beheadings of children...
I try to temper my criticism of religious people with empathy for the reason I believe they adhere to their faiths, but I feel driven to say that in the cold light of true religious persecution, the baseless whining of some American Christians really starts to look pretty reprehensible.

Are Christians persecuted in the United States?

The answer to the titular question is so clearly "no" that I would normally not dignify it with a response.  But commenter Publius, who otherwise seems to be reasonable and rational, presented some data to support the proposition that "finding Christian harassment in the past few years is like fishing with dynamite."  So I decided to take the time to investigate.  After all, it is important to keep an open mind.  You never know when one of your prejudices might turn out to be wrong.

Publius cites five primary examples, six secondary examples, and three examples that he characterizes as "vignettes".  I looked at every one of these and, unsurprisingly, they do not support the conclusion.  Of Publius's fourteen examples, only one is even a legitimate example of harassment of any sort.  That is this one:

Two tennagers assaulted by UCSB professor and suffer grand theft
Remember the University of California, Santa Barbara feminist studies professor who forcibly stole a graphic anti-abortion sign from two abortion protesters, then scratched and appeared to push one of the protesters (a 16-year-old girl), then destroyed the sign? 
She pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of grand theft, vandalism and battery on Thursday.
This is clearly a case of harassment (as even the perpetrator has now tacitly admitted).  But it is not a case of harassment of Christians.  We don't even know for certain that the victims were Christians, at least not from the account that Publius cites.  The word "Christian" does not even appear in that story.  It might be a good bet that they were Christians (because opponents of reproductive freedom often are) but we don't know that,  and it doesn't matter anyway.  Even if they were Christians it is clear that they were attacked not because of their religious beliefs but because of the political views they were espousing (not that this makes the attack any less reprehensible).  As you will see, this will prove to be a common theme.

The only other incident that involves violence is this one:

Hate crime: gay activists brutally beat christians in America
As revealed in the disturbing video, two Christian street preachers stood near a gay pride march, one holding a large sign and the other one clutching a Bible. 
The sign did not make any targeted, inflammatory statements against any particular group.
But several of the marchers did not care.
A heavy-set man and a woman broke off from the march to confront the preachers. The preacher in the “Trust Jesus” t-shirt tried to block the initial shoving with his Bible. 
Both preachers attempted to retreat from conflict.
A short man knocked down the preacher holding the sign, taking it away from him as the heavy-set man sucker punched the preacher in the head. 
The short man showed no mercy as he kicked the now-down preacher in the ribs.
This sounds pretty damning, and the violence is, again, reprehensible.  However, if you watch the video you will see a number of salient points that are not mentioned in the written account:

1.  The incident happened at a gay pride rally.

2.  The preachers were repeatedly warned verbally and in no uncertain terms that their presence was not welcome, and were advised, again in no uncertain terms, that they should leave.

3.  The inciting incident was not an attack on the preachers themselves, but the theft of one of their signs.  You can watch the video and judge for yourself who was attacking who, but the fact is that for most of the fracas, the preacher being "attacked" is on top of the putative "attacker."

So again, even if one grants that the preachers were attacked, they were not attacked because they were Christians, they were attacked because they were behaving like assholes.  Preaching that homosexuality is a sin at a gay pride rally is like walking into a church and preaching against God.  It's just rude.  Of course rudeness does not merit violence, but it does forfeit you the moral high ground.

Two down, twelve to go.  This is going to be a long slog, but I really want to definitively debunk this idea that Christians are the victims.

Brendan Eich resigns as CEO of Mozilla
The resignation of Mozilla's CEO amid outrage that he supported an anti-gay marriage campaign is prompting concerns about how Silicon Valley's strongly liberal culture might quash the very openness that is at the region's foundation. 
Mozilla co-founder Brendan Eich stepped down Thursday as CEO, just days after his appointment. He left the nonprofit maker of the Firefox browser after furious attacks, largely on Twitter, over his $1,000 contribution to support of a now-overturned 2008 gay-marriage ban in California.
As with the case of the UCSB professor's victims, we have no evidence that Brendan Eich is a Christian.  Just as it is possible for a non-Christian to oppose abortion rights, it is also possible for a non-Christian to oppose marriage equality.  I myself wrote some harsh criticism of Brendan Eich and I have no idea if he's a Christian or not.  What I do know (because Brendan's actions provide conclusive evidence) is that he is an unrepentant bigot.  Personally, I have no problem with bigots being harassed for their bigotry.  I am not a moral relativist.  Bigotry is evil because it retards the advancement of ideas.  But that is another discussion.

Protests against Catholic and Morman churches for California Prop. 8 support
Protests against Proposition 8 supporters in California took place starting in November 2008. These included prominent protests against the Roman Catholic church and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), which collaboratively campaigned in favor of California's Proposition 8 through volunteer and financial support for the measure.[1] The proposition was a voter referendum that amended the state constitution to recognize marriage only as being between one man and one woman, thus banning same-sex marriage, which was legal in the state following a May 2008 California Supreme Court case.
Same story, except that these protests are not harassment of any sort.  They are entirely legitimate political responses to political action.  They are a response to bigots who made themselves fair game by initiating political action to deprive other people of their rights.  That these particular bigots happen to be Mormon has nothing to do with the protests (except insofar as their Mormonism almost certainly motivated their bigotry).

Chick-fil-A faces protests after comments by COO Dan Cathy
American fast-food chain Chick-fil-A was the focus of controversy following a series of public comments made in June 2012 by chief operating officer Dan Cathy opposing same-sex marriage. This followed reports that Chick-fil-A's charitable endeavor, the S. Truett Cathy-family-operated WinShape Foundation, had made millions in donations to political organizations which oppose LGBT rights. LGBT rights activists called for protests and boycotts of the chain, while counter-protestors rallied in support by eating at the restaurants. National political figures both for and against the actions spoke out and some business partners severed ties with the chain. 
Chick-fil-A released a statement in July 2012 stating, "Going forward, our intent is to leave the policy debate over same-sex marriage to the government and political arena."
Are you beginning to notice a pattern here?  Do I even need to explain this one?  Again, these protests were political, peaceful, and their motives had nothing to do with the subject of their protests being Christian and everything to do with their being politically active bigots.

Military priests face arrest for celebrating mass
According the Archdiocese for Military Services, GS and contract priests (who are paid by the federal government as independent contractors in places where there aren’t enough active-duty priests to meet the needs of Catholics in military service) are being forbidden from celebrating Mass, even on a volunteer basis. 
If they violate this restriction, they face possible arrest. FOR CELEBRATING MASS.
OK, this sounds more promising.  Being arrested for celebrating mass certainly sounds like a flagrant violation of the First Amendment.  But again, there is a salient fact that is not evident from these excerpts: this incident occurred during the government shutdown of October 2013.  In fact, Publius edited the headline to obscure this fact.  The original headline was "MILITARY PRIESTS FACE ARREST FOR CELEBRATING MASS IN DEFIANCE OF SHUTDOWN" (caps in original).  So again, the priests were not facing arrest because they were Christian, they were facing arrest because they were breaking the law.  During the shutdown (which, again, it is worth noting was precipitated by the intransigence of Congressional Republicans), many contractors were furloughed and hence barred from government facilities.  But were Christians specifically singled out?  Publius's next example is closely related:

The Obama administration is continuing to prohibit approximately 50 Catholic priests from saying Mass and administering other sacraments at U.S. military facilities around the world, according to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese for the Military Services. 
Father Ray Leonard, who is one of these priests, and who serves as the Catholic chaplain at Navel Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia, filed suit Monday against the Department of Defense, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, the Department of the Navy and Navy Secretary Ray Mabus. His suit—joined by Navy veteran Fred Naylor, who is a member of the Catholic congregation at Kings Bay--alleges that the administration is violating his and his congregation’s First Amendment rights to the free exercise of religion, the freedom of speech and the freedom of assembly. 
DOD has been prohibiting Father Leonard and the other Catholic priests from administering the sacraments and providing other services to their congregations even though two weeks ago Congress passed, and President Barack Obama signed, a law that instructed DOD to maintain on the job and keep paying contract employees who were supporting the troops. 
DOD took this action because Hagel determined--after consulting with Attorney General Eric Holder's Justice Department--that civilian Catholic priests, working under contract as chaplains, did not, among other things, “contribute to the morale” and “well-being” of service personnel. 
"The Department of Defense consulted closely with the Department of Justice, which expressed its view that the law does not permit a blanket recall of all civilians," Hagel said in an Oct. 5 memorandum. "Under our current reading of the law, the standard of 'support to members of the Armed Forces' requires a focus on those employees whose responsibilities contribute to the morale, well-being, capabilities, and readiness of covered military members during the lapse of appropriations." 
Among the specific examples Hagel provided of civilian contractors whom he believes meet this standard are those working in secular "Family Support Programs and Activities," "Behavorial Health and Suicide Prevention Programs" and "Health Care Activities and Providers"--but not priests.
Wow, that really does sound bad.  But if you actually look at the Oct. 5 memorandum you will find that things are not exactly as they are portrayed in the CNS News account.  For one thing, the words "Catholic", "Christian" and "priest" do not appear in that memo.  What is really going on here, as the memo makes clear, is that Congress shut down the government and left it up to the executive branch in general, and the DoD in particular in this case, to figure out how to handle the resulting mess.  The DoD prioritized what it considered to be essential services (like supply chain management -- i.e. providing soldiers with food) and religious services didn't make the cut.  Even if you allow the English language to be sufficiently mangled as to allow the decision to prioritize food over organized religious services to be characterized as "harassment", this incident is still in no way harassment of Christians.  All religious services were suspended, not just Christian ones.  It's just that the Christians were the only ones who whined about it.

US Army defines Christian ministry as domestic hate group"
Several dozen U.S. Army active duty and reserve troops were told last week that the American Family Association, a well-respected Christian ministry, should be classified as a domestic hate group because the group advocates for traditional family values.
You should be able to guess that this account is stilted merely by the fact that the source is Fox News.  First, it was not "The U.S. Army", it was a single instructor at a single briefing.  And second, it is in fact defensible to call the American Family Association a hate group because they do in fact promulgate hateful ideas about gays.

Florida Teacher Suspended for Anti-Gay Marriage Posts on Personal Facebook Page
A former “Teacher of the Year” in Mount Dora, Fla. has been suspended and could lose his job after he voiced his objection to gay marriage on his personal Facebook page. 
Jerry Buell, a veteran American history teacher at Mount Dora High School, was removed from his teaching duties this week as school officials in Lake County investigate allegations that what he posted was biased towards homosexuals.
Yes, I know.  It's starting to get a little painful, isn't it?  Like Brendan Eich, this teacher was not fired for being a Christian, this teacher was fired for being a bigot.

We're nearly done.  Only one more "vignette" to go:

U.S. Airman punished for his faith
The shocking stories of religious hostility in our nation’s military continue, and now, Liberty Institute represents Senior Master Sergeant Phillip Monk, a 19-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force who was relieved of his duties because of his faith and moral convictions. 
Senior Master Sergeant Monk, who served as a First Sergeant at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, recently returned from deployment and found he had a new commander who was an open lesbian. 
“In one of our first meetings, she was talking about her promotion and she mentioned something about a benediction,” Monk told Fox News. “She said she wanted a chaplain but objected to one particular chaplain that she called a ‘bigot’ because he preached that homosexuality is a sin.” 
“She then said, ‘I don’t know what kind of people actually believe that kind of crap,’” Monk continued. “I knew I was going to have a rough time in this unit and I would have to be very careful about what I said.” 
Issues arose when Monk was asked to advise his commander on a disciplinary matter involving an Air Force instructor who was accused of making objectionable comments about gay marriage. After a thorough investigation, Monk determined the instructor meant no harm by his comments, and suggested that his commander could use the incident as a way to teach about tolerance and diversity. 
Monk, a devout evangelical Christian, says he was told that he wasn’t on the same page as the commander, and that if he didn’t get on the same page, they would find another place for him to work. 
Later, the commander ordered Monk to answer the question of whether people who object to gay marriage are discriminating. Monk responded that he could not answer the way his commander wanted and feared an honest response would put him in legal trouble. 
At that point, Monk was relieved of his duties.
It's hard to sort out exactly what happened in this case, but whatever it was it had nothing to do with Christianity and everything to do with homophobia.  This is not to say that Monk's dismissal was appropriate.  People have a Constitutional right to be hold bigoted views, and a case might be made that homophobic bigots are being subject to unfair harassment.  But the evidence for harassment targeted at Christians is zero.  Zip.  Nada.

To see what systematic discrimination against a worldview looks like you have to look at atheism, because atheists are subject to systematic discrimination (which occasionally rises to the level of harassment) in the U.S.  For example, "Humanist" was not recognized as a religious affiliation by the military before April of this year.  As recently as June of last year, a proposal to fund Humanist chaplains in the military failed to pass.  Can you imagine the uproar if Catholics were specifically excluded from the chaplaincy?  And yet that is exactly the situation that non-theists in the military face.  Atheists are the last minority towards which systematic societal discrimination is still considered acceptable.
Discrimination against atheists in the United States occurs in legal, personal, social, and professional contexts. Some American atheists compare their situation to the discrimination faced by ethnic minorities, LGBT communities, and women.[42][43][44][45] "Americans still feel it's acceptable to discriminate against atheists in ways considered beyond the pale for other groups," asserted Fred Edwords of the American Humanist Association.[46] However, other atheists reject these comparisons, arguing that while atheists may face disapproval they have not faced significant oppression or discrimination.[47][48] 
In the United States, seven state constitutions include religious tests that would effectively prevent atheists from holding public office, and in some cases being a juror/witness... 
Respondents to a survey were less likely to support a kidney transplant for hypothetical atheists and agnostics needing it, than for Christian patients with similar medical needs.[59] 
Few politicians have been willing to identify as non-theists, since such revelations have been considered "political suicide".[64][65] In a landmark move, California Representative Pete Stark came out in 2007 as the first openly nontheistic member of Congress.[46] In 2009, City Councilman Cecil Bothwell of Asheville, North Carolina was called "unworthy of his seat" because of his open atheism.[66] Several polls have shown that about 50 percent of Americans would not vote for a qualified atheist for president.[67][68] A 2006 study found that 40% of respondents characterized atheists as a group that did "not at all agree with my vision of American society", and that 48% would not want their child to marry an atheist. In both studies, percentages of disapproval of atheists were above those for Muslims, African-Americans and homosexuals.[69] Many of the respondents associated atheism with immorality, including criminal behaviour, extreme materialism, and elitism.[70] Atheists and atheist organizations have alleged discrimination against atheists in the military,[71][72][73][74][75][76] and recently, with the development of the Army's Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program, atheists have alleged institutionalized discrimination.[77][78] In several child custody court rulings, atheist parents have been discriminated against, either directly or indirectly. As child custody laws in the United States are often based on the "best interests of the child" principle, they leave family court judges ample room to consider a parent’s ideology when settling a custody case. Atheism, lack of religious observation and regular church attendance, and the inability to prove one's willingness and capacity to attend to religion with his children, have been used to deny custody to non-religious parents.[79][80]
The constitutions of ... seven US states ban atheists from holding public office.
And here we come to the real nub of the matter.  Not only is it false that Christians are systematically discriminated against, in fact the exact opposite is true.  Christians are not the discriminatees, they are the discriminators.  They have in fact become so accustomed to their position of power and hegemony in American society that they perceive that power and hegemony as a basic right, as the natural order of things.

Well, it isn't.  Notwithstanding that the vast majority of Americans self-identify as Christians,  the United States is not a Christian nation.  It never was, and God willing it never will be.  It is a secular nation, areligious (but obviously not irreligious).  It welcomes Christians and non-Christians of all stripes.  It welcomes Catholics and Krishnas, Baptists and Buddhists, Methodists and Muslims, believers and non-believers.

What it does not welcome so much is intolerance.  If you believe that God wants you to impose (your view of) His will on others, then you do indeed have a problem, because the price of being free to worship as you see fit is to leave others free to do the same (or not) as they see fit.  So if you really feel persecuted here because you can't stand letting other people enjoy the same freedoms you possess, you might want to consider moving to, say, Cameroon.  We won't stop you.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

How to get my business

[Warning: emotional ranting ahead.  Proceed with caution.]

Apparently I was not the only who was annoyed to have received one of Restoration Hardware’s ridiculously over-the-top catalog collections.  This monstrosity weighed in at about three hundred and fifty thousand pounds, and it was all I could do in my advancing years to hoist it in to our recycling bin.  Which is where it went directly from our now sadly sagging mailbox.  It did not pass Go.  It did not collect $200.  In fact, in the wake of this display of hideously bad judgement I have vowed never to set foot in a Restoration Hardware store again.

Not that I ever set foot in a Restoration Hardware store before.

And this is the one encouraging thing about this incident: despite all the on-line tracking and sharing of personal information that goes on behind the scenes in modern commerce, the fact that Restoration Hardware could get it so horribly, horribly wrong with respect to me indicates that there is some hope of maintaining some privacy even in today's world.

Still, having to throw out seventeen tons of unwanted catalogs every year seems like a high price to pay, so I have a modest proposal for marketers on how to find out what I want: ask me.  I'd be happy to tell you.  In fact, Google and Amazon have already figured this out, which is why they are kicking everyone else's butt.  I (obviously) never get a catalog from either Amazon or Google, and yet I always go to one or the other when I want to buy anything nowadays besides groceries.  Why?  Precisely because they don't send me catalogs.  They are like old-school domestic servants, never speaking unless spoken too.  But when I want something they are always immediately available to give me exactly what I want, even in those cases where I don't know exactly what it is.

So listen up, marketers everywhere.  Here's how to get my business:

1.  First and foremost, leave me the fuck alone unless I solicit you!  Do not fill my mailbox -- either physical or email -- with catalogs or flyers, and especially do not try cheap (or, as the case may be, not so cheap) tricks like sending out monstrously huge catalogs or putting your ads inside envelopes that kinda sorta look like they were sent by overnight mail but obviously weren't.  The more you try to get my attention, the more I will resist you.

2.  When I do come to you (and I will) make it easy for me to find shit.  Yes, I get that this is a tall order.  There's a particular style of headboard that I've been looking for for years.  I know it exists because I saw one once, but I have never been able to find one since.  If you are a purveyor of headboards, all that stands between you and having me as a customer is figuring out how I can communicate to you what I want and then having you find it for me.  Yes, I get that this is not easy.  There are a zillion styles of headboards out there.  If it were easy, everybody would be doing it already.  But here's a suggestion: I have a photo of this headboard that I'm looking for.  I could send it to you, and you could unleash an army of mechanical turks to browse your inventory and find a match.  AFAIK no one does this.  But this is just to illustrate the aphorism that there are no problems, only business opportunities.

But even in the face of such challenges there is still a ton of low-lying fruit that isn't being picked.  For example, every now and then I buy a new digital camera.  Figuring what the current state of the art is in terms of features and price-performance is a nightmare.  It should be technically straightforward to build a site where I could enter what I'm looking for in a camera (good image quality and as much optical zoom as I can get in as small a form factor as possible) and have it figure out which models I should be looking at.  Same goes for cars.

Every single camera and car site I've ever seen gets this wrong.  The first question a car site asks me is invariably "What make of car are you interested in?"  I don't know, God dammit!  If I knew that, I'd be going straight to that manufacturer's site.  I'm a childless-by-choice male on the perpetual brink of a midlife crisis, so I want a small, sporty car with two doors, four seats, and a nice balance of performance and economy: not too pokey, but I don't need to break the world record for going zero to sixty either.  Oh, and I want it to be blue.  Or maybe red.  Yellow is nice too.

(Right now I drive a Hyundai Genesis Coupe, which is the perfect car for me except that the transmission is pretty awful. )

All this really boils down to one rule: I want to do business with vendors who treat me with respect instead of like a mark.  It really is that simple.

Here endeth the rant.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

We have a poltergeist named Oliver

It is not often that things happen that lead me to seriously question my world view.  The last time was about eleven years ago when a mysterious message appeared on our answering machine, but that only lasted about 30 minutes before we were able to solve the mystery.  The current situation I think is going to prove much less tractable.  Here's what happened.

We have a Netflix subscription of the sort that lets us have two discs at any one time.  We always keep those discs in the same place next to our television set.  I will call the two discs we had on hand the other day Movie A and Movie B.

Last Thursday we had cleaners in to tidy up the place.  We hire them from an agency and they come regularly, every three weeks or so.  We've been doing this for several years.  After they left we noticed that one of the two discs was missing, along with the red envelope that is used to return the disc to Netflix when we're done watching it.  Nancy and both did a very thorough search looking for the missing disc but it was nowhere to be found.  We both checked the place where we normally keep the discs (it's right on top of a credenza in full view) multiple times.  I even went so far as to search the trash to make sure it had not inadvertently gotten thrown out.  We were both 100% convinced: only Movie A was there.  Movie B was gone.

We contacted the cleaning agency to see if maybe the cleaners had put the disc somewhere but they said they hadn't touched it.  And we believed them.  Why on earth would anyone want to steal a Netflix DVD?  I even started to look into how much it would cost us when we eventually fessed up to Netflix that we had lost their disc, but I decided to wait a few more days before actually reporting it missing.

So tonight we decided to watch the remaining movie, which is to say, Movie A.  I took the disc out of its sleeve and loaded it in the DVD player, and we were both surprised to see that it was not Movie A, it was Movie B.  Wait, what??? Movie B was the one that had been missing for six days!  I went to the credenza to investigate, and there, right where they were supposed to be, were two red return envelopes, and the second disc, the one that had not gone missing.  But it was underneath Movie B.

We both sat there with our jaws on the floor for about ten minutes, completely at a loss.

We have actually one previous instance of a mysterious disappearance and subsequent reappearance, but this is the first one where both of us thoroughly witnessed both events.  The first time was a credit card receipt that vanished off Nancy's desk, so I was naturally a little skeptical of her account, but I'm a little less skeptical now.

I can certainly understand, dear reader, if you don't believe me.  I certainly wouldn't believe me.  I barely believe it now, and I actually experienced it.  It's easily the weirdest thing that has ever happened to me.

I can think of three possible explanations:

1.  Nancy is pulling one over on me.  This would be completely out of character for her.  In the twenty-plus years I have known her she has never played a practical joke on anyone.

2.  We were both suffering from some sort of shared delusion for six days.

3.  We have a poltergeist.

Theory 3 seems at least as plausible as the other two.  In fact, we even have a pretty good lead as to our poltergeist's identity.  When we cleared the brush from the hillside behind our house a few years ago we discovered a grave marker for a dog named Oliver P. Scaliwags, who had belonged to a previous owner of our property.  According to neighborhood lore, Ollie was quite the little prankster. Maybe he still is.

When our cat Purrcy died recently we bought a Thai spirit house to put in the back yard thinking that Purrcy and Oliver might both like to live in it and that would keep them out of our house.  Apparently, it's not working.