Monday, January 31, 2011

In which I discover infinite regress in a cake

Years ago, when my two oldest daughters were small and my son and youngest daughter were merely unholy, demented gleams in my eye, my spouse, H, brought home a small cake.

Then she made the mistake of going somewhere with our daughters and leaving me alone with the cake. She thought the cake was safe, because she left what she thought were clear instructions. "Kuri," she said. "You can eat half the cake, but no more. Save half for us. Understand?"

"Yeah, sure." As soon as they left, I ate half the cake. It was good cake. I wanted more, but I'd already eaten half.

But then something occurred to me: H had said I could only eat half the cake, but she'd never said how many times I could eat half the cake. So I ate half of what was left.

It was good cake. So I ate another half. And then another.

By then there wasn't much cake left. But I'd never eaten more than half of it at one time. That's when I realized that I'd made an exciting discovery: no matter how many times I ate half the cake, there would always be half left! First I'd eaten half. Then I'd eaten half of the half. Then half of the half of the half. Then half of the half of the half of the half.

And I could keep on doing this as many times as I wanted! I could actually get an infinite number of halves from one cake this way! I could spend eternity just eating halves of cake, because I'd never run out! I'd discovered infinite regress in a cake!

I could hardly wait to tell H what I'd learned. But when she came home, she didn't share my enthusiasm. In fact, she was angry! All she seemed to care about was that fifteen-sixteenths of the cake was gone. My explanation that I'd never eaten more than half of it at any one time fell on deaf ears. And she didn't care at all about infinite regress.

She made me go out and get another cake. And I had to promise not to eat any of it. I love H, but some people just aren't very interested in science.

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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (1/29/2011)

Rape is only really rape if it involves force says the new House Republican majority.

The state of the art in arguments against gay marriage: Marriage is very important for society and very good for children; therefore, gay people must not be allowed to get married. Also, there are no data to support my view of gay marriage, but there will be in some future research that hasn't been done yet.

Joe Lieberman wants the president to be able to switch off the internet like Egypt did.

Maybe he'll need to, because inequality in the USA is worse than in Egypt, Tunisia, or Yemen.

Why hospice care is so hard to get right.

O China, you don't have to try to be cool. We love you just the way you are. Really.

The Mormons are coming after your porn!

New evidence that T. rex was a hunter, not a scavenger.

The Egyptian jackal is actually a wolf.

Gene Roddenberry's original pitch for Star Trek (PDF file).

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Friday, January 28, 2011

Why I'm pro-choice

Having recently tackled gun control, I thought I'd turn to something less controversial: abortion.

Two women basically inform my opinion on abortion.

The first is my my spouse, H. When H's mother, K, was pregnant, her father wanted K to get an abortion. He insisted on it, in fact. K refused, and H was born.

I've always found that story rather frightening. What if K hadn't stood up to H's father and had gotten the abortion? H would never have been born. She wouldn't be my spouse. My children would not exist.

So I learned something from that. An embryo isn't a person. And it wasn't H that would have been aborted. But it was sort of H. It wasn't nothing. So that story taught me to take the human potential of an embryo very seriously.

The other woman who taught me something about abortion was a Filipina woman named Francisca. H and I met her in the Tokyo OB/GYN hospital where we were having our first baby. It was a happy time for us, but not for Francisca.

She was in the hospital because she was suffering complications from a botched abortion. She told us she was in Japan to work at a foreign embassy. She had been raped and impregnated by one of her employers.

She'd gone home to the Philippines and got an abortion. Since abortion is illegal there, she'd gone to see a folk healer rather than a doctor. It was botched somehow, and a couple of months later she ended up with a serious infection in the same hospital as my wife.

I'm not sure why Francisca had decided to go home to get an abortion. It's legal and safe (though not inexpensive) in Japan. Maybe it was the cost; maybe it was the language barrier. Maybe she just felt more comfortable going home.

Anyway, she went home to a country where abortion is illegal. But women there have abortions anyway. According to Wikipedia,
One study estimated that, despite legal restrictions, in 1994 there were 400,000 abortions performed illegally in the Philippines and 80,000 hospitalizations of women for abortion-related complications. 12% of all maternal deaths in 1994 were due to unsafe abortion according to the Department of Health of the Philippines. Two-thirds of Filipino women who have abortions attempt to self-induce or seek solutions from those who practice folk medicine.
So Francisca taught me something important too. She taught me what it can be like when abortion is illegal and desperate women get them anyway. She brought home to me the meaning of "back-alley" abortions.

As a result of what H and Francisca have taught me, I'm conflicted. I'm caught between two important ideas. I can't be dismissive of the human potential of a human embryo. It's not a person, but.... I can't leave off the "but." I can't be wholly comfortable with the idea of abortion.

However, there's another "but": but women are people in a way that embryos are not. They're not potential humans, they're living, breathing human beings with all that entails. And sometimes they are going to need, or at least desperately want, abortions. So I have to support the rights of women over the putative rights of embryos. If the needs of a woman and the needs of an embryo conflict, I must side with the woman.

And that's why I'm pro-choice.

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (1/27/2011)

Land of the Free: Here's what happens when you try to start a secular student club at a Bible Belt high school.

Land of the Free 2: Border Patrol Agent fired for saying he thinks legalizing marijuana would cut deaths from drug violence.

Amusing takedown of Palin's (latest) dumb comments.

I think there should be a law that says if you're a successful fugitive for at least 20 years, you're automatically pardoned (except for murder). We should reward that kind of ingenuity.

AOL profits off people who don't know much about the internet. (Well duh, they're still using AOL.)

Thanks to Groupon, I now know that there is such a thing as a professional organizer. Not as in a union organizer or a community organizer; as in someone who tells people how to be more organized. I suspect it would be very annoying to have a professional organizer as a friend. I would feel judged all the time.

Gunpowder art!

Let's celebrate the upcoming royal wedding with some commemorative china.

I'm all for equality, but I'm not sure that bipeds and monopeds should run in the same race.

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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Attack of the killer porns!

In the Mormon church, pornography is really a big deal. I suppose that's partly understandable, because there's something a little incongruous about really religious people getting their jollies that way. But when I say it's a really big deal to Mormons, I mean it's a really, really big deal.

As in, Mormons sometimes get divorced over it. No, seriously. They actually get divorced over porn.

From Feminist Mormon Housewives:
Over the Christmas holidays I was a guest at a dinner party. All the other guests were active LDS, and I think all of them had at least one college degree. ...One of the men had recently been called as bishop in his ward....* Then somebody asked him what his biggest surprise had been in his new calling.... He said that he had been surprised to find out how many men have a problem with pornography — he estimated about 40% of the active men in his ward were at least casual porn users.

At this point, I noticed that all the men present grew uncomfortably quiet and all the women began speaking very animatedly. It was a bit awkward to realize that if his judgement was correct, probably about half the men in the room were grievous sinners. The women were incredulous and filled with righteous indignation. As their denunciations of lechers grew more and more vituperous, I heard some things which I found hard to believe. I thought I had heard somebody say that porn use was automatic grounds for divorce, as far as she was concerned, so I interrupted and asked for clarification: "On a scale of one to ten, with adultery being 10, where does porn use fit?" There was some momentary confusion, then I was corrected. It turns out that porn use is a 10 on the badness scale, and adultery falls in someplace shy of that. Every woman in the room affirmed this.
Lack perspective much?

It's tempting to just dismiss those women as crazy religious nuts and leave it at that, but that's too simple. There's something else going on there.

I've noticed that there is often a characteristic and sometimes quite comical naiveté regarding male sexuality among very religious women (not just Mormons). I think this was my favorite bit out of all the comments:
...I know of many relationships that are irreparably harmed by this habit. So I’m teaching my sons to avoid it in any form.
Yes, I'm sure that will work really well. Because what boy would look at porn after his mom told him not to?

Of course, very religious men often do no better with female sexuality, as the original poster demonstrates:
...the fact that porn use among LDS is almost exclusively done by males...
Yeah. Uh huh.

But there's a problem beyond simple naiveté about sexuality. In our society, porn is almost ubiquitous. People are going to see porn, or near-porn, often, and if they see it often, they're going to use it at least once in awhile.

Oh, there will be some exceptions. There are people with low sex drives and/or an unusual amount of self-discipline. But some regular, ordinary, good people (probably a lot more than 40 percent of them) are going to indulge in porn at least now and then.

And the church has no idea what to do about it. It tries to take an all or nothing approach. Porn is Evil and a Big Deal. Look at it once and you're a big sinner; look at it a few times and you're not only a big sinner, you're a "porn addict." It's no wonder those women mentioned in the FMH post have such bizarre ideas. They're just taking what they've learned at church and running with it.

That all may have worked back in the day, when porn required a little effort to obtain, but it doesn't work anymore. There's too much porn out there. And the church is failing to equip its members with the ability to deal realistically with it.

What the church needs to do is dial things back a couple notches. It doesn't need to accept porn. It can still teach that porn distracts people from their higher natures or whatever, and it can still teach about practical problems such as the way porn can be used to avoid real intimacy between a couple or how sleazy and exploitative the industry is.

In other words, the church can still teach that porn is Not Cool. But it also needs to accept that it's Not A Big Deal. It needs to move from Evil and a Big Deal to Not Cool but Not A Big Deal. Ending the shame and fear Mormons associate with porn now would probably eliminate about 90 percent of their porn problems right there.

*A "ward" is a congregation; a "bishop" is the lay leader in charge of it.

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (1/21/2011)

The 50 most loathsome Americans of 2010.

The Constitution and its worshipers.

Alabama governor says only Christians are his brothers and sisters. He's sorry if you were offended by that though, so it's all better now.

Follow-up to Freddie DeBoer on the lack of a true Left wing in the blogosphere: the return of bottom-up liberalism.

Good health news: People who recover from the swine flu develop immunity to multiple strains of flu, an encouraging sign for the development of a universal flu vaccine.

Bad health news: Prions can spread by air.

Real live practice babies were used in college Home Economics classes until 1969.

A very interesting interview with lovely former actor Marlene Clark about her all-too-brief career in '70s exploitation flicks.

I love open, honest, vulnerable (and skilled) writing like this. How I destroyed a marriage.

Advanced-rules paper-rock-scissors.

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If Sarah Palin were black...

(Via The Loathsome Joy)
If Sarah Palin were black, her daughter's out of wedlock, "baby daddy drama" would have been presented as an example of both pathological behavior and a dysfunctional family that is symbolic of the social problems in that community. If Sarah Palin were black, never would the poor decision making by the Palin family be marked off as challenges overcome, or deeds to be valorized. If Sarah Palin were black, her neo-secessionist husband would have been the death knell for her political career, because as we all know you can’t trust "those people." If Sarah Palin were black, her lack of intellectual curiosity, willful and cultivated ignorance, and lack of grace both written and spoken, would not be taken as "folksy." Instead, Palin would be viewed as unqualified for any public office. If Sarah Palin were black she would be tarred and feathered as an "affirmative action baby."
This is one of those things where my knee-jerk reaction is to say "Damn right!" But on further reflection, I'm not sure it's right at all.

I think the person who wrote it is missing a key principle of American politics today: IOKIYAR. It's OK If You're A Republican. Any ethical/moral/personal lapse that Republicans criticize in Democrats is OK if a Republican does it.

So yes, if Sarah Palin were a black Democrat, she would face all those criticisms. But she would also face most of them if she were a white Democrat.

But if she were a black Republican? I'm not so sure. Who would be criticizing her differently? Democrats? Democrats already think she's most of those things, and say so. Republicans? I'm skeptical that Republicans would say those things about a Republican. IOKIYAR. And if the media treated hypothetical black Sarah that way, you can bet that Republicans would be the first to holler "Racism!"

So maybe this is actually an encouraging sign. Yes, it says something very negative about the level of our political discourse that someone as mean, greedy, self-centered, defensive, intentionally divisive, and frighteningly uninformed as Sarah Palin can be taken seriously in our politics. On the other hand, if race would actually make little difference, well, doesn't that say something positive about this country?

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Monday, January 17, 2011

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (1/17/2011)

Take the theme song from Jurassic Park and make it "1000% slower" and you get music with a beauty and power far surpassing that of the original. (Not too sure about the math here, but if something is 100% slower that means it's come to a stop, so wouldn't 1000% slower actually mean you're running it backwards at 10 times as fast? Anyway, the three-minute song is stretched out to fifty-four minutes and must be heard to be believed.)

"That the blogosphere is a flagrantly anti-leftist space should be clear to anyone who has paid a remote amount of attention." This is well worth reading.

Former Swiss bank exec gives WikiLeaks "details of more than 2,000 prominent individuals and companies that he contends engaged in tax evasion and other possible criminal activity." I really wish I could say "Ha-ha, this is gonna be good!" but I guess we already know how it will turn out in the end.

Mormon mommy blogs are a guilty pleasure for some feminists.

John McCain is cool again.

Ike was right about the military-industrial complex.

Wish I was making this up: Mormon fundamentalists torture babies.

Of course, keeping people from attending attending the weddings of loved ones is kind of cruel too.

Scientists discover teleportation in time.

Today is Muhammad Ali's birthday.

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Martin Luther King Day

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, Americans and resident aliens! Happy Monday, everyone else!

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Friday, January 14, 2011

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (1/14/2011)

Followup on "Why Chinese mothers are superior": Thoughts From the Daughter of a Chinese Mother.

Beautiful photos: Captured: America in Color from 1939-1943.

This is kind of similar to what I was getting at in my gun control post (but much funnier); the way we think about violence in this country is crazy.

Satchmo's Syndrome and Gillespie Cheeks (and the article referenced at the link).

First edition Huck Finn illustrations (These were used for the brilliant Tom the Dancing Bug cartoon which you've surely looked at by now. Haven't you?).

It would be pretty to think that Palin's candidacy is really "over," but in a world where something like this could destroy her political viability, she wouldn't have any to begin with. I doubt it will make much difference.

Customs and Border Patrol routinely harasses people accused of no crimes and confiscates their property without warrants.

Why does everybody hate hipsters and make hilarious pictures about them? BTW, how many hipsters does it take to screw in a light bulb? It's a really obscure number; you've probably never heard of it.

An illustrated history of the Batmobile.

Rice Krispiehenge.

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Getting to know you

Hey, it's National Delurking Day!

This is a day for all you people who read but never comment to introduce yourselves. I know there are several of you. I'm really happy that you read my blog, but I'd be even happier if I knew you.

If you want, you can tell me (and the rest of the readers) who you are, where you're from, how you started reading this blog, what you like about it, and/or stuff like that. Or just say "Hi." I'd love to hear from you.

(h/t: Oakmonster)

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (1/12/2011)

"...the mere threat of ending up in American custody is considered be a viable basis for contesting extradition on human rights grounds."

Tell me now that I'm wrong about American society being crazy: Glock sales soar after Arizona massacre.

"My vision of economic morality is more or less Rawlsian: we should try to create the society each of us would want if we didn't know in advance who we'd be."

What is "blood libel"?

To my ex-/post-Mo friends: If you ever need a reminder of what clueless, judgmental, fucking assholes some Mormons can be, and how lucky you are to be out (or getting out), read this post and (especially) the comments. I know not all Mormons are like that, but damn. Just damn. You fucking assholes. Just STFU about other people's lives for once in your own pathetic fucking deluded life. Sorry I don't have anything more coherent to say. I guess I'm kind of inarticulate with rage right now.

All right, I need to move on to some lighter stuff before I pitch a fit or something. Here, dogs are pretty dang smart.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Corrected to reflect modern sensibilities).

More on censoring Mark Twain, from someone (Michael Chabon) who's done it.

I don't know what the hell Daniel Craig is supposed to be doing in the American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but at least their Lisbeth Salander looks OK.

My birthday's coming up. If anyone wants to get me a present, I'd like this, please.

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On gun control: The (psychotic) elephant in the room

I read with interest this discussion of gun control over at Life as a Reader.

I was interested not so much in the arguments made -- they're well-articulated but not particularly new -- but in the assumptions that underlie the arguments. They're the same assumptions that I see in every American discussion of gun control.

In one sense, it's not surprising that these assumptions are made; without them, we couldn't have the kind of discussions we have. On the other hand, it does surprise me that no one seems to notice (or at least mention) something what's being assumed. No one seems to notice that there's an elephant in the room.

The assumptions we make are these: American society is perfectly normal. The level of violence in our society is perfectly normal. A society in which (some) private citizens (arguably) need guns to defend themselves is perfectly normal. Calm, rational, intelligent discussion of private gun ownership is perfectly normal.

But here's the elephant in the room that no one seems to notice: None of those things are normal. They're not normal, they're sick. Crazy sick.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

My history of sports losing

I thought about scrubbing my prognostication FAIL from my blog, but since my name isn't Sarah Palin, I guess I'll leave it there for posterity.

Well, the defense did even better than I expected. It was the offense that didn't play well. Only 19 points from five trips to the Red Zone ain't gonna cut it against a team that good. But credit Auburn for doing just enough to win.

Anyway, losing this game got me thinking about my history of sports losing. "My teams" are the San Diego Chargers, the San Diego Padres, the LA Lakers (all since 1970), and the Oregon Ducks (football and basketball, since 1995). I also root for the San Diego State Aztecs, the US national team in various competitions, and the German national team in the World Cup, but really only those first five are "my teams."

This is my history of losing (only championship games or playoffs; teams just having ordinary crappy seasons don't count).

Oregon Ducks football lost:
2010 (season) BCS championship game

Oregon Ducks basketball lost:
1995 NCAA 1st round
2000 NCAA 1st round
2002 NCAA Elite Eight
2003 NCAA 1st Round
2007 NCAA Elite Eight
2008 1st round

San Diego Chargers lost:
1979 1st playoff game
1980 AFC championship game
1981 AFC championship game
1982 2nd playoff game
1992 2nd playoff game
1994 (season) Super Bowl
1995 1st playoff game
2004 1st playoff game
2006 1st playoff game
2007 AFC championship game
2008 2nd playoff game
2009 1st playoff game

San Diego Padres lost:
1984 World Series
1996 NLDS
1998 World Series
2005 NLDS
2006 NLDS
2007 1-game wild card playoff

LA Lakers lost:
(The Lakers have a higher standard, so I'll only count Finals losses)
1970 Finals
1973 Finals
1983 Finals
1984 Finals
1989 Finals
1991 Finals
2004 Finals
2008 Finals

Against that, the Lakers do have 11 championships. But that's all I've got. Out of a combined 153 seasons, my teams have a total of 11 championships. Excluding the Lakers, my other four teams have 0 championships in 113 seasons.

Remind me again why I'm a sports fan...

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Monday, January 10, 2011

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (1/10/2011)

"Both sides are just as bad when it comes to political violence" ...NOT!

"Don't politicize this tragedy!" No, let's.

The disheartening response to a political assassination in Pakistan.

Twitter’s Response to WikiLeaks Subpoena Should Be the Industry Standard.

The government-created climate of fear.

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Why Oregon will win

Go Ducks!
Prediction for tonight's game:

Oregon Ducks 48
Auburn Tigers 34

Cam Newton will make some plays -- that's why I expect them to score over 30 points -- but Auburn's pass defense is simply too weak to stop the Ducks.

Both defenses will try to do the same thing: stifle the other team's running game and force the quarterback to throw to win the game. Both Newton and Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas are, of course, capable of winning games with their arms.

But the difference in this game will be Oregon's secondary. They're much, much better than Auburn's, and they make plays. Oregon's defense has 20 interceptions but has given up only 10 touchdowns. Auburn's defense? Only 10 interceptions and 23 touchdowns. That will be the difference right there. Oregon's D will come up with just enough to win.

Also, Oregon has logic and science on its side.

Logically, Oregon must win

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Saturday, January 08, 2011

Covers that you might not have known are covers: "Unchained Melody"

"Unchained Melody." I'd always wondered what the title meant, since there didn't seem to be anything particularly "unchained" about the melody, and the lyrics don't include that word. Turns out, this song comes from a 1955 prison film called Unchained, so the title actually means "melody of the movie Unchained," not "melody without chains."

It's been recorded dozens, if not hundreds of times. The most familiar version is by the Righteous Brothers (1965), but the 1955 versions by Les Baxter and Al Hibbler charted even higher.

So here's Todd Duncan, Les Baxter (1955), Al Hibbler (1955), Gene Vincent (1956), and the Righteous Brothers (1865).

Friday, January 07, 2011

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (1/7/2011)

Brought to you by Women Laughing Alone with Salad.

Australians like WikiLeaks. I think about moving there sometimes.

A judge rules that plaintiffs can sue debt collectors as a criminal enterprise.

Bank of America lowers consumers' credit scores for asking who owns their mortgages.

Ancient flightless bird had clubs on the ends of its wings.

China is developing a "stealth" fighter. (I guess we're supposed to be scared or something.)

A history of (intentional) human weather modification, especially for military purposes (manages to skirt chemtrail conspiracies, for the most part).

"In this case, if the machine failed, then the situation would be ironic. But if the situation is ironic, then the machine worked. But if the machine worked, then the situation would not be ironic. So then it must have failed. But if it failed, then that's ironic, which would mean that the machine worked...."

This seems like a worthwhile project for people who like to read.

One of the problems with being misogynistic *Cough* Ross Douthat *Cough* is that you make an ass of yourself every time you write about women.

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Thursday, January 06, 2011

Don't hurt Jesus' feelings by having Sympathy for the Devil

It's strange how religious thinking can stick with you even after you stop believing...

You may not have heard of the ancient superstition "naming calls." Naming a thing, saying its name or speaking of it, calls it into being or calls it near you. Although when we say "Speak of the devil" nowadays we don't usually mean it literally anymore, many fundamentalist-minded Christians, including many Mormons, still believe it: "Speak of the Devil and he doth appear." Naming calls.

Religious fellow that I once was, although I never believed that wholeheartedly, I didn't dismiss it either. So even though I've always loved the Rolling Stones and I've always loved the song "Sympathy for the Devil," listening to that song always used to make me just a little bit nervous. The Stones don't just speak of the Devil, they sing of him. And not only do they sing of him, they personify him, singing from his point of view.

That always seemed a bit much. But it's such a great song.... So I still listened to it. But not as often as I would have. And always with a tiny bit of trepidation. "I'm sure nothing bad can come of listening to this. That sort of thing is just superstition... I'm pretty sure...."

And there was another thing that bothered me about the song: they sing about Jesus.
And I was 'round when Jesus Christ
Had his moment of doubt and pain
Made damn sure that Pilate
Washed his hands and sealed his fate
I didn't really like them singing about him like that.

Well, now I believe in neither gods nor devils, so I listen to "Sympathy for the Devil" whenever I want to. Which is quite often, I suppose; it's in relatively heavy rotation on my iTunes/iPod. And it doesn't make me nervous anymore.

But it came on today, not planned, just on on shuffle, as background noise while I was washing the dishes. And since I wasn't paying attention, when the part about Jesus came up, my brain automatically went into an old pathway: "I hope those lyrics don't hurt Jesus' feelings."

Yes, I really used to think like that. I used to worry that a song recorded and listened to 2000 years after Jesus' death (if he ever existed at all) would somehow hurt his feelings. And I found myself still having those thoughts as a kind of conditioned response when the song came on.

Pretty embarrassing. So now I'm listening to "Sympathy for the Devil" on repeat. I figure after about 50 more times, I'll be fully deprogrammed.

Anyway, here's some music. Have some sympathy, have some courtesy, have some taste.

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Thursday haiku: Checkout girl

Seeing young beauty
Desiring, and despairing
Of youth passed and gone

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Wednesday, January 05, 2011

My underwear is sacred!

On last weekend's PostSecret, there was a postcard that included a picture of Mormon "temple garments," special underclothing that devout Mormons wear under their regular clothes. (The secret says, "If you weren't Mormon… we would have gotten married.")

It's a picture that's already been all over the internet for years, but displaying temple garments is a big taboo for Mormons, and apparently a number of them e-mailed the site's owner, Frank Warren, and asked him to take down the postcard. Frank published two of the e-mails on the site, and another defending its publication.

On the site's Facebook page, he asked, "The postcard exposing the sacred/secret 'Mormon undergarments' is causing controversy. Should I remove it?" There are over 4,600 comments as of this writing. Of course, I haven't read most of them, but a large majority argue that free expression of "secrets," including many taboos, is the point of the site, and censoring it in that way would conflict with that purpose.

Anyway, all that got me thinking about temple garments in general, and particularly the idea of "sacred underwear."

The church explains temple garments like this:
Like members of many religious faiths, Latter-day Saints wear religious clothing. But members of other faiths — typically those involved in permanent pastoral ministries or religious services — usually wear religious garments as outer ceremonial vestments or symbols of recognition. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, garments are worn beneath street clothing as a personal and private reminder of commitments to God.
That sounds kind of reasonable, if you don't automatically exclude religious ideas from your definition of "reasonable." I mean, Catholic priests have their collars, Jews have their little hats, Sikhs have their turbans, and so on -- why shouldn't Mormons have special underwear?

Obviously, I don't have much room to talk; I wore temple garments for 26 years. I mean, not the same set -- I changed them every day (well, mostly) and bought new ones when they got old, just like with regular underwear -- but that was my underwear for 26 years.

And of course, all of us, even atheists, cling to some irrational beliefs. For example, for each of the past 41 Septembers, I've thought "This could be the year the Chargers win the Super Bowl." It's probably hard to get much more irrational than that. (Stupid Chargers.)

So I don't think Mormon temple garments are all that strange, relatively speaking. But here's where Mormons run into trouble:
Garments are considered sacred by Church members and are not regarded as a topic for casual conversation.
In other words, "My underwear is sacred." Unfortunately for Mormons, the very idea of sacred underwear is hilarious.

Underwear is funny in American culture. It goes on right over your naughty bits (which are also funny). That, I suppose, makes underwear funny by association. Sure, it's juvenile and silly to laugh at underwear, but there you are. Underwear is funny. We laugh at it often.

So when a religion or its members come forward and say, "My underwear is sacred," the contrast between underwear = funny and my underwear = sacred creates an incongruity between the concept funny vs. the concept sacred. And, unfortunately for Mormon sensibilities, incongruity is the basis of a lot of humor. So Americans laugh at the idea of "sacred underwear."

I don't think there's any way around this, to be honest. Outsiders may feel sympathy upon seeing the earnest pleadings of Mormons regarding their deep offense when their sacred underwear is displayed on the internet and so on, but that very earnestness and depth is itself incongruous versus underwear and therefore funny. Whatever sympathy one feels can come only after stifling laughter.

I hope Mormons will understand this. We're not laughing to be mean; we just can't help it.

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Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (1/4/2011)

Here's a novel idea that works: to fight poverty, give poor people money.

Of course, we already know that income redistribution promotes economic growth.

Also, the retirement age is too high, not too low.

"You can shut down Wikileaks, jail Julian Assange and crack down on leakers all you want. But it won't change the fact of massive elite failure on an epic scale."

Here's to the underachievers.

Refiguring the passive girl toy.

leave me the fuck alone jumanji!

Be a Mormon... or your family gets it!

I'd have said that I'd never disown one of my kids if they came out, but you have to draw the line somewhere.

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Monday, January 03, 2011

The Best of kuri 2010

On my blog during 2010, I:

Read 108 books,

Continued chronicling the Adventures of Leonard McCoy, Space Doctor, in which, among other things, McCoy carried out an important Operation; diagnosed Elmo, the Cookie Monster, Eeyore, Spock, and the Virgin Mary; examined ancient artifacts; explored strange new worlds; and met scary monsters,

Wrote some haiku, of which this was my favorite,

Wrote about '80s music,

Reviewed Avatar,

Reviewed Bambi the novel,

Chipped in to buy some soccer trophies,

Wrote a parable to comment on the story of Abraham and Isaac,

Finally understood the mindset of Mormon apologists,

Wrote comic haiku about the Tarot, with this one being my favorite,

Wrote my final blog post,

Was grossed out by ugly cats and dogs,

Confronted my own racism in the faces of emancipated slaves,

Pointed out that a picture of Jesus isn't Jesus,

Regretted two things about my time as a devout Mormon,

Analyzed great art,

Got hate mail (and loved it),

Turned into a fanboy,

Wrote a sex tutorial,

Had my faith in God destroyed by Star Wars,

Turned a haiku into a movie,

Told some WATBs to STFU,

Posted my 1,000th blog post,

Analyzed some not so great religious art,

Took a shot at reconciling gay marriage with Mormon theology,

Began helping readers understand Biblical parables,

Imagined how embarrassing it would be to be in Heaven after being killed by a mountain goat,

Came up with a plausible mechanism for why Glenn Beck's fans believe his nonsense,

Began going to counseling,

Heard a really ugly song, and

Discovered some uncomfortable similarities between schizophrenia and apologetics.

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Saturday, January 01, 2011

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (1/1/2011)

"My Whole Desire Was to Choose Him for My Companion."

Glenn Beck is bad news for religious conservatism.

Land of the free -- and unequal.

The real Rosie the Riveter.

Being nice to people with Alzheimer's makes their lives better (who'd of thought it?)

China bans Skype.

Atheists never...

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New year's resolutions

In no particular order...

1. Buy a house
We're on track for this one. Barring some sort of disaster (like me or my wife getting seriously sick -- Yay American healthcare system!), we'll become home owners this year.

2. Get in shape
If you've seen my Christmas picture, you may have noticed that I've become a gigantic tub of lard. I aim to change that this year.

3. Be creative
I will actually complete some projects this year, such as:

3a. Finish a book
I want to finish writing at least one book this year (either Harry Ninja or my mystery novel; probably Harry Ninja).

3b. Make some movies
Nothing elaborate, but I've got a few little projects I want to finish and put on YouTube.

3c. Do standup again
I want to get back into standup comedy again this year.

3d. Make some money
Creativity is its own reward, and I don't expect to make a living at any of these things, but I'd like to make a little money too. Just a little pocket money would be nice.

4. Broaden my client base
Speaking of money, my Japanese-to-English translation business is overly dependent on just a few regular clients. I want to add a few more.

5. Reconnect
I want to reconnect with old friends and relatives that I haven't had much contact with in, well, years.

6. Connect
I want to make some new friends, and deepen connections with some current ones.

That's about it. What do you want from 2011?

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Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, users of the Gregorian calendar! Happy 11th day after winter solstice, everyone else!

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