Thursday, July 28, 2011

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (7/28/2011)

"What's most striking ... is that the Norwegian response to the Oslo attack is so glaringly un-American [in] its core premise -- a brave refusal to sacrifice liberty and transparency in the name of fear and security...."

But at least they know they're free: IKEA workers in Sweden make $19 an hour and get five weeks of paid vacation. IKEA workers in Virginia start at $8 an hour, with 12 vacation days (temps get less).

Evolution in New York City.

So, if only 10 percent of people accept the conclusions of this survey....


Dancers among us.

Terrifying ventriloquist dummy portraits.

If you meet the Bufo in the pond, kill him.

The Weird Book Room.

The 10 biggest mistakes in Transformers 3 (besides making it, etc.)

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Panda bears, polar bears, and Coors Light

From the Department of Weird Dreams:

A few nights ago I dreamed about panda bears. In my dream, I made an important discovery: panda bears are really polar bears in disguise. (I'm not sure why, but I think it had something to do with global warming.)

But that wasn't the real problem. The real problem was that polar bears weren't called "polar bears" anymore. They were called "Coors Light." This meant that if someone was in a bar and said something like "Two Coors Lights," the bartender would open a cage and let two polar bears Coors Lights into the bar.

Needless to say, pandamonium ensued.

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Thursday haiku: sexism

Red-haired jaywalker,
if you were prettier, I'd
stop and let you cross

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (7/27/2011)

Subnormality is always very good, but this week it's especially brilliant.

"Why, in the midst of a stalled recovery, with the economy fragile and job creation slowing to a trickle, did the nation’s leaders decide that the thing to do—in order to raise the debt limit, normally a routine matter—was to spend less money, making job creation all the more difficult?"

State of the Web, Summer 2011.

"Young patients are increasingly rinsing the slang, which can confuse pixelated clinicians. Online resources cam help them Heinz with the latest 'street speak' and avoid looking like an omni." Innit.

A glimpse of daily life in North Korea.

Amazing caves of giant crystals.

Yoda-Speak: A Study of Yoda's Speaking Patterns and Their Frequencies

Why Harry Potter should really be all about Hermione Granger.

Dogs caught in mid-shake.

Spock is not impressed.

I want to have a really good day, just so I can sing, "No matter what happens now / I won't be afraid / Because I know today has been the most perfect day I've ever seen."

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Monday, July 25, 2011

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (7/24/2011)

Norwegian Prime Minister: "The answer to violence is more democracy." I wish more Americans believed that, instead of the exact opposite.

The most important thing to realize about the space shuttle program is that it is objectively a failure.

Power and justice in America.

What "shared sacrifice" means in 21st century America.

Bonfire of the manatees.

The master's is the new bachelor's.

Google+ is deleting accounts.

Is the 27 Club statistically significant?

They really shouldn't have taunted that prophet about his bald head.

This is why you're fat.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (7/19/2011)

Obama: from Yes we can! to Don't set up a situation where you're guaranteed to be disappointed!

Muslim tries to save the man who shot him in a hate crime from being executed.

It's hard to know how to act when a serious homophobe is flamingly effeminate.

The educational value of creative disobedience (note that 99 percent of teachers will say they agree with this, but 98 percent of them think that kids who actually act that way are troublemakers).

The pressure of penalty kicks. (Personally, I prefer the old NASL shootout, but FIFA won't take my calls.)

The NFL star and the brain injuries that destroyed him.

Grains of sand, magnified.

How a miracle story grew in the telling.

This is a hilarious portrait of "Mormon Douches," but if you take out the specifically Mormon parts (e.g., substitute Ayn Rand for Boyd K. Packer in number 7), it works equally well for what we used to call Frat Boys and what the kids today call "Bros."

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign, blockin' out the scenery, breakin' my mind.

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Not even in my head

I'm reading Hemingway's memoir of his 20s living in Paris, A Moveable Feast, and I was really struck by this passage about the breakup of his friendship with Gertrude Stein. Stein had been a close friend and mentor to him, but they had a falling-out. Although they eventually managed some sort of rapprochement, things were never the same again.
In the end everyone, or not quite everyone, made friends again in order not to be stuffy or righteous. I did too. But I could never make friends again truly, neither in my heart nor my head. When you cannot make friends anymore in your head is the worst.
I have trouble making and keeping friends. The ones I do make tend to drift away from me, and I don't fully understand why, nor how to stop it. I'll write more about that sometime, but of course that's not the sort of thing Hemingway was talking about.

He was talking about friendships that end in quarrels, breakups, falling-outs. Those are quite different. Having experienced one of those during the last couple of years, I find that the hurt, the anger, and, yes, the hatred all fade away. Even the sense of loss fades away, though maybe never completely.

That sense of loss means that in my heart, I can always wish we could make up, that we could be friends again. But I know that that's merely empty longing for something that used to be (or that I thought used to be, anyway). In my head, I can no longer even imagine that we could ever be like we once were. And that truly is the worst.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (7/12/2011)

Iraq War veteran: Whoever released the "Collateral Murder" video is an American hero.

Betty Ford, pioneer.

Strunk and White's Elements of Style: 50 years of stupid grammar advice.

Arizona state senator Russell Pearce, lead sponsor of Arizona's anti-immigrant bill, will face a recall election.

Doonesbury teaches Creationism in school.

Way to not get it, Spirit Hoods.

Don't let your 4-year-old have immodest shoulders!

Vincent van Gogh on Facebook and Twitter.

Superman: a transitional power source.

I think this is the funniest Mormon comedy bit I've ever seen. Maybe you have to be (or have been) a Mormon to get it, though.

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The Mormons are still after my daughter

I got this email today.
Church membership record for [REDACTED] REF #[redacted]

Dear Member,

We have contacted you using the e-mail address you provided for Church use.

The membership record for your relative, whose name is given above (see subject line), is being held at Church headquarters because we were notified this person has moved and we do not have a current home address. Please help us send this member’s record to the correct ward/branch by returning the member’s current address and telephone number in a reply e-mail. A residential address is preferred.

If you have already responded to our request by telephone, please disregard this e-mail.

Thank you,

Member Services
Member and Statistical Records Department
Church Headquarters, Salt Lake City, Utah
800-453-3860 ext. 21699
"Member Services" was in italics and two points larger than the rest of the message. Not sure why -- is it supposed to be impressive? It's a bit of an Orwellian name anyway, because who's being served in this case? (Hint: it's not the "member" who doesn't want to go to church anymore.) I also like the "If you have already responded to our request by telephone, please disregard this e-mail" bit, because I did respond, and they disregarded my response by asking again. Bad manners. Oh, and the email came with a "read receipt" request. Bad manners again.

Anyway, maybe I should send them an address. I got a couple of suggestions in my last post.


Wrigley Field

Any other good addresses I could send them?

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Monday, July 11, 2011

Skin cancer

I had this thing growing on my skin on my jawline. It had been there for quite awhile, but it seemed like lately it was getting bigger. It was longer, and thicker -- I nicked it shaving a couple of times. And it was getting darker.

Which sounds like a melanoma or something, although it wasn't an exact match for any of the pictures I've seen. So, even though I'm on the Republican healthcare plan for people without health insurance (don't get sick, but if you do, die quickly), I decided I'd better see a doctor. Fortunately, there's a cheap (not free) community clinic in our town, so I made an appointment there.

I went there on a Thursday afternoon. And I totally swooned for the receptionist, with her light brown skin, dark brown eyes, glasses, and shoulder-to-elbow tattoos. Unfortunately, "medical receptionist" has too many syllables for me to write haiku about her, although I did manage a tanka. Also, unlike the Checkout Girl, I've actually spoken with her, so she's a human being to me rather than an archetypal muse. So doubt I'll write any more poetry about her. But still. Wow.

Anyway, you're probably wondering if I'm going to die of skin cancer, so I'll stop digressing. (But are love and/or poetry ever really digressions? Or are they life itself, and everything else a digression?)

After I got done swooning and then waited for a few minutes, I got called in by the Jan the paramedic. Why a paramedic instead of a nurse or a physician's assistant? No idea, except it's a cheap clinic, so I guess they take who they can get. But Jan (with a y sound, not a j) was pretty cool. He kind of had that Vietnam-vet-turned-hippie look, with the long hair and the too-shaggy mustache and all. (Although actually he's probably not that much older than me, so I doubt he could have been in 'Nam. I'd lay odds he spent time in the service, though.)

Anyway, Jan took my vitals, got my medical history, took a look at my growth-thingy, and asked what I suppose are the usual skin cancer questions about sun exposure and all that. Which I've had a lot of, growing up in San Diego when people still thought suntans were healthy. And he took it very seriously. Not like "Oh my god you're gonna die!" seriously, but definitely "The doctor needs to look at that" seriously.

The doctor came after a little while, and she seemed pretty relaxed about the whole thing. "Offhand, it doesn't look like a skin cancer," she said. "But we'll slice off a piece and send it to the lab for a biopsy. Even if it is skin cancer, it's very early, and we have a dermatologist who comes in here twice a month. He should be able to get the whole thing easily." So she gave me a local and cut off a little piece. She said it didn't really need stitches, and put a bandage on it. But then she gave me this elaborate protocol for taking care of it so it wouldn't leave a scar. I listened politely, but inside I was going "WTF? I'll wear a bandage for a day and then who cares?" But she meant well.

Before I left, she told me, "We should get the results back on Tuesday. But I don't want you spending the whole weekend worrying about this."

"I won't," I said. And I didn't. Not really. After all, she'd said it didn't look like skin cancer. And I don't believe in worrying. My philosophy is that I'll worry in the time of worrying, not before. And it wasn't time yet. Besides, I'm not sure I care all that much if I die anyway. I mean, I'd rather not, but I guess I've lived a pretty long time. Almost long enough maybe.

Tuesday came, and no phone call. But Wednesday morning, Jan was on the phone. He said I don't have skin cancer. And I was relieved. Happy even. I guess I care more about not dying than I thought. Jan said I have a seborrheic keratosis, which in layman's terms is "an ugly thing that grows on your skin when you get old." So the good news is I don't have skin cancer, but the bad news is that I'm growing old and hideous.

What a drag it is getting old. Not that I'm going to start taking Valium because of it. (Because there are lots of better drugs around these days -- j/k. Although it's true. So I'm told.) And here's a song.

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Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Mormons are after my daughter (phone conversation of the week)

Weekday afternoon, around 2:00.

I answer the phone: Hello?

Caller (an elderly woman, judging from her voice): Hello, this is Sister [redacted], calling from the Membership Committee [I think -- maybe she said "Department"] of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Me: Mm-hm?

Caller: We're trying to find a current address for [my oldest daughter's First Name] [Middle Name] -- or is it pronounced [wrong pronunciation of Middle Name]? -- [Last Name]. Do you have a current address for her?

Me: Well, I know her address, but I don't think she'd want me to give it to you.

Caller: Oh, I understand completely. That's all right. Thank you for your time.

Me: OK.

Caller: Have a nice day.

Me: Bye.

Edited to add: I *69ed the call right after I hung up. It wasn't someone from a local church unit calling; the call was from a Salt Lake City phone number.

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Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Don't stand so close to me: sexual tension in Mormon culture

I read this post about sexual tension with Mormon missionaries by the fascinating Maureen over at her blog. She wrote:
The sexual tension of a situation is massively heightened if you are a Mormon. Every glance, every brush of skin (or clothes) sends thrills through the body and paralyses the mind. Pretty exciting stuff really; just like the scene in 'Pride and Prejudice' where Mr. Darcy offers his hand to Elizabeth Bennet as she goes to climb into the carriage and then as he walks away there is a shot of him flexing his hand as though the thrill of their touch is still coursing though him. Being Mormon can be like that. It is hard to be friends with someone of the opposite sex because you are told that you should not ever be alone with a man (or a man alone with a woman) because you might end up having sex with them; the temptation would be too great! apparently. Sooooo, this kind of precludes friendship (or any serious friendship) with someone of the opposite sex.
I never actually felt this very much, except on my mission, and even there I think my general slowness at understanding social situations probably kept me from noticing it a lot of times.

One time I did notice was when a girl about my age from our English class who'd only spoken formal Japanese to me suddenly spoke informally. That was pretty exciting. "Whoa, she's totally flirting with me!" It was kind of a funny situation with her, because we both had pretty massive crushes on each other, but fortunately for my missionary-ness, they didn't happen at the same time. I think I was kind of mostly over her by the time she started liking me.

Another time, we missionaries somehow ended up at some gathering or other at the local Catholic church, and there was this girl sitting across the room from me who kept glancing my way. She was wearing a short skirt and after she saw me glance back at her she kind of turned in her seat so her legs were pointed in my direction. And I remember thinking, "Hey, if she isn't careful, I'll end up looking right up her skirt." And a minute later, "Whoops! Blue panties!" I didn't look over there again for the rest of the night, but I wished there was someone who could tell that poor girl to sit more carefully so guys couldn't look up her skirt anymore. It wasn't until a couple weeks later that it occurred to me that she'd actually done it on purpose. (Probably. See what I mean? I'm still not sure.)

So yeah, I probably missed a lot of missionary sexual tension just through general social cluelessness. And after my mission as well, I was never really that susceptible to Mormon sexual tensions. I suppose it's because I was a convert, so the non-sexual company of the opposite sex seemed completely normal to me. And, as someone to whom monogamy is by no means a natural condition, I felt like I was often working hard to not cheat (successfully -- so far -- I might add), so the idea of somehow "accidentally" giving in to temptation seemed very strange to me. My philosophy was that people have sex with each other because they decide to, not because they're alone with each other and can't help themselves.

But there were a few times when I was on the other end of it. One time was when I was living in Japan and I shaved my head. This was in the early '90s, when shaved heads were still fairly rare even in America (at least among white people), and almost never seen in Japan. So one day after church, my wife's (married) best friend asked if she could touch my head, since she'd only ever seen a shaved head on TV. So I said sure, and she gave it a little rub and then she was like, "Ooh!" and she kind of got into it a little bit and give it a good stroking.* And I was kind of enjoying it too. But then she said, "Oops, I probably shouldn't be touching another man this much!" I thought that was really funny, and she got a bit of a guilty giggle out of it too, so that was actually a positive experience.

But there was another incident that made me feel pretty bad. It was after I'd left Japan and moved to Oregon. There was a (married) woman from Southern California in my ward. I'd enjoyed chatting with her for a couple minutes a few times. I wasn't pursuing her or cultivating her or anything like that. (I wasn't even particularly attracted to her.) It was just that she reminded me of the girls I'd grown up around in San Diego, so talking to her felt like a little bit of home. I liked talking to her, is all.

Well, one day we were talking in the hallway after church and both having a good time when suddenly her expression changed and she said she had to go and she rushed off. She almost literally ran away from me. And that took me aback. It was a completely innocuous conversation. I'd said nothing remotely offensive, and there was absolutely no flirtation (or head rubbing) or anything like that involved on either side, but I recognized fairly quickly what had happened: she'd suddenly realized that she was attracted to me, or at least that she was enjoying my company.

And that, to Mormons, is forbidden territory. Simply enjoying the company of a member of the opposite sex for a few minutes is The First Step On The Road To Adultery. So when she realized what was happening, she just ran off. It hurt my feelings a little bit. Why couldn't we just have a friendly conversation? I had no designs on her, and she had none on me. We were just enjoying a little chat. It seemed so stupid. But I supposed it wasn't really her fault. She was a lifelong Mormon, so she'd grown up with crazy ideas like the ones Maureen discussed. Anyway, we never chatted like that again.

*That's what she said.

And hey, here's some music.

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Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (7/5/2011)

Obama's Original Sin.

The Fukushima coverup unravels.

Schrödinger's Rapist: or a guy’s guide to approaching strange women without being maced.

After 10 years of drug decriminalization and increased treatment in Portugal, there is less addiction, less drug-related crime, and fewer infections from shared needles.

Naomi Wolf, porn, and the misuse of dopamine.

Children are an inferior good.

The mental burden of a lower-class background.

Find out what kind of dog in a New Zealand animal shelter you most resemble. (I got a mastiff-greyhound mix, I think it was. Surprisingly cute, actually -- if I lived in NZ, I might adopt it.)

It's hard out there for an anti-gay activist who talks with a lisp and walks with a mince (Mr. Michele Bachmann, BTW).

I find this video, "Two Cousins" by Slow Club, kind of fascinating. It's just two guys swing dancing -- they do the Lindy hop and the Charleston among others, but that's about the limits of my swing knowledge -- but I like the juxtaposition of the energetic dancing with the slow music.

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Monday, July 04, 2011