Tuesday, May 31, 2011

What drowning looks like

I think I linked to this last year, but Lisa reminded me of it, and it's something that people should be reminded of at the start of every summer. (Sorry the timing's off for my antipodean readers.)

Drowning doesn't look like drowning

If someone is thrashing around and yelling, they're in trouble, but they're not actually drowning -- yet. And people can drown without ever passing through any sort of thrashing and yelling stage. Drowning can be very quiet, especially in children: "...children playing in the water make noise. When they get quiet, you get to them and find out why."

These are signs that someone is drowning (as opposed to "in trouble but not yet actually drowning"):
  • Head low in the water, mouth at water level
  • Head tilted back with mouth open
  • Eyes glassy and empty, unable to focus
  • Eyes closed
  • Hair over forehead or eyes
  • Not using legs – Vertical
  • Hyperventilating or gasping
  • Trying to swim in a particular direction but not making headway
  • Trying to roll over on the back
  • Appear to be climbing an invisible ladder.

This is what someone who is drowning looks like.

It happened to me when I was a kid. I don't remember how old I was -- I might have been as young as 5 or as old as 10 -- but I was in a hotel swimming pool when somehow I stumbled into the deep end. I didn't really know how to swim, but I could dog paddle and I could swim under water for a few yards.

But none of that mattered, because as soon as the water closed over my head, I forgot about what little swimming I could do. I sank to the bottom, and then I was able to jump just high enough to get my mouth out of the water for a quick, desperate breath, and then I sank again. And that was literally the only thing I could do.

Sink-jump-breathe-sink-jump-breathe-sink-jump-breathe-sink-jump.... I was only a couple of feet from the safety of shallower water or the side of the pool, but I literally forgot how to do anything but sink-jump-breathe-sink-jump-breathe. If I had been alone, or if no one had been paying attention, I probably would have repeated that cycle until it ended with a final "sink" when I grew too exhausted to jump again. I would have drowned right there, in a hotel pool, in water that was barely over my head.

Fortunately my big sister was right by me and quickly (I now assume; it sure seemed like a long time to me!) grabbed me and pulled me into the shallow end. My mom was sitting right there and never noticed. Nor did any other adult as far as I know.

So remember -- especially those of you who are parents/guardians/caregivers -- drowning doesn't necessarily look like this. Drowning often looks like this.

[Edited for betterness.]

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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (5/26/2011)

tl;dr edition.

How communist China and Western capitalists joined together to destroy the value of labor.

Whites believe they face worse racism than blacks do? Seriously?

Problem of evil insurmountable? Redefine God.

Snowboarder Kevin Pearce's recovery from a traumatic brain injury.

These conjoined twins may share perceptions and even thoughts.

Why movies are so dim.

An appreciation of Macho Man Randy Savage. (He was my favorite too.)

This is just plain murder.

Urban Outfitters: still shamelessly ripping off other people's creativity. (Boycott them please.)

Opera (the browser) gets e-mails for Oprah.

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Thursday haiku: love song for my mom

failed you. let you down.
let you live like that. and die.
sorry. i'm sorry.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (5/24/2011)

What made Darwin sick?

DSM-5 confusion over when grief is pathological.

I'm glad I'm not the only one who was made very slightly nervous by the whole stupid Rapture thing.

How artificial light has changed the way we live and see.

The autodidact's dream site.

Macha is Not a Good Little Girl.

If your house was burning, what would you take with you?

"One of the worst films of all time, On Stranger Tides has absolutely and utterly no redeeming qualities whatsoever. I wanted to say it's like watching an enema, but even that's a good thing: you get rid of the filth. Instead, here, you are force-fed shit, then made to regurgitate it, and then eat it again."

Insect Heaven.

19 hilarious Harry Potter comics. (What are those things actually called?)

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (5/17/2011)

What's changed since passage of health care reform? Hundreds of thousands of young adults are being added to their parents' insurance.

Also, doctors are being enslaved.

Are all religions equally crazy?

Shocking Freedom Rider photo created a hero, but not to his family.

Two basketball coming out stories. Maybe the biggest point is how not a big deal they are.

My credit union would never pull this kind of stuff; why do people even use banks anymore?

Social media puts an end to shyness by generalizing its pathology.

Treating autism with marijuana.

Children of hoarders.

Shit my students write.

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Friday, May 13, 2011

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (5/13/2011)

On not caring how Bin Laden was killed: "It is such a scary thing when it happens to you, when your principles become alleged and incidental, when you lose interest in the debate. It is so very dangerous to make exceptions. It is so very dangerous to go cold."

It's a mystery to me why an obvious psychopath (in the technical, medical sense) like Newt Gingrich can be considered a viable presidential candidate.

Gay students oppressed at Christian colleges. (Not sure why anyone would be surprised by this.)

I'm not a fan of Meghan McCain, but I am a fan of people who put Glenn Beck in his place.

Mormons who don't hate the "Book of Mormon" musical are not as righteous as me.

Appreciating Phil Jackson.

Race and comic book superheroes.

Yuen Woo Ping's five favorite fight scenes.

Your desk is not as steampunk as this.

Obi-Wan Kenobi is dead, Vader says. (Funnier if you compare it with the original?)

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Ear cancer

Do you ever notice weird things about your body? Lately I've noticed my left ear produces much more earwax than my right ear does. After I take a shower, I get out a q-tip and right ear: dig-dig-dig, perfectly normal. Flip the q-tip around and left ear: dig-dig-dig -- Eww! Where the hell did all that come from?!

Is that a symptom of anything? What about cancer? Does cancer make you produce excessive earwax? Oh God, I have ear cancer!

I should see a doctor. I don't know if they'd take me seriously, though.

Me: Doctor, I think I have cancer!

Doctor: I see. Why do you think that?

Me: My left ear produces more earwax than my right!

Doctor: Uh…

Probably not a good idea. Of course, I don't have health insurance anyway, so I can't afford to see a doctor in the first place. Or actually, I can afford to see a doctor, but I can't afford cancer treatment if that's what I have. I'll just have to add this to my List of Possible Cancers I May Have But Can't Afford to Get Treated If I Do So I'll Just Ignore These Symptoms.

List of Possible Cancers I May Have But Can't Afford to Get Treated If I Do So I'll Just Ignore These Symptoms

1. Skin cancer
2. Colon cancer
3. Prostate cancer
4. Ear cancer

Yeah, my life kind of sucks.

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Monday, May 09, 2011

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (5/9/2011)

Vermont is working on single-payer health care.

Teachers deserve to have private lives.

Here's a Mormon missionary story that's hard to top: My first missionary companion eloped.

Irreconcilable differences: on being the child of a gay dad and a straight mom and then marrying a gay man (PDF).

Scientists give computers schizophrenia.

"Comparing the genomes of Tibetans and Han Chinese, the majority ethnic group in China, the biologists found that at least 30 genes had undergone evolutionary change in the Tibetans as they adapted to life on the high plateau."

A gym chain for people who a) don't want to work out hard and b) don't want anyone around them to be working out hard either is making lots of money. Takes all kinds, I guess (h/t and good discussion: TNC).

People who do work out hard: Navy SEAL training.

Remember that picture of a crying, blood-splattered little Iraqi girl whose parents had just been shot at an American checkpoint? Six years later, she's not doing that great.

"...after a trillion plus dollars spent on the wars, after thousands of soldiers killed, that what it took to get Osama bin Laden was a criminal investigation and an intelligence operation followed by a quick strike. As we ponder our dead, all our dead, as we remember and make silly statements about 'closure,' let us wonder what might have been for the United States had that been our approach all along."

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Repost: I'm reading "Twilight," so you don't have to (Our story so far)

Wow, it's been almost a year and a half since I've worked on this. But I'm reposting this as a preview of coming attractions: it won't be a year and a half before I work on it again.

Our Story So Far:

Preface
Bella is gonna die. (Not really.)

Chapter 1
Bella complains and blushes. Edward has bronze hair. He hates Bella.

Chapter 2
Edward is absent from school. Then he comes back. He has golden eyes. He doesn't hate Bella anymore.

Chapter 3
Edward saves Bella's life with his Beautiful Vampire super powers. He won't explain how three times. He has golden eyes two times. Bella has a crush on Edward.

Chapter 4
Edward ignores Bella. Then he stops ignoring her. Three boys ask Bella to the Sadie Hawkins dance. Edward asks Bella to go to Seattle with him and his golden honey colored gloriously intense eyes and his smoldering voice. She says yes.

Chapter 5
Edward has a crooked smile and ocher-colored/golden eyes that that scorch/smolder/befuddle/burn. Edward ditches biology. Bella faints at the thought of blood. She is like so mature.

Chapter 6
Bella is engulfed in unstoppable gloom because she won't see Edward for three days. She meets an Indian boy named Jacob who (of course) immediately has a thing for her. Bella uses her feminine wiles to get Jacob to tell her that Indians are werewolves and the Beautiful Vampires are vampires who aren't allowed on the Rez.

Chapter 7
Bella decides she wants to be with Edward even if he's a vampire. Edward is absent from school again, so Bella is hit with crippling desolation and spirals downward in misery. He's absent again the next day, which painfully squashes the little sprouts of hope that keep budding in Bella's mind. She leaves on a shopping trip with some girlfriends, which cheers her up exponentially.

Chapter 8
Bella goes shopping with her friends the yokels. She gets lost while looking for a bookstore and wrestling with despair. Four Rapists try to rape her, but Edward rescues her just in the nick of time with his Silver Volvo, because he's been stalking her. But there's nothing creepy about him stalking Bella, because he only does it for her own good.

Chapter 9
Edward and Bella talk in the car. Edward smells good. Bella loves Edward.

Chapter 10
Edward and his muscular chest give Bella a ride to school in The Silver Volvo. He eavesdrops on her conversations by reading her friends' minds. He tells Bella he likes her as much as she likes him. Edward and his Beautiful Vampire family only hunt cool animals.

Chapter 11
Bella and Edward manage to not grope each other in biology class. Edward asks Bella lots of questions, which she answers in ways that are supposed to make her sound interesting. Jacob the Indian's father, Billy the Old Indian Dude, sees Bella with Edward and recognizes him as a Beautiful Vampire.

Chapter 12
Billy the Old Indian Dude doesn't tell Bella's dad that she's hanging out with a Beautiful Vampire. The other Beautiful Vampire kids don't like Bella, except Alice The Nice One. Bella worries that Edward will get in trouble if he kills her, so she lies so nobody will know they're going on a date. Their big date is a walk in the woods.

Chapter 13
Edward is a Beautiful Sparkly Vampire.

Chapter 14
Edward is about 100 years old, but he looks much younger, so it's OK for him to date Bella. Edward and Bella fool Bella's Dad so Edward can spend the night in her room, but no nookie allowed, because Edward would break her.

Chapter 15
Edward takes Bella to his Beautiful Gloomy Mansion. All Edward's Beautiful Sparkly Vampire family likes Bella, except Rosalie The Mean One, who's jealous of her. Edward starts telling the story of how Carlisle The Wise Leader became a Beautiful Sparkly Vampire.

Chapter 16
Carlisle The Wise Leader became a Beautiful Sparkly Vampire in England in the 1650s. Once he figured out that he could eat animals instead of people, he went to Europe and studied to be a doctor for 200 years. When his Beautiful Sparkly Vampire friends in Europe wouldn't stop eating people, Carlisle The Wise Leader left and went to America, where he turned Edward into a Beautiful Sparkly Vampire too. Edward tells Bella that he's always only eaten animals too, except for a little while when he ate people, to which Bella replies, yeah, whatever.

Chapter 17
Edward's Beautiful Sparkly Vampire family plays baseball in a meadow in the woods. In a thunderstorm. With metal bats. Some other Vampires approach, and everyone gets very nervous because they'll probably want to eat Bella.

Chapter 18
The new vampires are scruffy and have no shoes. One of the Bad Scruffy Shoeless Vampires wants to eat Bella (and not in the good way). Brave Sir Robin Edward decides to run away. Bella objects because Bella's Dad will is in danger. She comes up with a plan that will both eliminate the Beautiful Sparkly Vampires' numerical superiority and put Bella's Mom in danger. Naturally, everyone thinks Bella's plan is brilliant.

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Sunday, May 08, 2011

Understanding Biblical parables: The Unforgiving Servant

Jesus
Understanding Biblical parables: In which kuri gives you the benefit of his vast half-vast Biblical knowledge by explaining the parables of Jesus for the modern reader.

This week we'll cover the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (also known as the Parable of the Ungrateful Servant, Unmerciful Servant, or Wicked Servant).

The parable

Jesus sez:

Poster from the 1992 movie version
"Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

"The servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.' The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

"But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded.

"His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.' But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.

"When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.

"Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed." (Matthew 18:23 - 34, NIV)


The meaning of the parable

This parable is a straightforward morality tale. Through it, Jesus teaches us the profound truth that two wrongs make a right. The king had canceled the servant's debt, but when he got angry, the king not only went back on his word, he had the servant tortured. Thus we learn that lying to people and hurting them is OK if they've done something we don't like.

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Friday, May 06, 2011

Prosecutorial discretion

USAMA BIN LADEN: DECEASED
Glenn Greenwald asks why there is so little concern over the "legality, ethics, and precedent created" by Osama Bin Laden's death. He concludes:
I think what's really going on here is that there are a large number of people who have adopted the view that bin Laden's death is an unadulterated Good, and it therefore simply does not matter how it happened (ends justify the means, roughly speaking). There are, I think, two broad groups adopting this mindset: (1) those, largely on the Right, who believe the U.S. is at War and anything we do to our Enemies is basically justifiable; and (2) those, mostly Democrats, who reject that view -- who genuinely believe in general in due process and adherence to ostensible Western norms of justice -- yet who view bin Laden as a figure of such singular Evil (whether in reality or as a symbol) that they're willing to make an exception in his case, willing to waive away their principles just for him: creating the Osama bin Laden Exception.

Although I don't agree with it, I have a healthy respect for that latter reaction. None of us is a pure rationality machine. We all at some point depart from our principles in particular cases, or find reasons to make exceptions, or simply view the outcome as so desirable that we don't care how it can be reconciled with our claimed views. But I think if one is going to do that here, then one is obligated to acknowledge it and then grapple with what it means and what the implications are -- rather than just pretending that it's not happening.
I pretty much agree with Greenwald. In fact, I intended to write about this even before I read his post.

Although it's not clear what actually happened, what is clear now is that Bin Laden wasn't fighting back when he was shot. He may have been fleeing; he may have moved (forwards, sideways, or backwards) after being told not to move; he may even have been captured and summarily executed on site. In any event, we now know he wasn't actually armed and fighting back.

I do "genuinely believe in general in due process and adherence to ostensible Western norms of justice." I believe in them so much that, had Osama Bin Laden actually been captured through torture, as torture apologists are now trying to claim (falsely, it appears), I would rather he had not been captured. I believe in them so much that I find it sad and embarrassing how far we seem to have fallen since Nuremberg, when we didn't hesitate to offer even the most heinous war criminals at least a semblance of fair trials. Today, the idea of trying someone like Bin Laden seems like an invitation to political chaos.

Even so, I don't really care how Bin Laden died. There, I said it. Would I have preferred that he'd been captured alive and given a fair trial? Absolutely. But presented with a fait accompli, I'm just glad he's dead. I'm satisfied. My own mind is the only place I'll ever have to make some sort of judgment about this, and in that courtroom I choose to exercise a kind of prosecutorial discretion. I won't mentally charge anyone involved with any crimes, even if they may have been committed. I'm willing to risk the slippery slope that places me on.

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Thursday, May 05, 2011

Decency part 2

I grew up in a world where it was a given that torture is always wrong. Or rather, since the rest of the developed world hasn't generally abandoned this most basic principle of human decency, I should emphasize that I grew up in an America where torture was always wrong. Even Republicans acknowledged that.

That's not to say that no one was ever tortured in America's name before Bush II. But at least -- at least -- when it was done back in the day it was done secretly and shamefully. Some people may have believed it necessary, that it was a dirty job that they had to take upon themselves, but they would scarcely have dared to speak of it openly, much less boast of it. They knew that almost everyone saw torture as wrong, as evil, as indecent. Obviously, America has changed.

I wrote a little while ago about "decency" on an individual level, but this time I want to discuss it more as a group or cultural phenomenon. Specifically, I want to know why it is that Mormonism, and Christianity in general for that matter, fails to teach people how to be decent human beings.

After I found out about what really happened in the Mountain Meadows Massacre, I thought there was probably nothing a Mormon could do that I would find particularly shocking. Even though I still believed in the LDS church, I realized that Mormons are nothing special. They're just like any other people: some good, some bad, and some indifferent.

But I was wrong: I could still be shocked. And I was shocked when I found out that at least four Mormons were instrumental in designing and justifying the Bush Administration's torture/war crime regime.

We've long known that in the right circumstances, when ordered to do so, many people will participate in cruelty. Milgram and Zimbardo demonstrated that decades ago. But I'm not talking about low-level flunkies like the ones scapegoated for the Abu Ghraib atrocities. No, these were professionals: lawyers and psychologists. In at least some cases, they were prominent in the local church. And they didn't just work inside the Bush Administration's torture/war crime regime, they helped create it.

But my shock wasn't that Mormons were involved (they're no different than other people, after all), but that (as far as I know) there have been absolutely no ecclesiastical consequences for them. As far as I know, the church has taken no action against any of those people. None. Zero. Zilch. I guess my surprise was just my naïveté showing. It hadn't occurred to me that deliberate involvement in a torture/war crime regime would be just fine with the LDS church (or any other church, for that matter), but apparently it is.

But that's not just a Mormon thing. In America, the more often people attend church, the more likely they are to support torture. Of course, in the case of many Christians, their god has set up his own afterlife torture regime, so I guess it's not all that surprising that they support real-life torture too.

In any event, religion may not be the cause of inhumane attitudes, but it clearly isn't the cure for them either. That's one reason I can't help laughing every time I see some some religious person trying to claim that there's no morality without God. I often can't help wondering if they even know what morality is.

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Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (5/4/2011)

The high cost of low teacher salaries.

Trans etiquette 101.

I would like to be brave and competent like A Gay Girl in Damascus's father. I think if I were in the same situation, I could probably handle the brave part, but I'd just end up getting my ass shot or something.

Roger Ebert on life with a stomach tube.

A blogger's posthumous final post.

What Barbie would look like if she was six feet tall.

The Smurfette Principle.

A good analogy for explaining evolution (unless you're colorblind).

The movie version of Ender's Game is getting closer to production. (I would have cared a lot more 10 years ago.)

Who would win a fight between Batman and Jesus?

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Sunday, May 01, 2011

Bin Laden is dead

Well, he's dead. Ten years is a long time; I'm a little surprised that I feel anything at all after this long. But I do. I'm glad he was caught. Not glad as in happy; more like grimly satisfied. Well done, American national security apparatus (finally). I doubt it will make one bit of difference in the world we live in. Still, I'm glad.

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