Monday, September 19, 2011

It's the Stupidity

The headline "PETA to launch porn site in name of animal rights" did not cause me to bat an eye: I'm too used to reports of PETA exploiting women's bodies or comparing having a chicken dinner to exterminating millions of people or doing other disgusting things to gin up some controversy.  If I hadn't felt the need for a chuckle, I wouldn't even have clicked.

And I have to say, I batted an eye this time.

Not over the idea of porn. Over this: "[PETA] hopes to raise awareness of veganism through a mix of pornography and graphic footage of animal suffering."

It's the stupidity that gets me. Is PETA the only group of people who can't see the problem with this?! I can. The two other people in my house when I read the news article can. 

So what's PETA's thought process here? We want to end animal suffering. Hmm, how best to go about it...ooh, I know, let's get more people to start associating animal suffering with sexual arousal!

We can't even use the term "unintended consequence" here, because there's generally an expectation that unintended consequences are things that are hard to impossible to predict. This is easy. If enough people look at your porn site and experience a sequence of "porn picture, porn picture, porn picture, animal suffering picture, porn picture", sooner or later some of them will start to be aroused by the animal suffering pictures. And maybe one or two of them will decide to act upon that by making a little more of it in the world.

I mean, if I wanted to promote Americans putting more of their money in savings, I would start posting pictures online of scantily clad women going into banks with envelopes marked "savings", maybe work my way up to some videos involving women overcome with lust in front of the teller's window as they accidentally overhear the size of the man in front of them's account. Or maybe I'd just some random photos of people making deposits interspersed with a variety of other porn pictures; why go to the work of making themed porn. The point is I'd use sex to promote something I want to happen, not something I want NOT to happen. That's basic advertising. I certainly wouldn't try to get people to associate sexual arousal with the thing I wanted them to stop doing. That's basic sense.

I'm flabbergasted.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Everyone Should Be a Bureacrat

When we moved into our new place, Uncle Pookie decided to get cable. Frivolous and unnecessary, sure, but I'll admit to watching more than I should and to liking the DVR feature. Mostly having television allows us to watch stuff we would have watched on DVD or Netflix streaming anyway, such as catching Burn Notice episodes as they air instead of a season at a time on DVD, but there's a new-to-us show we like called Sons of Guns. It's a reality show set in a gun shop in Baton Rouge. It's interesting subject matter and the owner of the shop reminds us of a friend of ours who died, so we enjoy watching.

Occasionally while watching the gunsmiths at work, it will cross my mind that these men have the kind of job that modern elites sneer at.

Every episode the guys at the gun shop are presented with a problem that they need to solve. They then have to use their seemingly vast knowledge of weaponry and tools and mechanics, plus good old human brainpower to figure out how to solve the problem. Then they have to test their solution and modify it as necessary. They are clearly thinking.

But it's largely manual work, you see: blue collar. A trade. Therefore of little value. There can be no creativity in it or satisfaction. Their school guidance counselors should have encouraged them a little harder to seek white collar work, preferably in the nonprofit world.

Or not. I touched on the fallacy of manual work being mindless once before here. And I was reminded of this stuff again  when I read "Why your teenager can't use a hammer" today. (Link from a Mark Steyn post, which had an interesting follow up from John Derbyshire, who has been known to describe a particular education fad as the "No American Should Have to Do Manual Work" belief.) It is very interesting reading.

I'm also reminded by it of a news article last year, which had teachers in England saying that children were arriving at school poorly prepared to do math, because they had spent nearly all their playtime indoors watching screens, instead of manipulating real world objects; a specific example was children today not having the understanding that two differently shaped objects might still have the same volume that children who'd spent time playing with containers in a sandbox would have had. Playing in the dirt or with blocks and crayons instead of handheld game systems or just playing outside the constant oversight of adults for an hour or so turns out to have benefits in muscular development, brain development, and encouragement of independence. The "cotton wool generation" is missing out on a lot of experiences.

I'm buying my soon-to-arrive nephew a toy tool bench. It goes on the list with crayons and paper and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Left Untried

My lunchtime reading recently was Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust, a memoir by ImmaculĂ©e Ilibagiza. The author hid for nearly three months in a tiny bathroom with six other women. There was little food, little water, no bathing; and it was still preferable to what would have been their fate outside. These women were not criminals hiding from the law but members of the wrong tribe in a time when their country had gone mad with hatred and resentment. They were hiding from machete-wielding rapists and murderers who had the full backing of their government.

While she sat in the bathroom, Ilibagiza prayed all day. And while she prayed, she came to know that God required that she forgive the people who were slaughtering so many of her fellow countrymen and who would kill her if they found her--that the command to forgive our enemies is not just empty words, but a requirement if we are to continue to grow in holiness. By then her closeness to God was the only thing keeping her going, so somehow she did find the will to forgive them (though as you can imagine that was an act that took renewal as further news of atrocities reached.)

The mind boggles.


I can think of no better illustration of the G. K. Chesterton line, "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried."

No human acting alone--i.e. without God's grace--could forgive such an enormity. It is hard enough for us to forgive relatively small insults from the petty-minded among our relatives and neighbors, but to forgive the utterly senseless murders of our family and countrymen, having our home burned and the whole course of our life disrupted, being forced to huddle together with strangers in fear of our life for week after week--everything natural in us recoils at this idea. But Christianity requires it.

I know enough from my own small troubles about how it can feel to rely on God in a time of stress, that I can understand something of the way she was resting in God's presence in that bathroom. No one would want to lose that closeness. So I know why she had to choose forgiveness, but that she actually succeeded at it is an enormous thing to me and I'm sure that this is one of the rare instances in my life when I'm firmly in the majority--utterly normal, fitting right in.

Forgiveness in a situation like Ilibagiza's would be impossible without God, and many of us would think God is not only cruel to allow the situation but unnatural to expect us to forgive those who caused it. But what's the alternative to forgiveness? Carrying the burden of resentment and hatred and vengeful desires all our lives? Letting the (justifiable) anger go on so long it poisons everything else we have? Letting it all build and grow in the society until it becomes another round of violence, with different names on the victims list?

So what to do? Forgive. Temper justice with mercy. Seek God. It's all easier said than done (!), and in the end it comes down to each of us in our own heart and head, deciding what to do, whether we will listen to God or to the Evil One.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Random Thoughts


Motivation counts for a lot. Even the middle-aged and out-of-shape can move fast when someone in the same room with them looks out the window and says, "Tornado!"


Think twice before telling God you probably need a big kick in the pants--if it's true, he knows already and saying it in prayer is just asking for trouble.


Cliches get to be cliches for very good reasons. Having your family come through a dangerous experience unharmed really is the most important thing about the experience, and it really is the case that the best way to appreciate something is to realize you might have lost it. Truisms may be tired, but they're true.


When you have an unpleasant job to do, it works better to imagine yourself as an Asian (or other) immigrant to the US who is just glad to be here or even to put on the mantle of Christian humility than it does to adopt an attitude of "lazy, entitled, modern American".


We all arrive at adulthood with our own set of faults, but it seems to me there's few greater failures possible in life than to reach old age and death with all of those faults intact and unmitigated.


We should all occasionally ask God to help us focus on the beam in our own eye rather than the speck  in our neighbor's.


Anyone who doubts the Eucharist imparts actual grace should compare the ease of dealing with difficult people when they're receiving the Eucharist regularly relative to the times when they weren't.


Some self-proclaimed Christians say "I've been praying for you" in a way that is suggestive not of actually praying for you, nor even of wanting merely to express polite concern for your well-being, but of contempt.


At least one of my grandmothers was a teenaged mother and no one gave her an MTV show. Probably because she did the boring, socially responsible thing of getting married first.


Everyone notices a nun in traditional habit. It's an eye-catching message that "here is something different", a wordless rebuke to worldliness. If they'd known what a great witness their distinctive garb is, surely no nun back in the '60s and '70s would ever have wanted to get rid of their habit.


Speaking of the '70s, this is my favorite song about the '70s: Tom Servo's Haunting Tribute To the Seventies.


Dennis Prager or someone once pointed out that marriage is the only "relationship" that creates new family.* Has anyone pointed out that this can be uncomfortable for your family? Just like with being born, we don't get to pick the people we become related to by marriage--not by the marriage of our relatives, anyway. Considering some of the people our blood relatives can, with a quick trip to a JP's office, make us related to, it's almost enough to make arranged marriages seem appealing.

* Well, I guess any male-female sexual relationship can create new family, but it does not necessarily do so.


Sometimes, having your principles meet reality can feel like a car hitting a concrete wall--jolting, even if everything inside is still intact.


The lyrics to Aretha Franklin's "A Natural Woman" could almost be the theme song for any female Christian convert.


Re a recent Cul-de-Sac , why DO adults feel the urge to use constructions like "l'il" in kid stuff?


It's surprising people continue to steal actual CDs and DVDs when it's so much easier and safer to steal the digital version of the same thing.


The maxi-dresses I see everywhere this summer are better-looking than shorts and are a big improvement over a**-crack and stretch mark-revealing low-rise jeans, but why do 80 or 90% of them have to be accompanied by visible bra straps under their spaghetti straps or rising above their strapless bodice? What's the thought process here: "I'm going to buy a pretty dress and, as the crowning touch when I wear it, I'm going to have my underwear hanging out!"


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Miscellaneous Thoughts About the Last HP Film

I went to see Deathly Hallows Part Two yesterday. This is, arguably, the best of the films. I've never liked the films as much as the books and went to see DH Parts One and Two mainly out of completism. I can't claim to have thought much about it or deeply, but here's some shallow thoughts.

The pacing was really good. I went to DH2 expecting action but fearing that the necessary backstory and exposition (Snape's story, wandlore, restatement of what the deathly hallows are for people who didn't see the first film) would either bring the film to a stop several times or else would be so nearly eliminated that viewers who hadn't read the books would be left confused. Instead, the movie kept up a good pace and the wandlore and Snape's memories were blended in seamlessly.

The only thing I think someone who hadn't read the books would have been confused about was the question of who that woman lying beside Remus Lupin was. Yes, filmgoers met her in The Order of the Phoenix, but very briefly and that film was the one that I thought probably was confusing to non-readers. Tonks' romance, marriage, and child with Lupin were pretty much non-existent in the films. There's one or two small things in this film that could have been made more clear (for example, how some of the resisting students were actually living in the Room of Requirement, they weren't just camped out in a hallway) but nothing  important.

I was surprised we didn't see Fred die. The twins were a big enough presence in the films (unlike, say, Percy) that I'd assumed we'd see his death in battle.

The bit with the "baby" in King's Cross station was more clear than in the book.

I once remarked that the sixth book was the book where Harry became a man, but DH2 is the film where Harry became a man. From the very start of this one he no longer seems like a boy, but an adult. Presumably it happened while he was burying Dobby.

Ron seems more grown-up too. The cardboard movie stand-ees at the theater had Ron looking a bit bad-ass, instead of his all-too-frequent goofy befuddlement of the early films.

They did a good job with the blinded dragon underneath Gringott's. Other visual stuff was good too, as we've come to expect in contemporary movies, but the work on the dragon impressed me and moved me to pity the beast.

Neville gets to come into his own. We don't get to learn as much about Neville in the films as in the books, but I like Neville and am glad he gets to be a hero in both.

I wasn't entirely comfortable with McGonagall arbitrarily deciding to lock up the entirety of Slytherin house in the dungeons, rather than giving them a chance to choose their loyalty as individuals.

Were they implying an incipient romance between Neville and Luna? There was a line from Neville I didn't quite catch, so I'm honestly not sure.

Unlike some reviewers, I didn't think the job of aging the young actors to portray thirtysomethings for the film's coda was badly done.

Not everyone was a fan. Moments after the last scene faded I was thinking, well, that's the end of it, and a child piped up behind me, "Yay, it's over." I had to explain to the people I was with why I was laughing.

The MST3K guys once remarked that at some point in, I don't know, the late eighties maybe, filmmakers started crediting far more people at the end than they ever had before, making the MST3K guys' job harder. Between that and all the special effects people involved in making contemporary films, credits really are getting too long. I entertain myself by looking for interesting names among the scores of credited people; FWIW there are some in DH2's credits.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Long Quote of the Month

I recently found Crisis Magazine's archived articles by John Zmirak (of the Bad Catholic guides fame) and have been enjoying them one or a few at a time. A longish bit from one of them--"Satan: A Tapeworm"--leapt off the screen and right for my brain. Zmirak was saying that it bothered him how many supposedly uplifting Christian movies "are not really “spiritual,” much less Christian; they’re simply bland and inoffensive."

The Catholic faith is neither. In fact, like really authentic Mexican food
(think habeneros and fried crickets), it is at once both pungent and offensive.
It offends me all the time, with the outrageous demands it makes of my fallen
nature and the sheer weirdness of its claims. It asserts that, behind the veil
of day-to-day schlepping, of work and laundry and television and microwaved
burritos, we live on the front lines of a savage spiritual war waged by
invisible entities (deathless malevolent demons and benevolent dead saints)
whose winners will enjoy eternal happiness with a resurrected rabbi, and whose
losers will writhe forever in unquenchable fire. Sometimes I step back and find
myself saying in Jerry Seinfeld’s voice: What’s with all the craziness? Why
can’t I just enjoy my soup?

The Church’s heroes, seen from a worldly
point of view, are a pack of self-destructive zealots who embark on crackpot
projects like lifelong celibacy, voluntary poverty, and (worst of all)
obedience; who leave perfectly serviceable chateaus in France to go preach the
Beatitudes to scalp-collecting Indians in freezing Canada; who volunteer to
sneak into Stalin’s Russia precisely because he has imprisoned so many priests,
then spend decades saying secret Masses in labor camps; who open up pro-life
pregnancy centers in crappy neighborhoods so they can talk welfare queens into
having still more babies we’ll have to pay for . . .

And so on. A
religion like this doesn’t need after-school specials; it needs science fiction
and fantasy, horror films and surrealism to convey the fundamental strangeness
that it believes lies just beneath the surface of day-to-day “reality.”

And that, my friends, goes a long way toward explaining why I am Catholic. The weirdness is palpable and the stakes are high (the highest) and the witness of those who have gone before is amazing.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Tech, Tech Everywhere ...

So, the other day I was about to light a scented candle when I suddenly realized I hadn't moved the kitchen matches up from our old house. Well, no problem, I'll just--I'll just--umm...I just stood there foolishly as I realized the problem: no matches, no cigarette or fireplace lighter, electric stove so no open flame, no pilot light anywhere as far as I could tell. There I was, standing in a house filled with high-tech stuff that can cook my food, wash my clothes, help me exercise my body, communicate over long distances, and entertain me sixteen ways from Sunday, but I can't make fire.

It seemed a very Chestertonian moment somehow.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Knowledge Is/n't Power

I just recently finished the sixth and final installment of Jean Auel's Earth Children series, and I've concluded it's a subversive book. No, not because it takes place on an Earth more than six thousand years old, not because it depicts goddess worship in a pre-Christian world, nor because it imagines our ancestors interbreeding with Neanderthals. Not even because the first book has multiple rapes of a very young woman and the subsequent books include numerous and often detailed sexual encounters. All of that's fairly passe these days, and part of this book is definitely (though perhaps unintentionally) hitting a very contemporary sacred cow.

As Ayla is nearing the end of what I'll call her shaman training she gets her "call" (visions) and, as part of this, receives supernatural confirmation of her long-held theory that it's sex with a man that creates new life in a woman's belly. Her superior decides they must reveal this information to their people, despite the inevitable social change it will cause. Ayla thinking about this afterward considers that the knowledge will empower women: once women know babies are made by sex, they can, when it would be inconvenient or undesirable for them to get pregnant, refrain from sex.

Now that's a subversive idea.

We've been hearing since the '80s that, while knowing about contraception is good, knowing what causes babies can in no way affect our behavior. People who know full well where babies come from can not be expected to refrain from that activity just because they can't support a baby, aren't married, have important goals that would be hindered by a baby at this time, etc. Knowledge is not power when it comes to sex and babies. That's been the message for at least half my life.

I guess Ayla, being a cave woman, was too dumb to know that.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Blog on Hiatus

I know I don't blog all that frequently anyway, but I thought I'd post to say that, due to some major disruptions in our life (largely nature-induced), this blog is going to be on hiatus for several months, minimum. I feel bad mentioning my own troubles when there is so much suffering going on in Japan right now, but if anyone who reads this blog feels so inclined, I would appreciate prayers, even if I never know about them in this life. My husband and I are both alive and well (the most important thing!) and already have been on the receiving end of much kindness from friends and family, but it's going to be some months before we get things sorted.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Random Thoughts


If the sizes above size 14 are called plus sizes, why aren't the sizes below 14 called minus sizes?


When I was young I had a button that said "I read banned books." Nowadays I think that message of rebellion would be better replaced with "I draw inappropriate stick figures."


If there's a spectrum of autism and Aspergers, then shouldn't there also be a spectrum of normality with some people who are technically "normal" (i.e. don't have Asperger's), but who aren't quite "neuro-typical" either?


Microwaves are a great convenience, but no microwaved spaghetti and meat sauce has ever tasted as good as skillet re-warmed spaghetti.


In the autumn I'm grateful to have days with a high temp in the seventies, but in the spring a high of 74 or 75 is just a harbinger of the horrors heat and humidity to come.


Isn't a "No Trespassing" sign on a fence kind of redundant?


My favorite typo in the world is "Viola!", frequently seen where "Voila!" was the clear intention. There's just something so wonderfully capricious about crying "Viola!" to present something with a flourish. The only way it could be bettered would be to use "Petunia!" instead.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

I *love* pot roast!

Sometimes things can be found in the strangest places.

Uncle Pookie and I recently watched Freaks and Geeks for the first time. It's a shame we missed it when it was on TV because it's easily the best TV show about high school ever (Buffy is a contender but goes past high school). Fortunately, the whole series is now available on DVD and well worth watching.

So is it just me or is there a great depiction of traditional, Christian marriage near the end of episode 10? See the scene I'm thinking of in this Youtube clip, beginning around the 3:25 mark. The setup for the scene is that, encouraged by another parent, the father and mother of our main characters secretly read their daughter's diary. They find no evidence of the kind of wrongdoing they feared, but they do learn their daughter thinks of them as boring bourgeois automatons. This upsets the mother, who starts trying to make some changes to their routine.

It's the Christian ideal of leadership--maybe a bit of chivalry too--given expression by a Midwestern, sporting goods store owner on a show with the word "freaks" (i.e. burnouts) in the title. Unexpected, but sweet.

Friday, January 28, 2011

A Story for Corpus Christi--Really Early

A while back, while returning from a trip to the coast, my husband and his friend were talking geek stuff and my mind was wandering somewhere far outside the car window, when it suddenly came back inside just in time to catch the tail end of a mini-rant from our friend on comics or Transformers or something: "The main problem I have with it is they should have paid more attention to it. I mean, he basically ate God. You can't do that and not have it affect you!" My husband looked over (at least his voice sounded as if he looked over) and said, "You should become Catholic."

Quote of the Month

I've been rereading Lord of the Rings, something I wish I'd done years ago (I did listen to a big chunk of the Fellowship audiobook a while back ), as it seems better than it did when I was in high school. Despite the annoying tendency of movie images to invade my mind from time to time, it's been really enjoyable so far. The Two Towers especially so, as it seemed to tear along at a surprisingly fast pace compared to the other two books. Here's my quote of the month, taken from it:

'...How shall a man judge what to do in such times?'

'As he ever has judged,' said Aragorn. 'Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men. It is a man's part to discern them, as much in the Golden Wood as in his own house.'

Monday, January 03, 2011

An Easy Resolution For Us

Okay, so it's January 3rd and pretty much everybody who was going to make a New Year's resolution has already made one or given up on the idea or both. But in the unlikely idea there's anyone still looking for an idea, might I suggest something: praying before meals (aka saying grace, asking the blessing), even if you're in public.

I live in the Bible Belt, a part of the country whose religiosity is apparently so intense as to offend people on the East and West Coasts, and I have hardly ever seen prayer in restaurants, cafeterias, and such. As a child I, like most of my classmates, was taught to pray before meals at home; it's often the first prayer people teach their children. But for the most part we didn't pray before meals in public areas. (Church gatherings would be an exception here.)

People who I knew were church-goers and who I'm pretty sure prayed before meals in their homes never seemed to do so in public. It's almost as if it were taboo to pray in public, but most of the people I grew up with were proponents of prayer in the public schools, so there goes that theory.

I figure skipping the before-meal prayer in public is either habit or they're too embarrassed to actually do it.

What's to be embarrassed about? I can only call recall a couple of instances where I definitely saw someone who was alone pray before a meal in a public area and both times I thought better of them, although I was not a practicing Christian myself. Once was when I was a teenager in a MacDonalds and a man who was obviously a drifter of some sort sat down with his meal and began to address his Heavenly Father so loudly that pretty much everyone turned to look. I don't recommend this, but I thought no worse of him for it.

The other was when I saw an older woman at my workplace sitting with her lunch in the employee lounge bow her head and move her lips in silent prayer before she began eating, and I thought, "Good for her". She was a nice lady and as far as I could tell she always prayed like that, whether she was eating alone or with others. I loved that she didn't compromise her beliefs just because she happened to be in public.

Gratitude is the fundamental religious instinct. Even people with no religious training--or who have rejected what they received--feel the need to give thanks at times. It's an instinct worth nurturing. "Ungrateful" is an insult in every part of society. That's the reason a before-meal prayer is often the first prayer people teach their toddlers, right along with the "please" and "thank you" they're teaching them to say to humans. Those expressions are not empty ones.

An article in a pagan magazine I saw a long time ago said that "please" and "thank you" are actually manifestations of a profound truth: noone owes you anything. Noone owes you, so when you ask for something, you acknowledge that by asking nicely. Noone owes you, so when they give you something, you express gratitude; they didn't have to give it to you, but they did.

If we say thank you to the stranger who tells us what time it is or a friend who passes us a cup of coffee, how much more should we say it to God, the one who gave us everything? If he gave you the intelligence to get yourself to the restaurant and earn the money to pay for the meal and the good fortune to live in a country where there's abundant food to buy, why not a little thank you, even if there are people around who might see and suspect what you're doing. If you're Catholic, cross yourself afterward and let 'em see. It might remind them to think about the things they're grateful for.