The Mating Game: A primatologist looks at the mathematical community
Are you like me? Do you love reading those books by Jane Goodall and Frans De Waal where they observe a community of great apes and describe all of their social interactions in graphic detail? If so, you're in luck! Because I have observed a primate society myself (in their natural habitat!), and today I am going to share my observations with you!!!
The Christian establishment hasn't always been so gung-ho to embrace its best-loved holiday. Notably, the Puritan pilgrims outlawed the celebration of Christmas. They invented the holiday "Thanksgiving" as a replacement to put a stop to all the partying, fun-having, and other pagan customs traditionally associated with the yuletide season. So if you were wondering why Thanksgiving is such a lame holiday, that's why.
Mormon Lit Misfit
Some may say that by writing stories about Mormons from an apostate perspective, I'm being one of those people who "can leave the church but can't leave it alone."
I ask, whose childhood am I supposed to write about? I didn't ask to be raised in this religion.
I know some of you who believe in the pre-existence will say that in fact I did ask to be raised in this religion, before I was born and everything. But I know myself pretty well, and I'm sure that if I did ask to be raised Mormon back in the pre-existence, I was just kidding.
Those Wacky Health Insurance Companies!
The lesson to be learned is that the correct sequence is as follows: (1) Go to the doctor, (2) wait until you receive evidence that your insurance has paid the bills as they were supposed to, then (3) quit your job. Important: Do not invert these last two steps.
Why I hate church
I was digging through my old papers, and I found this amusing little article that I wrote for the Student Review -- BYU's now-defunct independent student paper -- when I was around 20 years old. It's particuarly funny that I saw it as shocking and controversial to expose the fact that church is no fun for kids...
Weekend in Paris
Chocolate fish are my favorite French Easter custom. Sure they have the usual chocolate bunnies and eggs like back home, but they also have this additional chocolate fish custom in honor of Lent. Now you may have heard that people like to give up chocolate for Lent. Well, it turns out that as long as the chocolate is in the shape of a fish, it counts as fish and not chocolate for Lent purposes.
Really. I'm not making this up.
Okay, I am making it up. I think it's more that -- Catholic as everybody is around here -- people don't really give stuff up for Lent.
Now if you're new to this blog, you're probably wondering "Hey, if she's an atheist, what's she doing celebrating the festival of the goddess Astarte??"
Me, on Star Trek!!!
Here I am as the Vulcan captain of the U.S.S. Galois, the starship I commanded for the fifteen-episode community cable Star Trek parody that my brother and I wrote and produced.
The Mishies and Me: The Rest of the Story
Mishies: But you still believe in God, right?
Me: (big smile :D ) No. I am an atheist.
I used to joke around with my friends that this is the perfect hobby for me because it's Celtic and it's not work.
A nice compliment...
Maybe I'm reading this wrong or something, but by contrast with all of the negative stereotypes and generalizations about people who stop believing, I can't help but see it as a compliment when believing Mormons say that those who "fall away" are the ones that "asked too many questions."
Family history: we're different.
The LDS ethic has an interesting blend of "do as you're told" and "do it yourself." I think that because of my extended family's stories and traditions, I was raised on an extra heavy dose of "do it yourself."
Trains, trains, and more trains!!!
I don't object to the Christian content as it seems mostly limited to portraying the local vicar as a nice guy and mentioning that the trains take the kids' Sunday school class on outings. I don't think we would let them watch it if it were like "Hey kids, let's all praise Jesus!!" This is largely for the same reason we don't let them watch "Barney", namely that when the kids watch their videos we end up having to sit through them as well.
What would have happened?
interviewer: So you're saying that God wasn't always God, and that once upon a time he used to be a righteous guy on some other planet?
Mormon Meat: Christopher Bigelow's Kindred Spirits
One thing I really like about this novel is the realistic ambiguity and complexity of the situation presented. The author doesn't just spell out for you what you should think about the various characters and situations but rather leaves you to form your own opinions. As the story progresses, Eliza's relationship with her boyfriend and with the church takes some strange turns, and I couldn't keep from wondering how things would have turned out if she'd made different choices.
My conspiracy theory!!!
As a cultural Mormon, I couldn't help but find it amusing that Brown sets out to show that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, which is a popular Mormon folk-doctrine that was taught by some early LDS church leaders. It wasn't until I read the whole book in all of its secrets-of-the-Templars glory that I saw how very perfectly the Mormons fit into the world Dan Brown set up!!!
In short, I play the proverbial benevolent deity who gives her creations serious trials to overcome, but refuses to give them more than they can ultimately handle. Collins is more like the “cruel realities” deity who says to her creations “Oops, you were in the wrong place at the wrong time, so too bad for you.” Wham!
The second stupidest thing I did in Scotland
I hope momsis doesn't get annoyed with me for posting this story. I'm not doing it justice -- it was hilarious the way she told it!!! Everyone in this whole family is a jokemeister. Well, my siblings anyway -- my parents are kind of boring. (Kidding!!! Don't tell them I said that...)
Men in kilts!!!
This will be fabulous!!! or a total disaster...
Now, on the surface that seems like a good plan. But think about it. I'll be at a big Catholic wedding reception with my exmo-atheist brothers, and my kids will be safely in the care of someone responsible. So in theory I might say "Okay, I'll try not to drink too much," but in practice, who am I kidding? And besides, my little brother got roaring drunk at my wedding reception, so the least I can do is return the favor.
Peanut Butter vs. Vegemite
So since moving to France, I've learned that the French don't eat peanut butter and they don't eat Vegemite. the Vegemite part didn't bother me so much since I'd never heard of Vegemite until my manager here was replaced by a guy from Australia. (Or so I thought -- when I told people I'd never heard of Vegemite, I found out that that line I never could understand from that one "Men at Work" song is actually "she just smiled and gave me a Vegemite sandwich." Live and learn!)
Religion and getting along...
As an example, in the comments of this post, "Fie to Kolob" offers a dismissive theory for why so many exmos are atheists. (Remember that Fie is the guy whose attitude towards Mormons was -- to my taste -- a little too close for comfort with the Mormon "love the sinner, hate the sin", attitude towards homosexuals, and he responded by assuring me that the way to show love for Mormons and homosexuals alike is to break them of their foolish misguidedness and save them for Jesus.)
Thoughts on Jack Weyland
Probably the ugliest thing I've seen in Weyland's work is the plot-line where an obnoxious guy “helps” a fat girl by being brutally honest with her (i.e. repeatedly telling her what a repulsive lardo she is), and she responds by changing her ways, losing weight, and being eternally grateful to the guy. This plot appears in a short story and is also a sub-plot in the novel Sam (where the formerly-fat girl actually marries the guy who “helped” her). This is wrong on so many levels, I don't even know where to begin.
Fertility, Mortality or Sex vs. Death
Today if you're in a loving marriage, you expect to be able to grow old together. Abusive or otherwise bad marriages are ended by choice, rather than having good and bad marriages alike cut short by untimely deaths.
And as a parent, rather than having more children than you can effectively handle – and then watching many of them die – you can typically choose to have no more kids than you think you can raise well, and more importantly, you can base this calculation on the expectation that you will most likely see them all live to adulthood.
It was kind of silly of me to have even imagined I'd find them selling a scrapbooking stamp of the Salt Lake Temple here. I think it's my nationalistic pride in the superiority of American retail science that makes me picture the French buyer who chose the stock as being some hapless amateur who would just order the generic American scrapbooking supplies set without a second thought about tailoring the stock to the local tastes. I should start giving these French retailers some credit. A careful examination of all of their choices of stamps yielded (among many other things) one generic church, two different very cute stylized versions of the Eiffel Tower, and no Salt Lake Temple. So, good job French retailers -- I'll try not to underestimate you so absurdly again.
My Ex is Having Sex with Rex!!!
Jennifer describes in entertaining detail her adventures in discovering anew what straight men are like. For example, she gets the fun of having two different guys in a row try to charm the pants off her with a clever line about how ordering french fries is "sooooo sexy!" lol
Confessions of a former Nader voter, parts 1 and 2.
I remembered Dan Quayle testing the waters of candidacy, and -- as far as I could tell -- he had been laughed off the stage for his ridiculous gaffes. Since Bush Jr. had demonstrated himself to be (if anything) even stupider, I figured he didn't have a snowball's chance in hell of getting elected. After all, I reasoned, even stupid people will say "Maybe for our leader we should choose someone who's not an idiot..."
My friend, the Internet...
Now if it ever happens one day that there's nothing left of me but a disembodied brain in a jar hooked up to the Internet, then I'm sure I'll become a regular on several forums in addition to blogging. (Guys, please don't try to pretend that you never plan what you'll do if you're ever reduced to nothing but a disembodied brain in a jar.) But for the moment, my system is to focus on blogging only.
The birds and the bees and the whales...
He didn't have any follow-up questions. I guess since whales have a lot of body parts in common with people (eyes, mouths), it seemed perfectly reasonable to him that the daddy whale should have a zizi. (Indeed, a whale of a big zizi...)
Discrimination against homosexuals: why? why? why???
Gay marriage obviously fits right into the modern marriage model: neither partner is the expected master, neither is the expected servant; you expect to marry the person you love rather than being expected to marry for economic/dynastic reasons. Naturally gay people want to get in on this cultural innovation -- why wouldn't they?
Polytheism vs. Monotheism + Omnipotence
Then there's the question of followers. If I understand correctly, the pagan gods liked to have followers give them sacrifices because, well, sacrifices are tasty and/or they increase the particular god's strength or something like that. On the other hand, the unique, omnipotent God likes to have followers worshiping Him because...... ?????
It takes a lot of faith to believe that!!!
The interesting thing isn’t what this says about the speaker’s opinion of atheism or evolution. The thing that’s striking is what it says about the speaker’s opinion of faith.
Challenges and Pleasures of Mormon lit: In Our Lovely Deseret, edited by Robert Raleigh
Another elephant in the room of Mormon lit -- perhaps an even bigger one than belief vs. unbelief -- is sexuality. One of the oft-cited draws of (mainstream) Mormon lit is that it's "clean". A huge portion of the LDS audience doesn't want to be reading along and encounter a sex scene, and many (most?) LDS authors agree with the audience about it and are more than happy to oblige. But this taboo -- its causes, its effects, its relation to the Mormon emphasis on family -- turns sexuality into one of the most fascinating aspects of Mormon culture to explore.
Modern Baal worship??? Um, is that a joke?
When I read the synopsis ("Exposes Islam as a conspiracy of the Catholic church and, by proxy, Satan"), I thought the synopsis writer had to exaggerating or something. Nope. That's really what's in that one. The impressive part isn't so much the efficiency of it (insults both Muslims and Catholics in one stroke!) as the creativity of it. I mean, how would you even come up with such a thing?
Do you want to live forever? or the many reasons why I don't like death...
But then here's the problem: Suppose you live exactly the full life you set out to live and accomplish everything you ever wanted to accomplish. Who does that really matter to? It matters to you. But then after you're dead it doesn't matter to you anymore because nothing matters to you anymore -- you're dead. You could try living your life to make a positive impact on other people that will continue after your death. But someday they'll be dead too. Hmmm.
This is why I try not to think about this.
The Good News about Atheists!: Hemant Mehta's I Sold My Soul on eBay
We've all heard about how atheists are the most hated and mistrusted minority in America. Well, what are we going to do about it? We're going to get out there and say to our friends and neighbors "Hi, I'm so-and-so, and I'm a member of your community and an ordinary person -- not the sort of bogeyman you might imagine atheists to be..." Hemant Mehta sets a great example of how to keep your tone positive and constructive when talking to Christians so you can help people see the friendly face of atheism.
How I became an atheist
But weirdly it was the beginning of the end. As long as I wasn't sure I'd ever received any spiritual witness, I didn't feel qualified to criticize that type of evidence. But once I had some spiritual evidence of my own, I had something concrete to question. And as soon as I started putting some weight on my evidence -- to rely on it for my belief -- the doubts started to squeeze out. That guy is a talented speaker. He's probably given that same devotional hundreds of times. He knows how to tell his story in such a way that it generates an emotional response in his audience. No supernatural explanation required...
The parable of criticism is a compliment
When I arrived in Paris, I had plenty of opportunity to practice my new skill on the people of the math department I was visiting. And it seemed like everybody was complimenting me on how well I spoke French, to which I would respond with a faux-modest "merci" and then launch into the grand epic tale of how I'd taught myself to speak French. That was one of the stories I was really, really good at telling in French. ;^)
Jesus and the death penalty
I realize that a lot of Christians oppose the death penalty on principle. However, it seems like Christian opposition to the death penalty should be essentially universal, given that they believe the state can make such a colossal blunder that not only random innocent people -- but in fact the most innocent person of all -- might be wrongly put to death.
Steal this idea: Greetings from the opposite of America!!!
Bill Maher gives an excellent modern example: Health care. Why is U.S. health care in the state it's currently in? Why, it's because American health care is the best in the world!!! And la-la-la I'm putting my fingers in my ears and not listening to you if you say anything different!!!
Family History: Moonshine
And so whenever I see a hidden still in the backwoods portrayed in movies or television, part of me is thinking: "Yep, my ancestors did that." ;^)
More whale naughty bits!!!
Some bloggers get annoyed when their blogs attract search queries that look like they may be from weirdos. But I'm not like that. Whenever I get those weirdo queries, I like to see it as just more free data for my inner anthropologist. Plus only cool people read my blog, so I'm willing to give these people the benefit of the doubt!
If they're looking for such an image, I'm sure they have some legitimate scientific and/or whale fetish purpose for wanting to see whales getting it on.
All about Lourdes!!!
If you look closely at the photos above, you can see the candle box says (in several languages) "This flame continues my prayer." So apparently you start praying, and lighting a candle holds the line open with God while you go off and do something else. I thought it was pretty hilarious when Mr. Deity called dinner blessings "spam", but the Catholics have gone one step farther -- they actually call up God and put Him on hold!!!
Is religion the problem?
Regardless of what is written in any official holy book, most people are going to act in their best interest. When it's time for war, those who like the scriptures about God killing all the infidels will rise to power, and when it's time for peace, those who prefer the passages about God loving everyone will rise to power. I figure we might as well make friends with that latter group and compare notes with them. They're the ones who are in a position to sway the (political) opinions of the average believer.
Why I'm a bad mom, part 2
I taught my kids about Buddha kind of unintentionally. One time a colleague went on a business trip to China and brought back tiny Buddha statues for everyone, as souvenirs. I gave mine to my kids to use as a toy. All I told them about him was that his name is Buddha, so naturally they put him with their Spiderman, Batman, and Superman figurines (and dubbed him "Buddha-man").
Part of me wants to call it entertaining, but I'm dancing around that word because of the horror and violence of the film. It is quite the opposite of the typical "entertaining" movie violence we see these days (visually graphic, emotionally distant) because even though the visuals are simplistic cartoons, you know that the violence being portrayed is very real.
Harry Potter vs. Jesus
I'm not going to try to prove the case either way, just throw out some ideas and let you decide. As a control, I'll compare these two stories to two other famous self-sacrificing-nonpermanent-death scenes from popular culture: It's a Wonderful Life and Star Trek II.
"He has his faults, such as being a perverted-democrat-atheist, but...
In concrete terms, when I get home from a hard day at work, I want to be able to kick off my shoes, grab a beer, and relax. I don't want to hear my husband telling me that he's praying about this or that or about the progress he's making in trying to get intelligent design taught in schools, etc. At the same time, I wouldn't want to be married to someone and have him feel like he can't tell me about things that are important to him because I wouldn't agree or be supportive. That's not to say that we have to agree on everything, but at least on the fundamentals and basic values...