Archive for the ‘ThereforeIAm’ Category

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Fun with Bicycles (or, How Not To Ride One)

July 23, 2009

I’m going to make a confession now that is actually less embarassing than one might expect: I never learned to ride a bicycle.

(Gasp!  Shock.  Really?  Yes.)  Why?  Numerous reasons:

One, I was a coward as a kid.  I’ll be the first to admit it.  I also didn’t learn to swim or climb trees, for exactly the same reason.

Two, the bicycle is an insidious device.  With only two wheels and (in my case) a seat designed to give you crotch bruises, these suckers are anything but fun for the novice.

Combine that with certain feelings of inadequacy (having an older sister and cousin who could already ride perfectly and certainly weren’t patient enough to help me learn), frustration with relatives (PLEASE, Dad, do NOT walk up to me after I’ve killed my ass and ask me in the perkiest tone you can muster if I’ve been “practicing riding my bike”), and an uncontrollable feeling of terror whenever the thing goes too fast and you have a recipe for disaster.

Fortunately, I learned a few helpful things today that should help to minimize discomfort, panic, and injury for anyone who’s just starting out on a bike, but especially me.

Lesson One: How Not To Ride A Bike

1. My sister’s method: Start at the top of a shallow hill and coast down, keeping your feet a short distance from the ground.  Repeat until you stop going into panic attacks.

Why?  Because this happens: The bike starts going too fast.  You try in vain to brake, by touching the ground with your feet, but by this time it’s already too late.  You have two choices: fall over or stand up, hold on, and skid along the ground while the bike humps you from below until it finally stops.  Then, if you have something else in common with me, you hyperventilate for the next few seconds.

2. Mother’s advice: Disregard sister’s advice.  Get on the bike, push off, and start pedaling.

And be ready for Panic Attack #2, because – again, only if you’re like me – as soon as the bike starts to pick up speed, you freak out.  Assuming the bike ever picks up speed in the first place.  The alternative: you try to pedal, the bike tips over.  You try to correct the problem.  It fails and you have another panic attack.

(Although this might seem a bit self-serving, I do not consider “having a panic attack when I lose control of the bike” to be the same as “being a coward”.  I am fairly sure that a coward wouldn’t have gotten on the stupid bike to begin with.)

Anyway, this is the method I found that actually works:

How To Actually Ride A Bike

First of all, you know all those seasoned bike-riders you see out there with their feet on the pedals?  They’re not you.  Unlike you, they’re actually comfortable with what they’re doing.  You are not – or so I assume, because if you were I expect you would know how to ride the thing.

So here’s what you do: Keep your feet on the ground.  Lower the seat until you can get a good grip on it.  Start at the top of a slope (a gentle slope), sit on the bike, and walk your way down.  Yes, walk.  While you’re on the bike.  When you’re a bit more comfortable, you can even start to pick up some speed.  Run a little.  Walk it back up the slope and go down again.  Whee.

All right, so it’s a little childish.  But let’s be serious here: would we rather look a little childish, or kill our elbows, knees, shins, ankles, and nervous systems trying to ride the thing some other way?

(Oh, and here’s a fun tidbit for future adult bikers: a podcast about adults learning to ride for the first time. We’re not alone out there.)

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God does not answer prayers

July 6, 2009

(Today, I’m writing this on the Wii, which is somewhat of a pain in the butt. It’s a bit like a laptop, inasmuch as it’s a bit slower to operate than a standard computer, and it’s not like a laptop inasmuch as everything takes longer to load and the Visual version of my blog inputter is broken, meaning I have to do everything in HTML. Plus the text input thing only has two lines, making it somewhat of a Word Processer From Hell.

But I digress.)

I was thinking about God, and Christianity, and prayer (I do that a lot, as I was once a Christian myself). Specifically, I was thinking of one doctrine – never heard in my church, but touted in a few others – on the subject of prayer.

It goes like this: “God always answers prayers. He just answers them in one of three forms: Yes, No, and Wait.”

Forgive my impertinence, O Mighty Pastor, but having thought it over, I believe you are incorrect.

When you pray, what do you hear? Is there a Great Cosmic Voice that booms down from the heavens, offering you the word “Yes”, “No” or “Wait”? If you’re most people, probably not. The only thing that you get is an oppressive silence that you have to try to interpret – or just to wait and see what happens.

In other words, there is no answer. Or, if you want to be liberal about it and say that God’s silence is an answer, then that answer can only be “Wait”, since you must invariably wait until something happens (or doesn’t happen) to find out what the “actual answer” was.

Of course, this is a dodgy proposition at best, since prayers, when they are finally “answered”, are almost always answered in the vaguest ways possible. You ask for some financial help? Something you need to buy is on sale. Need a new car? After two weeks of searching, you finally find the one you need on Craigslist. These kind of events are so vague that you can’t even know for sure if they were the answers to your prayers. What if that sale was the result of a poor Hindu woman begging Vishnu to have pity on her? What if the owner of the car cast a spell on it to make it look more attractive to buyers? Or what if – as it happens sometimes – your purchase of his car was just a matter of two people with similar needs taking initiative at roughly the same time? You could ask God, but it won’t do you any good: he only answers in “Yes,” “No” and “Wait.”

By and large, though, the greatest complaint I have about this claim is that it is not backed up anywhere in the Bible. In fact, the Scriptures are fairly clear about what you should expect from a prayer: Knock and the door will be opened. Ask and ye shall receive. Seek and ye shall find. If ye have faith even to the size of a grain of mustard, you shall command a mountain “Move over there,” and it shall move.

If you talk to a Christian about this, though, it breaks down fairly quickly. None of them will claim to have moved a mountain – and if they did, no one would have a reason to believe them. Very few have even professed a miraculous recovery from an injury or fatal disease (at least when the malady was previously confirmed by an independent party). Why? you ask them. Their response: “Because I didn’t have enough faith.” Which again contradicts scripture. Faith as a grain of mustard, remember? In order for someone not to have enough faith for their prayers to be answered, they would need to have no faith at all. In other words, they would need not to believe that God exists or that he can do miracles. But they must believe, because they continue to pray for them.

So which is it? Does God answer prayers? If so, he seems to do this in a tumultous and unpreferential fashion. Or do some people who pray – the “Yes, No, and Wait” people in particular – not actually believe in the being they are praying to?

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I’m going to be snarky today…

July 3, 2009

So there I was, checking out my life as represented by a long beach with footprints on it.  It was easy to see which parts were the bad ones; they tended to have hard rocks and crabs mucking about.  One particularly rough time was marked by a giant sinkhole and several bits of broken glass.

One thing bothered me, though: I noticed that, as I examined the tracks where Jesus and I had walked, the parts of my life that had been the hardest were home to only one pair of footprints.  Naturally, I asked Jesus about this: “Jesus,” I said, “was there some particular reason you thought it was a good idea to take off while I was going through the rough spots?”

“Silly child,” he said, “those are the times when I carried you.”

“Okay, okay,” I said, “so what are these other footprints, about a couple yards away, that look like some drunk guy staggering around?  Look, there are beer bottles.”

“Er-” he said, “well, that was the Devil, coming to tempt you.”

“They match your sandal prints,” I said.

“We shop at the same store.”

“Okay,” I said.  “Here’s the time I got married.  Best day of my life, with me and my wife and my family, and there’s only one line of footprints.  Don’t tell me you needed to carry me through that?”

“…I was flying.”

This is what it’s like trying to argue with Christians.  It doesn’t matter how many arguments you bring up, because they are fully capable of inventing endless rationalizations for your questions/protests.  Some of them are Biblical, but many of them come from the Christian themself.

The problem with these arguments is this: they’re nice, they’re tempting, and they explain things easily, but they are not canon.  Ergo I cannot accept them as an explanation.

On another note, as in the story above, the explanations tend to get exponentially sillier the longer you argue.  See the whole “the snake was Satan in disguise” silliness.

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A bit of introspection…

June 23, 2009

Hugh Laurie re-taught me a lesson I’d almost forgotten: that although I am smitten by a good-looking man, it is a brilliant one who really ravages my hormones.

Thank you, sir.  We need more men like you.

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Expelled: No Vegetables Allowed

June 8, 2009

This is terrible… Vegan School 101 has uncovered the horrible, Nazi-like truth about the United States Department of Agriculture.

The USDA recently published an exhaustive list of the people they do not discriminate against.  Unfortunately, they failed to include vegans in that list.

This brings up the obvious question, which the site is not afraid to ask:

Does the USDA employ any vegans? Perhaps … if they keep their veganism under-wraps and don’t make any waves. I wonder how much chance this vegan has at landing a job at the USDA?

“Make any waves”?  If by “making waves” you mean “bitch about meat production while at work”, then no, they wouldn’t hire you.  Your job is a place to get work done, not to tout your dietary beliefs.

Frank Language continues the silliness:

I think “don’t ask, don’t tell” is a good policy when looking for a job; most people feel threatened when you tell them you’re a vegan, don’t you notice?

Apparently this guy is delusional enough to confuse my annoyance with intimidation.  That said,  he’s right: “don’t ask, don’t tell” is a good policy when looking for a job.  When people look to hire someone, they’re not looking for information about your personal beliefs.  They only want to know whether you are qualified for the job.

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The Skinny on Abstinence

May 31, 2009

I am a big fan of abstinence.  In fact, I am practicing it at the moment, and it’s working out excellently for me.  And I will happily advocate abstinence, especially to individuals under the age of sixteen.

But I am sick to death of pro-abstinence educational groups and the way they promote it on their websites.  They tout abstinence as “the only 100%-effective protection”, and further rave about its amazing abilities like it’s some kind of miracle drug, concluding that its effectiveness can only be flouted by peer/media pressure.

So I thought I’d take a few minutes and explain exactly what is wrong with many of their claims.

Myth #1: Abstinence is a form of protection.

Abstinence is a form of protection like bald is a hair color, atheism is a religion, and not getting in a car is a safe driving practice.

In other words, abstinence is not a form of sexual protection.  It is a form of sexual behavior, just like oral sex, anal sex, and masturbation.  (Though unlike the first two, masturbation can be used in conjunction with abstinence.)

Myth #2: Abstinence is 100% effective.

Against conception, yes.  But again, so are oral sex, anal sex, and masturbation (all of which are more entertaining than abstinence).  And abstinence is certainly not 100% effective against STIs.  Many diseases that can be contracted through intercourse can be contracted through other means – such as AIDS, which can be obtained through the use of a contaminated needle.

Also, no protection method or sexual practice can protect you from oral herpes.

Myth #3: The greatest causes of abstinence failure are peer pressure (your friends are doing it/everyone is doing it), partner pressure (you don’t want it, but your partner does) and media pressure (the guys on TV are doing it).

It is true that teenagers are impressionable people, and they are eager to please their peers.  It is likewise true that, due to this impressionability and enthusiasm, they are more likely to imitate their peers or do things that they think will garner them respect – sex included.

But this method of thinking – that abstinence only fails because someone or something was pressuring you to have sex – is inherently flawed.  Firstly, it insinuates that sex is just another “teenage problem”, like drugs or alcohol – and that it can only happen if your willpower to abstain fails.  Secondly, it fails to acknowledge that most normal teenagers have very strong sexual desires of their own, and do not require any pressure from anyone to decide to have sex.

Myth #4: Sex = bad, abstinence = good.

This last claim has, fortunately, been relegated to the back burner, even on most pro-abstinence sites.  However, the idea is still prevelant that sex is bad or abnormal, and that abstinence is the best or “default” position.

Let’s take this from the top.

Name four things that nearly all animal species need to survive.  Food, water, air… and sex.  Without sex to create new individuals, a species will die out.  Humans are no exception to this.

But sex’s benefits don’t end with the production of offspring.  Since sex is necessary for survival, it also happens to be intensely enjoyable for many species.  It triggers the releases feel-good hormones, lowering stress and causing general happiness.  Assuming that the act of having sex is not inducing more stress than is relieved by these hormones, sex can improve an individual’s general well-being – and, being an inherently intimate act, can help to forge close bonds between two individuals.

Humans are not the only species to take advantage of this fact.  Other animals, including apes and dolphins, have disexclusivized sex from its original reproductive capacity and now use it for a variety of reasons.  Sometimes for dominance, sometimes to promote good social interaction, and sometimes just for a bit of fun.

Yes, sex can be dangerous.  Unwanted pregnancy can lead to taxation of the mother’s resources and contribute to overpopulation.  STIs can also be contracted (they, like humans, require sex to survive – though for a different reason).

Like a long walk on the beach or an evening cuddling in front of  a movie, sex is good for people.  And, like the examples above, it is something special – something that most people would rather save for someone they care about.  And it is also dangerous.  Like driving or exercise, one should learn how to do it in well-informed and responsible manner before taking it up.  But I see no reason why an individual, taking conscientious steps to protect both themselves and their partner, should not partake in sex.

But only if they want to.

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Wisdom from the experienced…

May 30, 2009

Everyone should have their heart broken at least once.  Not in a minor, “when-I-was-three-my-mother-wouldn’t-let-me-have-my-favorite-toy” way (though that also makes a good life experience, but in a major “I-was-in-love-and-he-didn’t-reciprocate” kind of way.

And when I say in love, I mean IN LOVE.  I mean that you get to the stage in your feelings where just being around them makes you smile and you want nothing more than to make them like you… and then keep going. Get to the point where your heart aches for that person, even though you know beyond all reasonable doubt that he/she will never love you back.  Pine over him/her for several years, even when you’re fed up and wish you could just get over it already.  Realize that he/she is overweight and has an acne problem and you still want him/her more than your favorite celebrity, and not in that way.  Listen to people telling you “it’s just a crush” and demand to know: IF IT’S A CRUSH, WHY DO I STILL FEEL LIKE THIS FIVE YEARS LATER?!

I had the misfortune of falling in love when I was eleven years old.  I kid you not.  I’d had a crush on the guy since I was seven.  But, owing to several circumstances, he didn’t feel the same way – a fact which continued to cause me anguish for nearly ten years, long after I had resolved myself to give up and get over him.  He was fat, he had torticollis, and his beard was horrible.  He was also intelligent, funny, and intensely entertaining to be around.

I consider myself “over him”, but I am by no means over the hurt.  I loved him like nothing else on Earth.  I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him – for ten years straight.  He thought of me as a dweeby friend.

So why the crap would I want everyone else to go through this?

Because, despite the emotional turmoil (which gets better, trust me), I learned a lot from the experience.  I learned what true love (not the sparkly, sugary, Disney edition) feels like.  I figured out what I really find important in someone.  And I learned something that most YA romance novels and movies seem to miss – that the first person you happen to like is not necessarily the one you’ll end up with.

And if they don’t start making movies about it, the only way to find out is to do it yourself.  (Besides, since I’ve gotten it out of my system early, I can spend my young adulthood doing more constructive things than angsting.  Like learning how to form stable platonic relationships.)