Art Imitates Life (Plus Some Religion)

Tuesday, August 23, 2016, 15:12 EDT Leave a comment

Being cheap—and, at the moment, broke—I don’t have television service. That’s no cable, no satellite. The only things I really miss watching are the local sports teams, but I can get those on the radio. Still, it’s nice to watch a movie or program occasionally, and for that reason I compromised and sprung for an $8/month subscription to Hulu.

The nice thing about Hulu is that it isn’t just a site where you can stream, at your convenience, programs other people watch on television. It has its own original programming as well, some of which is quite good. I’m currently watching a Hulu original series called Casual, about a woman in the process of getting a divorce who temporarily moves, with her teenaged daughter, into her brother’s house. The story follows the three of them as they navigate the various relationships (I use the term loosely) arising from each character’s pursuit of casual sex. What’s interesting is that for three people who are getting the no-strings-attached sex they actively seek, they are remarkably miserable

All of which has me thinking about Catholic teaching on sexuality, something about which I’m preparing to lead discussion as part of an adult faith formation program I coordinate at my church. Even people with absolutely no connection to the Catholic church know that its teachings prohibit pre-marital, extra-marital, or same-sex sex. (Yeah, I spent five minutes trying to figure out how to say that last one in a less redundant way but came up empty. Sorry.)

The teaching goes basically like this: the purpose of sexuality is that it be shared between two people who are joined in marriage, for the purposes of uniting them to one another and producing children. As someone who has had sex and given birth without being married, I often questioned why the marriage part was a requirement.

More recently, I have come to some understanding of that teaching, from two perspectives: practical and emotional. My pregnancy was the result of a relationship that wasn’t in any way serious or committed. I ended up raising my child alone, a difficult task materially speaking. On the other hand, when I had sex for love (with someone different), it was indeed unifying. But that relationship ended, and in three decades I still haven’t gotten over it. I wonder if it would have been easier to move on if we had never shared those sexual experiences that seemed to cement the emotional connection between us. For the record, I also had a wild phase when I sought sex for fun, but it wasn’t remotely fulfilling and didn’t make me feel very good about myself. I don’t do that any more.

Maybe that’s the wisdom of Catholic teaching. As much as we may want to believe otherwise, sex is profoundly different from other human interactions. For people who don’t take it seriously, like the characters in Casual, it can be unsatisfying at best and hurtful at worst.

Olympic Boyfriend Update

Tuesday, August 16, 2016, 16:35 EDT Leave a comment

Samir Ait SaidTen days after breaking his leg in horrific fashion landing a vault in Rio, French gymnast Samir Ait Said is reportedly on the road to recovery.

Ait Said had surgery the night of the injury and posted a video on Facebook the next day, thanking well-wishers for their support and offering words of encouragement to his Olympic teammates (according to a partial translation provided by Yahoo Sports). Yesterday he attended the rings final as a spectator.

Because I’m not an avid gymnastics fan, I didn’t realize that this wasn’t the first injury to keep Ait Said from Olympic competition. Another leg injury prior to the 2012 Games in London kept him off the team entirely. Last year, he declared his desire to medal twice in Rio to make up for what he couldn’t do in London. No one would blame him for being bitter for being denied yet again.

But he isn’t bitter, telling French sports daily L’Équipe (as quoted in the Guardian article linked above) that he is really quite fortunate:

There are worse things in life. I’m in good health, that’s the main thing. You have to put it in context. You know, people died in the Paris terrorist attacks, some people lost their children. I’ve missed out on the chance to make the Olympic final, that’s all. I’m still alive, I have my friends, my parents are here with me.

Ait Said says he plans to compete in Tokyo in 2020. I, for one, will be rooting for him to win big.

Categories: olympics

Introducing My New BFF

Thursday, August 11, 2016, 18:17 EDT Leave a comment

Twitter users know that if you don’t protect your account (i.e. restrict who can see the contents), any other user can see your tweets. I tweet a fair amount of news, current events, and political stuff, so it isn’t unusual that someone I don’t know will like/retweet/reply to one of my tweets or even follow me. But I can’t figure out why, yesterday afternoon, I was followed by the verified account of Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista.

Bautista-follow Bautists-profile

Granted, he isn’t the most discriminating Twitter user when it comes to following people. But that doesn’t explain why he added me to the 774,000 other people whose tweets litter his timeline. Nor does it make it any less fun to be able to say that Jose Bautista follows me on Twitter.

I haven’t been this excited since I got a follow from Wayne Rogers, the (now deceased) actor-turned-investment-strategist who played Trapper John McIntyre on the M*A*S*H TV series.

Categories: this and that

Olympic Boyfriend Winner Declared

Saturday, August 6, 2016, 22:38 EDT Leave a comment

Samir Ait SaidIt’s only day 2 of the XXXI Olympiad in Rio de Janeiro, but we already have a winner for The Den Mother’s Olympic Boyfriend of 2016.

French gymnast Samir Ait Saif gets the nod not only because he’s gorgeous, but also because this happened to him and he didn’t throw up on international television. He didn’t even yell. (WARNING: Disturbing video at the link.)

If you’re squeamish and would rather not watch the video, here’s USA Today‘s description of the incident:

Ait Said’s left leg snapped on his vault landing, the sharp crack heard throughout the arena. As he rolled over, clutching his leg just below the knee, his foot and the lower half of his shin dangled in the opposite direction of the rest of his leg.

It was not a compound fracture (in other words, the bone did not puncture the skin), but there might still be internal soft tissue damage.

The Den Mother joins many others around the world who send Ait Said heartfelt wishes for a fast and full recovery.

Categories: olympics, sports

Fun with Flags

Tuesday, August 2, 2016, 18:13 EDT Leave a comment

Olympic_ringsWith the Olympics coming up, I got thinking about all the flags we’ll see in the opening ceremony, among spectators cheering on their teams, and at medal ceremonies. Did you know that the colors of the Olympic rings—blue, yellow, black, green, and red—were chosen because every national flag on the planet contains at least one of those colors. (That factoid prompted the Den Son to state that he’d love to start his own country and give it a solid purple flag. But I digress.)

It has always fascinated me how many flags resemble others in some way. There are very few—the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the former Soviet Union come to mind—that are (or were) almost universally recognized. But what about the tri-color flags? There are tons of those, some vertical stripes, some horizontal stripes, that can be confusing to those who aren’t already familiar with them.

How similar are some national flags? Let’s take a look.

Liberia, Malaysia, and the U.S.A.

Liberia  Malaysia  UnitedStates

Liberia, being a nation founded for the resettlement of freed American and Caribbean slaves, deliberately adopted a flag similar to that of the United States, but with very different symbolism. The Malaysian flag is unrelated to both.

Australia and New Zealand

Australia  NewZealand

The principle differences (though there are others) are that the Australian flag has what’s called the Commonwealth star under the union flag and an extra, smaller star in the Southern Cross.

Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Argentina

Honduras  Nicaragua  El Salvador

Argentina

The three Central American countries’ flags are based on the the flag of the former Federal Republic of Central America, which was itself inspired by the Argentine flag.

France, Ireland, and Italy

France  Ireland  Italy

Tricolors are abundant across the globe, as with these three European flags that all have white in the middle.

Ireland and Ivory Coast

Ireland  IvoryCoast

I’m showing the Irish flag again to compare it to the flag of the Ivory Coast, which is merely a differently proportioned mirror image of the other.

Guinea and Mali

Guinea  Mali

Two more vertical tricolors that also mirror each other vertically.

Indonesia, Monaco, and Poland

Indonesia Monaco Poland

Yes, those really are three different flags. The only differences are the proportion and orientation.

Luxembourg and the Netherlands

Luxembourg  Netherlands

And just to mix things up, here are similar flags that differ only in their shades of blue.

Costa Rica and Thailand

CostaRica Thailand

Some flags are virtually identical, but with colors reversed. The Costa Rican flag predates the Thai flag by almost 11 years, so somebody in Thai government was a copycat.

Cuba and Puerto Rico

Cuba  PuertoRico

Something I once learned: Don’t ever confuse these two flags when talking to a Puerto Rican.

Iceland and Norway

Iceland  Norway

Iceland was governed by Norway for many centuries, so it isn’t a surprise that its flag was based on Norway’s.

Denmark, Finland, and Sweden

Denmark  Finland  Sweden

Like Iceland and Norway, these Scandinavian countries do love their Nordic cross. I can easily identify the Danish and Swedish flags, but for some reason the Finnish flag always stumps me.

Bahrain and Qatar

Bahrain  Qatar

Prior to 2002, when Bahrain reduced the number of points on its flag, it looked even more like the Qatari flag.

Russia, Slovakia, and Slovenia

Russia  Slovakia  Slovenia

Then there are countries whose flags look look like someone else’s, with something new dropped onto the middle, as appears to be the case with Slovakia and Slovenia. For the record, I always get those two confused just because of their names; the flags don’t help.

Mali and Senegal

Mali  Senegal

I’m pointing out Mali again to show it next to Senegal. These countries were both part of the short-lived Mali Federation, whose flag was a version of French Sudan’s, but using the colors of the Pan-Africanist movement.

Romania and Moldova

Romania  Moldova

These two nations share cultural, historical, and geo-political ties, so it isn’t surprising that the Moldovan flag is based on that of Romania.

Italy and Mexico

Italy  Mexico

There are no similar ties, however, between Italy and Mexico.

The Netherlands and Paraguay

Netherlands  Paraguay

Nor are there between the Netherlands and Paraguay. In fact, the latter’s flag was based on the colors of the French flag.

I could go on and on, but I got tired of downloading flag images. Can you find similarities in other national flags?

Categories: this and that

Drought

Sunday, July 31, 2016, 22:36 EDT Leave a comment

According to the United States Drought Monitor—a joint program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln— I live in an area that is currently under moderate to severe drought conditions. The portions of my lawn that lack drought-resistant grass are brown and crunchy, and the rest of it hasn’t grown much in the last month. While most of the other plantings are hanging in there, the moneywort in one of my garden beds is almost dead, which is a surprise because it’s supposed to be drought-tolerant. The plants that really thrive in these conditions are the weeds.

This afternoon, I attended a party about 50 miles to the north, in Dunstable, Massachusetts, a town just across the state line from New Hampshire. On the way to my friend’s house, I drove past the town common, which looks about how you’d expect given the lack of precipitation over the last several months:

Dunstable Common

To add insult to injury, Mother Nature has taken to teasing us. Every time the forecast calls for rain and we all breathe a collective sigh of relief because we really, really need it, the promised precipitation never comes. I’ve lost track of the number of times I have watched a large area of rain on the weather radar heading our way, only to dissipate as it approaches.

That’s all I came here to say. Thank you for letting me vent. Carry on.

The Anti-LGBTQ Hate Crime That Might Not Have Been

Saturday, July 16, 2016, 20:54 EDT Leave a comment

Orlando rainbow flagLast month’s terrorist attack at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, was universally believed to have been a hate crime targeting the club’s gay patrons. At the time, it made sense; if the attacker had intended to perpetrate a garden-variety assault on a large group of people, he wouldn’t have ended up at a gay establishment purely by chance.

It turns out that assumption might have been incorrect. The FBI has found no evidence that the terrorist chose the Pulse because it catered to a gay clientele. In fact, several of the earliest reports—that the shooter was himself gay, or that he was in the closet—have not been substantiated by any evidence uncovered by law enforcement officials.

Which isn’t to say that he did not deliberately kill dozens of gay people. He just didn’t leave behind any evidence of such intentions. But as the saying goes, absence of evidence isn’t necessarily evidence of absence.

We know that Islamic terrorists, extremists, and theocrats around the world aren’t known for being gay-friendly. In at least ten Muslim countries, homosexual acts are punishable by death. In other places, private citizens who kill gays go unpunished. I’ve never heard an interpretation of Islam that was pro-gay.

In all likelihood, the Orlando killer was anti-gay in the same way that Islamic terrorists are anti-Christian, anti-Jew, and anti-Western: they see it as their duty to Allah to kill “infidels” and “kafir“.

I Hope You’re Not Dead

Wednesday, July 13, 2016, 16:38 EDT Leave a comment

Long-time regular readers of this blog might be aware that I have an ex-boyfriend whom I’ve never quite been able to put behind me. I learned several years back that he wasn’t able to put me behind him, either. Without going into details, he isn’t available. Nonetheless, we have maintained a very occasional communication, more or less limited to major holidays and each other’s birthdays, usually a text message, very rarely a phone call.

I told him a while back that such an arrangement wasn’t acceptable to me. I also told him that he had to be the one to end it because I did so 30 years ago and have regretted it ever since. I’ve tried to be patient while he comes to terms with what he has to do.

Yesterday was my 52nd birthday. For the first time since we reconnected in 2009, I didn’t hear from him. I can think of a few possible reasons:

  1. He is dead or otherwise incapacitated,
  2. Some other grave matter has kept him from communicating,
  3. He is somewhere without cell service, or
  4. He just decided not to call.

I pray it isn’t 1 or 2. I would understand 3. But my fear is that it’s 4. Our situation is such that I have decided not to initiate direct contact right now.

Once, he read this blog regularly. I don’t think he has for quite some time. But just in case he’s reading now, here’s a message:

LOML, don’t be this cruel. Please contact me, if only to let me know you’re OK.

Categories: life, love

Why Screaming about “Rape Culture” Makes Women Less Safe

Wednesday, June 8, 2016, 13:34 EDT Leave a comment

One of my Facebook friends posted today about the case of the Stanford University student who was convicted of rape and got a ridiculously short sentence. The rapist’s father complained he shouldn’t get anything because he was actually a great person, except for that little rape thing that only lasted for 20 minutes. To my friend, this case proves that “rape culture is real and it’s present and if you refuse to acknowledge it, you’re perpetuating it.”

Her view isn’t uncommon. But it’s actually dangerous to women.

When I was a kid, parents taught their children to take care of themselves by not putting themselves in unsafe situations. They weren’t telling us that it would be our fault if something happened to us, they were telling us that they didn’t want something to happen to us. Be careful on the monkey bars. Don’t talk to strangers. If you’re home alone and you get a phone call, tell the caller that your parents can’t come to the phone, not that they aren’t there. It was advice intended to keep us safe from bad people.

Today’s parents give similar advice for 21st century situations, such as not posting personal information on the internet that might help predators find you. Now as then, such instruction is given because we live in a world where people do things they shouldn’t. We can’t convince them all to stop, so we make it harder for them to do those things to us and those we love. People who are more careful are less likely to be hurt by bad people.

Now imagine for a minute that a group of parents got together and decided that they weren’t going to teach their kids how to stay safe. Instead, they were going to insist that kids should be able to go online and give unknown individuals their full names, addresses, phone numbers, and youth soccer game schedules. Oh, and if you try to tell those parents that they are putting their children at risk, they protest that you’re blaming the victim and their kids shouldn’t have to be careful and if you think they should, you’re part of the problem.

Most of us, I hope, would call them out for stupidity, if not negligence. Yet we accept such attitudes from people who invoke “rape culture” as a reason for why women shouldn’t be encouraged to avoid situations that make them vulnerable to being raped.

I posted this reply to my friend:

I disagree that “rape culture” exists. There are many more thefts in this country than rapes, yet it isn’t because of “theft culture.” There are lots of homicides, but it isn’t because of “murder culture.” Same with reckless driving, kidnapping, drug dealing, and child abuse. The very fact that we have laws against these things, and that people go to jail for them (even though the sentences are sometimes lighter than we think they should be) is proof that there is no “culture,” except among the criminals.

After my house was burglarized, I didn’t defiantly refuse to lock my doors and complain that we need to teach people not to steal. I installed better locks. I wasn’t blaming myself for becoming a victim, I just took some simple steps to minimize the chance that it would happen again. That made more sense to me than waiting for the coming of an imaginary utopia in which unicorns roam freely and nobody does anything wrong.

Do you lock your doors? Not leave your pocketbook lying open at a bar while you go to the rest room? Look both ways before you cross the street? That doesn’t mean you’re perpetuating “[insert crime here] culture.” It means you’re using common sense to protect yourself from thieves and dangerous drivers. Please, please, please, use the same common sense to protect yourself from rapists.

I can only hope she takes my advice.

How Guns Make People Stupid

Saturday, June 4, 2016, 20:15 EDT Leave a comment

So I was wandering around the internet, just minding my own business, and I ran across this at the San Diego Union-Tribune site:

Study: Legos are becoming more weaponized

[…] Since the first Lego weapons came out in 1978, the percentage of sets including weapon pieces has grown from 1 percent of sets released that year to 29 percent of sets released in 2014, according to a study last month from the University of Canterbury in Christchurch.

The article has a catchy graphic showing the “percentage of individual bricks released that year that were weaponized.”

What the article’s author, someone named Kate Morrissey, meant to say is that Legos now have more pieces made to look like little Lego weapons. What she actually said is that Lego sets contain actual weapons, and that the toy blocks themselves are now being used as weapons. No, really. That’s what she said.

From Merriam-Webster online:

weapon
noun | weap·on | \ˈwe-pən\
: something (as a club, knife, or gun) used to injure, defeat, or destroy

weaponize
verb | weap·on·ize | \ˈwe-pə-ˌnīz\
: to adapt for use as a weapon of war

Such is the lack of intelligence that emerges whenever some people are confronted by anything that can in any way be construed as even slightly resembling a gun. Remember the story about the little boy who was suspended from school for nibbling a Pop Tart into a vague gun shape? Or the even littler girl who was suspended from kindergarten for having a bubble-blowing toy?

I’m all for prohibiting kids from using weapons. I also have enough common sense to know that bubble blowers and pop tarts and tiny plastic toy pieces aren’t weapons. And I’m so old that I remember when journalists knew that, too.

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