balmofgilead: (Default)
I'm still reading The Demon-Haunted World, and just now I read "But the tools of skepticism are generally unavailable to the citizens of our society. They're hardly ever mentioned in the schools, even in the presentation of science, its most ardent practitioner..."

The mention of schools + science + skepticism sparked something interesting in me. As I mentioned in my last entry, in 1998 I was reading Awake My Glory.  But in 1996 I was reading The Psychology of The Psychic and looking for Skeptic magazine at the library (I kept seeing references to it in the catalog but never found it.)  I was reading and looking for those because of a project assigned in science class: read a science fiction book and then write a report about why the "fiction" part is/must be fictional.  (As usual, I read more than I needed to for the report, yet had a really tough time coming up with the requisite three or four or whatever pages.)  I read about how Harry Houdini conducted experiments to test other magicians' work.  I read a paragraph that can be read to anyone as their personalized horoscope and often met with "wow, that's spot-on!"  I read about telekinesis and aura photography in books that believed it was valuable (okay, I guess I got a bit sidetracked.)

And yet this skepticism and application of the scientific method didn't carry over into my critical (or maybe "not so critical") evaluation of things like Judaism or Awake My Glory.

Moreover - in that same seventh grade science class, an interesting incident occurred.  On a test, we were given a little story about someone applying the scientific method to some theory she had about plant growth.  The directions said to find and correct all the things she was doing wrong.  The opening lines were something like "Rochel was given a small corn plant.  She measured the plant and it was 2 mm."  When the teacher handed back our tests, she told us she was surprised that so many of us had missed a major part of that question.  Two millimeters couldn't be the right size for a corn plant; Rochel must have measured wrong, and we should have noted that. 

But to us, information was presented as fact, thus it must be fact.  The story said someone obtained a measurement of 2 mm, so that must be what it is. It seemed off, but we weren't there, so we have no option other than to take it as written.

I think that really reflects the mentality imparted by the Orthodox world - or at least my Orthodox world - about history (and religious issues) in general. There's that (famous?) midrash that Moses was 10 cubits (roughly equivalent to 15 feet) tall.  Many people believe that and take it literally, even though, like a corn plant being 2 mm, it doesn't mesh with what we know about the species.  An authority says it, and we weren't there, so what other choice do we have?    I was fed so many wacky things as bald simple fact and I took them as such because I was a kid and they were adults and even if things didn't mesh with my current observations of the current world, it's not like I could easily prove or disprove them.

(I was also told as a kid that Darwinian evolution had been disproven by science, which led to an embarrassing conversation followed by lots of googling in my freshman year of college.)
balmofgilead: (Default)

Companies that ask if I want a catalog and specify that in order to conserve resources they will *not* send out catalogs unless specifically requested earn my deep respect.  I'm not a marketing person, but it seems that marketing principles suggest that you flood people with fliers and catalogs, even though only a small percentage will buy something.  The wastefulness of that annoys me a lot, to the point that if all things are equal, I think I'd rather buy from a company that doesn't send out paper mailings.

(The company, incidentally, was Paula's Choice. The jury is still out on the quality of their sunscreen and salicylic acid, though, since I just placed the order. I have high hopes for the salicylic acid, which is apparently at a good pH for exfoliation and sans irritating additives.)

balmofgilead: (Default)
In practice, I'm a bit of a fatalist. That's the best word that comes to mind, though it's not a perfect fit. It's not just feeling that events are predetermined/inevitable, it's also feeling that various events close off entire huge possibilities, that minor things are Dooming or Damning. (I suppose I don't believe that things are predetermined by Fate in the abstract, godlike sense, just that things are predetermined by past events. Which is true to some extent.)

In theory, I'm all about the Power of Positive Thinking and all of that stuff.

Oh, that disconnect between theory and practice. It's a killer sometimes.
balmofgilead: (Default)
"Ours is not to wonder why. Ours is but to do and die."

(It's a variation of a phrase in Charge Of The Light Brigade.)

I don't agree, at least not under most circumstances.
balmofgilead: (quirky)
Lately I've been wanting to say:
I'm the sort of optimist who sees the glass as half-empty but is convinced that the waiter's going to come by and top me off* any minute now.  Unfortunately, the lack of proactiveness implicit in that statement is accurate as part of the metaphor.  Well, maybe it'd be more accurate to say I'm convinced that the waiter's going to stop by any minute now, but I can also see the bar (however faintly) from my seat. 
*in the standard sense, not the urbandictionary sense.
balmofgilead: (Default)
I've seen this meme wherein people should post (if it's true for them) the statement "I'm pro-choice, and I would have an abortion."

It's definitely something I would consider if I found myself in a situation where I was pregnant and it wasn't the right time or place or whatnot, but I don't know how likely I'd be to chose it. Chances of either event ever happening, however, are slim. But I think I'd base my decision on whether or not I wanted to have and raise a baby, rather than whether abortion is murder or whether fetuses are people. Which I suppose means that either I don't think they are, or that I'm okay with murder in select cases. Dunno. I doubt I'd stick out nine months of pregnancy followed by childbirth only to give a baby up for adoption.

On a slightly different note, it's quite paradoxical that there are so many children who don't have good homes and yet it's supposedly pretty difficult to adopt a baby--at least, it takes a long time and costs a good deal of money. I understand some of the reasons for that--many of the people who want to adopt want white infants, not non-white older kids, and many of the kids who could use better homes (or homes altogether) are non-white older kids. Still, it seems odd. Why do adoptions cost money anyway? I understand that there are things which need to be subsidized, like social workers and orphanages or whatnot, but why heap those costs on the people who are already doing the favor of giving some kids a good home?
balmofgilead: (Default)
It's funny how many things I was taught in a methodical, uninspired, pro forma way when I was younger, without enough attention being devoted by the teachers to the real meaning and significance and how many of those things are now suddenly seeming...better/more worthwhile/more logical to me.

Many of these are religious things. A nine-year-old, simply because of his/her lack of life experiences and perspective, can't really understand the value in aphorisms like "It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task, but neither are you free to absolve yourself from it" (IMHO a statement about one's life-work on a grand scale) or a prayer expressing gratitude that everything's working O.K. to be recited after going to the bathroom. To be taught those things by rote, to be taught that, say, you need to say a prayer like that because you have to, because it's a rule, a commandment, ruins it. Uttered spontaneously (and I can imagine a mindful adult sort of having that thought, gratitude, spontaneously, each time they use the bathroom), it's a pretty cool thing, (though, granted, I am not into the heavy God- and God-service stuff: "it would be impossible to stand before You, God, if everything wasn't working alright," but put that aside for a minute) but by rote it's meaningless, and for me it's always been anger-inducing ("goddamn someone's screaming at me to make sure I followed the rules again" was a frequent thought when I was living in a religious environment).
balmofgilead: (Default)

This is for my reference. I found this article awhile ago and then I couldn't find it again, so I've eliminated such issues by pasting it in here! But in case anyone's interested...

whoo hoo! a scathing criticism of what's pretty much the relationship I've built with religion--painstakingly and satisfyingly )

balmofgilead: (Default)
"Not only did they miss the boat, they were so far away from the dock that they couldn't even hear the foghorn."

-a friend of mine

this is a rant, not a carefully-constructed position statement )

And this part is: religion was wrong for me because it prevented me* from being able to feel a sense of communion with [all of] humanity. To me, feeling a basic sense of communion with humanity is a very vital thing and an important factor in living a happy and well-balanced and productive and caring life.

I wrote some things yesterday and today but they're too rough-around-the edges to post. I'll post them tomorrow.

*I'm not implying that it works this way for anyone else; I can't know.
balmofgilead: (Default)
I keep on pledging to stay away from this stuff, but it's just so bizarre that I can't help myself. It's all true, by the way.
Reasons Why I Never Fit In Well In The Orthodox Jewish Community )
balmofgilead: (christmas)

I was going to make an eloquent but probably verbose rant about the Christmas season, but then I got lazy and decided instead to summarize my key points in this less eloquent but still verbose list:

  • It's December
  • Tinsel and trees and fake snow and pictures of Santa Claus are everywhere
  • A lot of stores and other establishments play Christmas music
  • Some people wish others "Merry Christmas"
  • Many non-Christian people complain bitterly about this

  • During the winter, it gets dark and cold, and people get lonely
  • I believe that a major reason for the celebration of winter holidays is to gather together, connect with other people, and stem the loneliness and coldness and darkness with light and food and music and togetherness
  • Most Americans do this with Christmas
  • Some Americans have never heard of your particular winter holiday, or it may not occur to them that you might celebrate that holiday
  • Therefore, they may say "Merry Christmas" to you
  • This is most likely not an attempt to convert you or bash your religion, and it won't do you much good to assume that it is
  • It is probably an attempt to connect with you and be friendly, unless the person is a cashier whose manager is making them say it
  • Sometimes, it may be necessary to re-word the greeting in your head so that you are hearing the message that the person meant to convey ("I hope you are warm and happy and have people to connect with during this cold and dark winter")
  • [insert cheesy story about bus driver giving me an all-day pass (because I had made a mistake and thought they still gave transfers and had no more change with me) and saying "Merry Christmas, this is your lucky day" here.]

  • Many Christmas songs were written by Jewish people, and those songs certainly aren't an attempt to convert you or bash your religion
  • Personally, I enjoy Christmas music, though of course you're free to dislike it
  • The character of Santa Claus is based on various nice/good/generous guys
  • Materialism and commercialism, annoying as they can be sometimes, are not religion

  • Quit whining
  • If you want to be upset about someone trying to push religion on people inappropriately, go beat up on George Bush or Fred Phelps
  • Santa hats have slowly invaded livejournal
  • Modding icons to add something out of place is fun
  • Modding an icon and getting to make a rant about it is even more fun
  • For these reasons and also in recognition of my personal attitude (which seems to differ from most Jews' attitude) toward the winter holiday season, I hereby adopt this new icon

  • santahat1

(at the time of writing, my default icon was this)

balmofgilead: (Default)
Mr. Rogers sat quietly for 15 full seconds. "Perhaps we think that we won't find another human being inside that person. Perhaps we think that there are some people in this world who I can't ever communicate with, and so I'll just give up before I try. And how sad it is to think that we would give up on any other creature who's just like us."
balmofgilead: (Default)
Because Grey was a pilot, everything he said in the plane was recorded. After his death, I was given a transcript of that recording, and so I know what my son's last words were.
He was flying in formation, that day, with another plane. When Grey realized something was wrong with his plane, he radioed the other pilot.
'You're on your own,' Grey said.
Then he crashed and died.

I think about those words a lot. They're a reminder.
We're all on our own, aren't we? That's what it boils down to.
We come into this world on our own--in Hawaii, as I did, or New York, or China, or Africa, or Montana--and we leave it in the same way, on our own, wherever we happen to be at the time--in a plane, in our beds, in a a car, in a space shuttle, or in a field of flowers.
And between those times, we try to connect along the way with others who are also on their own.
If we're lucky, we have a mother who reads to us.
We have a teacher or two along the way who make us feel special.
We have dogs who do the stupid dog tricks we teach them and who lie on our bed when we're not looking, because it smells like us, and so we pretend not to notice the paw prints on the bedspread.
We have friends who lend us their favorite books.
Maybe we have children, and grandchildren, and funny mailmen, and eccentric great-aunts, and uncles who can pull pennies out of our ears.
All of them teach us stuff. They teach us about combustion engines and the major products of Bolivia, and what poems are not boring, and how to be kind to each other, and how to laugh, and when the vigil is in our hands, and when we just have to make the best of things even though it's hard sometimes.

Looking back together, telling our stories to one another, we learn how to be on our own.

from Looking Back: a book of memories, by Lois Lowry.


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