Archive for April, 2009

backwards day and busy weekend

April 24, 2009

I usually work out in the afternoon, but I worked out at 7AM today, which might have been a mistake. I was already tired. I’ve hung on without coffee until now, and I’m sipping some Peets from downstairs while I’m trying to do legal research. And since “Damn it Jim, I’m a librarian, not a paralegal!”, let’s just say I’m keeping the Black’s Law Dictionary handy.

I was supposed to go a Planetarium show tonight, but since I am installing a friend’s garden tomorrow (across the county, no less) and then having a Meetup at my house, I’m thinking I better go homeearly tonight and drink clean drink tonight.  But the way things are going today, all this coffee will fail to revive me and then I will go home, drink some vodka-citronage-grapefruit juice, and proceed to lay awake all night.

The Meetup tomorrow night, by the way, is a sort of support group for atheists and their religious spouses or family members.  There are three couples attending, plus myself and spouse, and one person whose entire family literally got up and left the room when he told them he’d left the faith.  Needless to say, they all won’t be joining us tomorrow night.  I am a little nervous about the possibility for disaster, and honestly I should probably put a few plans together just in case everyone wants to sit around silently staring at me… but that isn’t usually a problem for the group.  It’s a delicate subject, but we all care about our relationships, so it shouldn’t be a complete disaster.

Oh yeah… I’ll have to buy some coffee and bake some sugary goodies.  Another thing to do tonight.  “Why not just buy sugary goodies, Alice?”  Because.  That’s final.  I will make them or there will be none.  Hmmm… carrot cake…

flowers and medicine

April 23, 2009

I just answered a wonderful little reference question.  See, there’s all these flowers all over the office because yesterday was Assistant’s Appreciation Day or something.  So, of course, it takes me twice as long to walk anywhere because I have to stop and admire and smell everything.  One woman had these great little berries in her arrangement and she said she just wanted to eat it!  So I offered to find out what it was for her. 

I live for this stuff.

I searched for berries on flower shop websites and quickly found Hypericum, which looked just right.  Then I followed up and discovered that St John’s wort is a variety, so I looked into that since “St John’s wort” is a more interesting answer than “Hypericum genus.”  St John’s wort (so named because it tends to flower and be harvested on the saint’s day in June) has been demonstrated to be effective in treating depression and may also be an abortofacient (I wish I knew how to pronounce that).  Also, if you’re trying to identify a plant you’ve got in your hand, it is supposed to produce a purplish-reddish stain when you crush it.  So of course I smashed the berry, and it’s vaguely purple, but I think that was supposed to be identification for the flower.  Oh well.  I tasted it too and it tasted like green and a little spicy.  (It’s only harmful in really really large doses, like when your livestock get into it and eat it for a week before you notice their skin peeling off.)

And I realized…

I am in awe of the ancient people who smashed, ground, infused, boiled, and combined plant bits, and then tried them on different symptoms until it did something.  How many thousands of years did it take?  And how cool is it when modern science can verify it?– because often, traditional medicines are shown to be pretty much worthless.  But still, all that experimentation!  All that curiosity and observation and note-taking and passing it down to the children.  Us humans really are amazing.

Or, from another perspective, we’re exploitative sons of bitches, but oh well.  It’s still a wonderful world.

Everything happens for a reason II

April 22, 2009

Or, “Everything happens for another reason.”

Bacchus, I hate that saying.  Really?  Everything?  I didn’t clean out my recycled jars well enough before I put loose-leaf tea in them, thereby making some nice oolong smell like roasted red bell peppers; what was the meaning in that?

I guess that was unnecessarily snarky. 

Meaning is nice, don’t get me wrong.  It’s arguably even necessary.  I try to make every day meaningful somehow.  But many Christians I know are just addicted to meaning, obsessed by the idea of Providence, and completely reliant on the idea that their god is watching over them and acting in their lives.

My husband is starting to suffer from depression.  I was telling him last night that I am recognizing the same symptoms that I had, and if I can help him somehow so that he won’t need anti-depressants as I did, then it will have been worth it.  He sortof chuckled and said he understands; he believes that bad things happen to people so that we can help others who are going through the same bad things. 

It’s like a chain of misery.

Seriously: how is that comforting?  Does that really help people get through suffering– the thought that someday, I will be able to help someone else– does that give meaning to the suffering?  Does it really help?  The thought that helped me was, “I don’t want to live like this.  I want to be happy and content.  I don’t want to feel like this anymore.”  If someone were to try to say to me that a god allowed me to suffer so that I could help someone else later, I would have asked if there was a suggestion box somewhere, or if god is planning to retire any time soon.  Being a tool for  a god doesn’t even ultimately benefit the other suffering person, either, because the point it always god’s glory. 

I suffer and god gets the credit.  Tell me again how that is comforting?


April 21, 2009

The topic of tattoos came up in conversation today, and I was trying to explain how I’d like to get a full sleeve, but something delicate rather than poster-art-ish (not that there’s anything wrong with that).  Decorative lines, maybe writings, with plenty of space between… I don’t want the kind where someone thinks you’re wearing a long-sleeve shirt when they see you from far away.

So my friend says he imagines something more discrete; I guess he means easier to hide.  I said, “I don’t think I’m a discrete kind of person.”  🙂

And that struck me as surprisingly insightful.  I am not obnoxious about who I am or what I like or what I believe (or don’t believe), but I don’t hide it either.  Anybody can know it.  And my tattoo idea became a little more meaningful.  It’s not the shape or symbol that’s meaningful, but the placement and simplicity of it.

So now I just need an artist.  And of course money.

Confirmation bias

April 20, 2009

I attend a “Marriage Enrichment” Sunday School class with my husband, and yesterday, we learned about confirmation bias.

I repeat: we learned about confirmation bias at church.

In other words, we learned about the mind’s tendency to see what it wants to see, and how to exploit that.

I don’t think I was sitting there grinning — the irony!  how it tickles! — but I might have been.  At one point the instructor (who knows I am an atheist) glanced in my direction and did a small “Oh shit!”-double-take, but didn’t say anything.  He’s a good man, and he’s wise about many things, but I was sorry to learn that although he is very well informed about science, he chooses to remain a young-earth creationist– not because he finds the evidence more compelling, but because it fits with his faith better.  That’s sad to me.

But yeah.  Confirmation bias.  That’s when you are running late to work and you’re already having a bad day, and you are certain that you miss every single light even though you hit a few green ones.  And then, what do you call the fallacy where you attribute an event to an actor even though there was no actor?  Like, you conclude that the reason the lights are turning red because a) Satan is attacking you, or b) God is turning those lights red to save you from an accident that would have somehow happened if you hadn’t had to stop for the red light.

How much more useful would it be to learn about logical fallacies and how to think scientifically and logically?  I should start a humanist Sunday School. 

I would like to add that there were no typos in this post even before I ran the spellcheck.

Why couldn’t you be quiet?

April 17, 2009

I was out (at the races!) yesterday and met this guy; he was the sort of person who observes other people and then starts poking to see what will happen. It was all in good fun. He was drinking way more than me, and I can be a good poker, too, so I’m not sure which of us had the upper hand in our little battle of wits. I told him he was like the Sicilian in “The Princess Bride”, which he was really taken aback by, and a lot of people thought my observation was just hilarious (because it was true). He was accurate, too, when he said he wasn’t sure if I was the sort of person to have a Jesus fish or a Darwin fish on my car. “Interesting you should say that,” I said. “I quit Christianity two years ago.” That topic didn’t come up again until later, when I mentioned that I was glad to be out with everyone because otherwise I would be at Bible Study right then.

And this guy was really curious and started asking questions. I briefly told the new guy that I’d quit Christianity because I didn’t believe in God any more, and that I was a part of the local atheist group, and that my husband was an Evangelical Christian. But what confused him was this: “Why not be a quiet atheist?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, why say anything? Why join a group? Why cause all this stress with your husband?”

“Why shouldn’t I say anything?” I asked. “It was kindof a big deal, and I needed to tell my husband. The only other option was to lie, and pretend to be a Christian, and fake praying and worshipping … I couldn’t do that. Besides, it is true that I am an atheist. And it is nothing to be ashamed of. I’m an atheist, and I’m not sorry for it. I’m actually proud of it. Why not be open about it?”

He didn’t know.

At this point my friend says, “Alice is the sort of person who, if you ask her opinion, she’ll gladly give it to you.” This is true. I’m honest and open and see no need to hide something unless it is a confidence I am keeping. Also, I believe the best way to live is to be as informed as possible. Know as much as you can, as well as you can, and you’ll be able to make better decisions. Believing that, it would be hypocritical of me to hide my atheism. I try to explain it to people as well as I can, because then that’s one more person who understands what atheism is and what an atheist looks like and behaves like.

So, for example, while my friends from Bible Study can go on making claims about what non-believers do, they know a non-believer personally, and if they ever want to know more about what secularists are really like, they can talk to me. If they choose not to inform themselves, that’s their choice.

But then, they might fall victim to one of the classic blunders– the most famous of which is, “Never get involved in a land war in Asia.”

tag clouds

April 15, 2009

Tag clouds are pretty, but often random.  I know, that’s the point.  But I wanted something both pretty and organized.  Being a librarian can be a little frustrating like that.  But in this case, I have done it!

Wordle: Atheist

Hell yeah.  I’ma print it out in color at home and stick it on my cubicle.

April 14, 2009

There was a fire drill at work today (woo!) so we were all standing around outside, and I was chatting with a woman who just had surgery for carpel tunnel.  She saw me flexing and stretching my wrist and asked me if I was getting carpel tunnel, and I told her I guess I am, since there’s little else it could be.  She reminded me to take it seriously because it’s not going to get better, it’s going to get worse.  And it’s not like I’ve been in denial about it, but she was right.  There are some things I need to follow up on with the doctor, and there are some diet changes I’ve been considering.  I’m hesitating on the diet stuff because I need to do more research; there are certain foods that are supposedly helpful for swelling-types of illnesses like arthritis and repetitive stress injuries.  I don’t know if the science is valid so I need to check that. 


But more importantly, what she said made me remember that my thoughts of changing career are more than a hippie back-to-the-earth fantasy.  I really do need to get outdoors, moving around and working in a healthy way.  I understand that farm work is hard work, and I am also sure that I don’t really understand how hard it will be.  But sitting here clicking and typing hurt a little bit more very day, and it’s not just my wrist.  And of course there are repetitive movements in farming, and injuries are probably more likely there.  But I’d rather have an injury from a real accident, not because I clicked the mouse for too many hours a day.  Seriously– isn’t that embarrassing?


And then I get annoyed because working and commuting take up so much of my day– like, all of it.  I was just thinking this morning that I need to take a week off and spend some time outdoors working and learning in the yard.  I have to start.  And working outdoors in April is far more preferable than Summer.  There is no California Dreamin’ when you’re as far inland as I am. 


April 13, 2009

My boss was recently telling me about how sometimes, she wants to go to an event downtown (Los Angeles), but she would have to be out at night and she worries that it is too dangerous to be out after dark.  “Things happen,” she says.

So I replied something to the effect of, “Boss, if you want to do something, then you should do it!  Don’t give in to the patriarchy and people who would keep you scared at home because you’re a woman.  If you do that instead of doing what you need to do, what you are free and have the right to do, they’ve already won.”

After making sure that I wasn’t joking (I wasn’t), she pauses delicately and says, “Okay, if there’s an event I am interested in downtown, I’ll just send you.”

Witty woman, my boss.

I think she was annoyed that I was suggesting she ignore her perfectly reasonable fears.  Then again, we could always go together.  I understand there’s a risk.  I’m just not a coward and I’m not a submitter.

Plus, I know kung fu.


April 8, 2009

After a stressful meeting this morning, I went over to a friend’s office to borrow a stuffed animal (for hugging). Then, not 30 minutes later, I got a department email that one of the cafeteria workers from downstairs was killed in a car accident this morning. Earlier this week we learned that one of our contractors was killed in a work accident. I’m not sure which is worse: dying in a random car accident or dying after you fall through a skylight while installing solar panels. Either way someone is dead.

I try to regularly (once a month or so) spend a few minutes remembering my grandparents and others who have died, and reflecting on the fact that I and everyone I know will die someday. This practice is supposed to make me value life more; I’m not sure that it does.

I should tell you the story of how I’d like to die. First, after ordering a tool from the Acme Company, I will discard the instructions and attempt to use the tool. It will not work properly and soon thereafter [details are fuzzy] I will accidentally run off the edge of a cliff, but I won’t notice until I look down, look back up, wave, and then fall.

The fall will not kill me.

I will then notice a giant safe falling, and I will hold up a sign that says “Oh no!” The safe will fall on me, but then the door will open and I will stagger out. Stars will be floating around my head.

Then, a grand piano will fall on me.  The lid will open and I will stand up, and you might notice that my mouth is full of piano keys when I try to smile.

Finally, an anvil will fall towards me, and I will pull out a very small umbrella, which I will deploy, but the anvil will fall on me. This will finally kill me.

That’s the plan, anyways.