Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
This here's a religious establishment. Act respectable.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Mini-Post: The Widder Adamson Has A Brand New Band!

13 years ago, Stuart Adamson committed suicide, shocking millions of fans and just incidentally, breaking my heart.  I have my own theories about why that happened, but mostly I keep them to myself.  And hey, Big Country recently came back from the dead with new front man Mike Peters and toured the world (and I saw them twice in Texas, which was awesome), but I've never managed to fall hard for a band the same way I did for BC.

Until now. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Fun.  Yes, that's the band name.

Go check them out on their Web site,  They do good stuff.  They make good music.  They make deucedly odd videos.  This one's for the breakaway hit, "Some Nights."

And here's my current favorite, "Carry On." 

Enjoy! I just got the CD two days ago and I don't think it's coming back out of my car stereo for another couple of weeks at least.  

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

MindGames in Austin, and Barton Springs Pool

  I don't usually advertise that I'm a member of Mensa.  I know, it pays to advertise, but when I mention Mensa in polite conversation, I sometimes get a really weird response.  If I could jump into the brain of the person giving me the weird response, it might be something like, "Huh. She's one of those super smart people.  I bet she thinks I'm an idiot.  Well, I'm not an idiot, so fuck you, lady."  (I'm just speculating here. And I certainly don't think you're an idiot, hypothetical person.) You wouldn't get that response if you were, say, a member of some group made up of the top 2% of engineers, or the top 2% of elite athletes, but anyway, I am a member of Mensa, and every now and then I go do Mensa things. This weekend, Joan (yep, she's a member too) and I went to Austin board games for three days.  Oh, the things Mensans have to do to keep our super smart cards.

It's called MindGames.  The board game manufacturers need to road-test their games before they're generally released, and for some reason they decided Mensa would be a great partner.  What happens is, you volunteer to be a judge, and you show up on the aforementioned weekend and play as many of the new games as humanly possible.  Some people stayed up all night.  I can't do that anymore (ah, middle age), but I was up pretty late, and I don't think Joan got to bed before three.

This isn't to say all went well, though. It started out pretty bad.  Joan got into one game with a group of people at the beginning and was then unable to find a way into another game.  Instead of having announcements with a bullhorn like normal people, they were running a screen where people had to program in what they wanted announced -- "Need 2 more for Schmovie at Table 5," for example -- and by then the 2 more had long since been found.  She got so frustrated she was ready to bail on the whole event, but then I got there and once we were a team, it was a lot easier to start and get into games. So happy ending, sort of, but I think they ought to go back to announcements with a bullhorn.

Among the new games there were some clear standouts.  One is called "The Duke," and if you like chess, you're gonna love this one.  It's like chess where some of the pieces change how they can move halfway through.  Did that make your brain go tilt?  Seriously, the different pieces have specific ways they can move, and then suddenly they change.  It's a pure strategy game and not easy but it was a LOT of fun.  Highly recommended.  Next on my short list is "Schmovie."  You're the director of the next big Hollywood production. You get a genre by rolling a die, and the essential elements of the movie are drawn as cards.  So you might, for example, end up directing a musical about the life of a vegan actress.  The other players give you titles.  Mine was, "It Ain't Over Till The Skinny Bitch Sings." Thank you, thank you.  Be here all week.  Imagine adding alcohol to this game and using it at your next house party.  Yep, it only gets sillier from here.

By the way, if you ever want to do this, you don't have to be a member of Mensa.  You can be a guest judge.  You just need a member to invite you, so if you want to be invited, get back to me.  Next year it's in San Diego, May 1-3.  And they should have solved the bullhorn problem by then.

The other Big Event in our trip to Austin was the Barton Springs Pool.  I sort of collect famous swimming pools and spots, like some people collect stamps.  If I can get in it and splash around, it counts.  I've done the Plunge at Mission Beach (biggest swimming pool in Southern California), the Great Salt Lake in Utah, Willard Bay (also Utah), Lake Powell, the Pacific Ocean (dozens of times) and now Barton Springs. Here's a list of the ones I want to check out (nifty that a lot of them are in the Maldives; I can knock off several with one really expensive trip). Someday I'm gonna find out who owns the house that has that pool that's decorated with the signs of the Zodiac and just invite myself the heck over.  (You haven't seen it?  Okay, Google "Cars video Magic" and take a good look. Isn't it gorgeous?  The song's not bad either.)

But anyway.  The Barton Springs Pool is the largest natural-spring pool in Texas, its total length being just shy of 1/4 mile.  By "natural springs pool," what they mean is, water pours in from a spring and fills the pool, then flows past it and down Barton Springs Creek.  The water is completely replaced every day, so there's no need for chlorine.  Even in the middle of one of the worst droughts in Texas history, the pool was full and there were plenty of kids splashin' around.  I swam the whole length of this pool not once but twice.

For the life of me I can't figure out how to align these two photos in Blogger, but if I could align them, you could see the whole length of the Barton Springs Pool.  Like I was saying, it's a very big pool.  The lifeguard towers are far enough apart that I hope the lifeguards all have radios because shouting won't always do the job.

That's me down there.  Joan was taking a picture and I just happened to look up in time for the frame.  Movin' pretty good, aren't I?  You know, when you think about it, I'm built like a seal.  And seals are pretty fast in the water, especially when they're being chased by killer whales.  Or in my case, a rogue salamander.  Yeeks.

It was an awesome experience. There were plants in the water, with flowers on top, and swimming above the plants was like flying above a rain forest.  I saw several small schools of fish, and once something zipped under a bush that looked disturbingly like a snake.  My first thought was water moccasin.  Tracy says it was probably a salamander, though, since if it were a water moccasin it would have cheerfully chased me and bitten the daylights out of me.  Apparently they do that.

The only downside of the Barton Springs Pool?  It's frick'n COLD.  They promised me 68 degrees.  They lied.  If it was more than 65 I'll eat my swim fins.  Not the coldest water I've ever swum in--that would be the water off the coast of San Diego, on a day when the water and air temperatures were both 55 degrees, and yes, that was incredibly stupid of me and I haven't done anything like it since.  But it was cold enough.  (I'm used to about 80 at the Tom Landry pool.  I am spoiled rotten.)  On my way back the second time, I noticed I was getting colder and colder, which is not a good sign, and that I was also slowing down, another bad sign.  By the time I made it back to the ladder, my teeth were chattering.

That aside, though, a fine time had by all. Austin, we love you. Cheers!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

More About This Lutheran to Buddhist Thing. Part II.

(In which Jen hangs around with pagans, casts a few spells, makes a big mess, and possibly makes a cat immortal.)

You guys, my favorite restaurant,Afrah just won a pretty considerable contest--the Dallas Morning News's "Final Fork." After a citywide online poll, Afrah beat out the last restaurant standing 56% to 44%.  So if you haven't already booked your trip to the Metroplex for the sole purpose of eating at this restaurant, it's time. Let's go.  Let's go.  No pushing.  No shoving.  Plenty of shwawarma for everybody.

Where was I? Oh yes.  So after my foray into Christianity, I ended up in Texas hanging around with a group of pagans.  They were actually organized, sort of, into a church-like structure.  Nice folks, mostly, with a few glaring exceptions that I probably shouldn't talk about.  We hung around with them for a while, though, and finally left over a squabble as to whether or not people should be allowed to carry concealed weapons into the building.  (Texas has some interesting laws about firearms.  One of them says that firearms are fine-a-roo inside a church, unless the church decides to ban them.  So if the sermon gets overlong, you can--never mind.) Mind you, I never carried a concealed firearm in my life, unless you count sticking my car keys in my pocket (they could, after all, make nifty brass knuckles).  But the whole thing wasn't so much about firearms as it was about getting rid of one particular person who always carried concealed, and that was, well, kind of uncool for a body of supposedly religious folks.  Though not, as I learned later, uncommon at all.

After that I stumbled uponst a group of women, a coven of sorts I guess, that got together around eight times a year and did celebratory stuff.  It's telling that my first question, uponst being invited, was whether or not pants stayed on at this event.  (Answer: Yes.)  Good folks, good times, but deucedly weird.  And there was all the stuff to memorize, the lists of important days, and again the moon phases.  I can't for the life of me calculate moon phases.  If there isn't a calendar with little symbols on it for the full moon and the new moon, I'm completely clueless.  So I didn't make a very good pagan, all in all.  You gotta know what the moon is up to, and as far as I was concerned, the moon was up to what the moon's always been up to; circling the Earth, dodging space rocks and continually moving a little farther away.

And then there was the whole wacky notion of casting spells, which owes a lot to particle physics and is pretty hard to distinguish from prayer, in my opinion.  But, I did cast a few spells.  Here's how they turned out.

Spell:  That 5-year-old Caesar the Cat, who had just been diagnosed with cancer, might live a normal span of years and die of something else.
Success ratio: 100% successful. He's 15 now and may never die.

Spell: Asked Mars, the god of new jobs, for a new job.
Success ratio: 100% successful.  I got new jobs in 2005, 2007, 2010, 2014...

Spell: That nobody would burglarize our house.
Success ratio: 100% successful to date, although the fact that we don't have any flashy toys, like a boat or ATVs, and that our TV is 20 years old and doesn't have a game console hooked to it, might be more of an explanation.

Spell: That the new car would not get plowed into by anything.
Success ratio: 50% successful.  The car's been backed into and hit twice on the freeway. Still, no one got hurt, and the car repairs were pretty minor.  So it worked a little.

Spell: That I might learn to read Tarot cards effectively.
Success ratio: 100% successful, and I read Tarot cards so effectively that I scared the bejabbers out of myself and several other people.  The moral of the story here, kids, is don't ask questions to which you really don't want answers.

Anyway, I really didn't make a very good pagan.  That whole modern science thing kept getting in the way.  But then, that might have been my problem with Christianity, too.  Science. Any kind of religion requires faith, or belief in things that can't be proven.  Science, on the other hand, keeps proving things over and over again, including its own reason for its continued existence.  Furthermore, you don't have to believe in science for it to work.  It just does.

So it's kind of cool that there's some scientific proof that parts of Buddhism work.  Obviously not the part about all the arhats and bodhisattvas floating around in the sky granting favors and so on -- that came about as Buddhism, like Christianity, overlaid traditional religions and absorbed all their gods--but the part about meditating, which is a big part of Buddhism.  Scientists have tracked people who became regular meditators and found that within a month, their blood pressure went down, their heart rates stabilized, parts of their brains that they weren't using became active for the first time and they generally reported being happier, calmer and better-rested.  Furthermore, you can prove this to yourself.  Start meditating an hour a day.  By the end of the year you will be a different person, and your life will be unrecognizable from what it was before.  I also happen to know this because I tried it and it worked. Whatta concept.

So anyway, that was my foray into paganism.  Sorry it wasn't more exciting.  Paganism, like most things that sound deliriously naughty, is actually kind of mundane once you get to know it.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Mini-Post: Blocked by LifeSite News!!

You guys, I'm pleased to announce that I have been blocked by LifeSite News!!  This is a milestone in blog history; I don't think I've ever been blocked by anybody before.  Nor can I think of anything particular I might have done to piss them off lately, besides breathing. Imagine, a pro-life Buddhist blocked by a Christian anti-abortion site.  Oh, wait, it's probably that whole passing-laws-against-abortion-would-only-make-things-worse thing that I have.  Yeah, that must be it.

Being blocked by LifeSite News is sort of like being picketed by the Westboro Babtist Church:  You gotta do something really good to get their attention.  Here was the post I was going to make before I found out about my status as a blockee.

The Justina Pelletier case may be a rare opportunity for people from both sides of the political fence to come together to work for a good outcome.  I don't know anybody in my left-leaning wing who thinks that the state of Massachusetts was at all justified in seizing Justina.  If you locked up your child, ignored her when she said she was in pain and denied her medical treatment, you'd go to jail for child abuse.  The state of Massachusetts, on the other hand, keeps getting favorable court rulings.  This should horrify any feeling person.  I predict that there will soon be a "Justina's Law" to keep cases like this from happening again, and I hope both Republican and Democratic lawmakers will come together to make that happen.  

Pretty inflammatory, huh?  You can see why they blocked me.  Whoo hoo!!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

More About This Lutheran to Buddhist Thing. Part 1.

You may be surprised to hear this, but most people don't wake up one morning, say, "Hey, I'm the wrong religion," and go out and join another one.  If you're going from one kind of Protestant church to another -- Methodist to Presbyterian, let us say -- it might be that easy, but usually there's a little more to it than that. For yours truly, anyway, there was a long period of being uncomfortable standing under that particular banner, followed by an even longer period of wandering around wondering which banner would be better.  And finally deciding that none of them were perfect, but that the people most like me, tended to be Buddhists.  Coincidence? Nah.

I grew up in the Lutheran Church, which for Protestant Christianity generally, isn't a bad way to grow up at all.  Lutherans are pretty tolerant of people's differences (they're Scandinavian, natch) and don't get into a lot of discussions about literal translations of the Bible.  One Bible study I went to, we talked about space aliens for 45 minutes.  There were plenty of things about church I didn't like -- flat-out waste of a decent morning to sleep late, in my humble opinion, among other things -- but the philosophy wasn't the problem.  The problem was that I just couldn't swallow it all.  Jesus showed up 2000 years ago to take on the sin of the world and save everybody? Okay, that was cool.  Everybody since then is saved by the grace of God?  Not a problem. Be nice to people, help the poor, advocate for justice for the downtrodden?  Uh, isn't that what a Christian is supposed to do? But then we got to this business about none come to the Father but through me, and that was the piece of pot roast that just wouldn't go down.  

I mean, Jesus was cool.  Don't get me wrong.  I kinda like the guy.  But whether Jesus actually said it, or St. Paul (who never knew Jesus in the first place) just said that he said it, that whole "only this elite group of people, whoever they are, will make it into heaven" was a complete contradiction with the whole "God's grace" concept (see above). Look, either we're saved by the grace of God or we're not, and if we are, that applies to EVERYBODY.  Jew, Muslim, Hindu, guy on the other side of the planet who's lived in a rain forest all his life and has never met a missionary. No exceptions.  I mean, He's God, right?  He's either all-powerful and can save everybody, or He's nothing and doesn't exist. And if He's not gonna save everybody because of some arbitrary designation that human beings made up, then who needs Him? 

Frankly, the only reason I hung around with the Lutherans as long as I did was that the particular gang I hung with -- First Lutheran Church in San Diego, California--were such brilliant examples of the genre.  I mean they served meals to the homeless, had a doctor come in and treat the poor for free, an acupuncturist to help out folks who were in pain, a lawyer to help homeless vets get the benefits they were entitled to--oh, and they had this church over here, too, and if you wanted to come by on a Sunday, you'd hear some pretty good music and maybe learn something.  The church was almost beside the point; the main reason it existed was to cobble all these people together right in the middle of downtown San Diego, where, let's face it, they were desperately needed.

But there were cracks in the foundation.  Not at First Lutheran but in the Lutheran Church generally.  Gay people had always been welcome, and First Lutheran was a "reconciled in Christ" congregation, which meant they were super welcome, but there was a big kerfuffle in synod politics over whether gay people could be pastors (which was not unlike an earlier kerfuffle about whether women could be pastors.)  The uneasy compromise they came up with when I was still hanging around was that gay people could be pastors as long as they were celibate.  (Which was not unlike the earlier decision that women could be pastors if there weren't any male pastors available.)  Ironically, around this time the Fred Phelps group came and protested First Lutheran, calling us "fag lovers" for not chasing away gay people.  You're nobody until you've pissed off Fred Phelps, long may he rot.

And there was some other stuff. The big things were the God's grace thing and the gay pastors thing.  That was what finally suggested to me that I find another gang to hang around with.  But try extricating yourself from a church when you're one of the church ladies with the big breasts and the clipboard. (I admit it.) I mean I sang in the choir, I was on this committee and that committee, I was In Charge Of Stuff.  I had to move to Texas to finally get out of there.  Even if you know how to make paper flowers, they're probably not gonna insist you attend their church if you live 2,000 miles away.  

I didn't go directly from Lutheran to Buddhist, do not pass go or collect $200, though.  I tried being a pagan first.  Why not; all inclusive religion, no membership requirements (since they made it all up as they went along), invite any god you want to hang with you and oh, yeah, cast spells and stuff. Trouble with paganism is, though, that most of the people who practice it are pretty warped.  I expect they were that way before they started practicing, but still.  Besides, it's hard work.  There's stuff to read, things to memorize.  Homework.  Calculations.  Moon phases.  

Buddhism, on the other hand?  Do nothing.  Just sit there.  I could handle that.