Thursday, February 23, 2006

Thoughts on the Ladies' Long Program - Figure Skating

How very, very sad that Irina Slutskaya did not win tonight. I've been pulling for her in these Games, especially after her joyful short program. She telegraphs great confidence and strength on the ice, and I love how un-prissy she is. She is not one of the glamour girls of figure skating, but watching her skate makes me really happy. Irina looks like she is having fun out there. Sasha Cohen - easily the most glamourous of this year's competitors - makes me nervous when she skates. I keep waiting for her to fall apart, and indeed she did somewhat in her long program. According to today's LA Times, she is 5'2" and weighs just 95 pounds. (!)

It was great to see Fumie Suguri end an otherwise unremarkable program on a really fast scratch spin. I think we used to see more of that before the new scoring system. So many of the skaters are sacrificing speed and style in their spins to cram in the catch-foot positions, which are presumably worth more points but are not especially elegant unless very well executed. Even if a skater is busting out some really tough spin positions, she looks tired to me without some real speed. If I were a judge, I think I would want to see a skater end on something clean and energetic.

Elene Gedevanishvili is a tremendous skater in the making. She is petite and adorable, but she has terrific presence and athleticism as well. Style points from me for avoiding the ubiquitous tan tights and opting for black instead.

As snarky as Dick Button can be, I generally agree with his commentary on the figure skating.

A blast from the past:

Check out these two examples of triple Axels by Midori Ito. The resolution is low, but it's not hard to see the incredible
height and power of her jumps.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

My first post, and my first recommendation for how to spend your time.

If you feel the need to continue making good use of your time on the internet after checking out Zero Hour, then continue along to to watch Bunnykill cartoons - they will brighten your day, and possibly inspire you to write something insightful on the next blog you visit! (hopefully Zero Hour!)


Bunnykill 2 (my personal favorite, and in my opinion the quintessential manifestation of Bunnykill)

Bunnykill 3, vol. 1

Thursday, February 09, 2006

I Am Going to Hell

If this little post were coffee, it would be really rank by now. It's been percolating here for two weeks or so*. What the hell - I'm going to publish it. Anyone who disagrees with me or has ideas to add is welcome to leave a comment.

I think about religion quite a bit. I am an atheist, and I am pretty sure I have never believed in God**. This is not to say I have been 100% rational my whole life. (Hardly.) The point is, I have been puzzled for years by the ubiquity of religion because the esoteric beliefs and the notion that faith is a virtue are anathema to my existential worldview. I don't get it, basically, but I am trying to understand.

This past Thanksgiving, I borrowed the December issue of the Atlantic Monthly from my father in order to read Paul Bloom's piece on religion entitled "Is God an Accident?" It is a good article, dealing mostly with the prevalence of religion and the role it may play in society. It is an interesting article, and it covers a variety of topics, so go read it if this topic interests you. Bloom quotes anthropologist Edward Tylor, who "got it right in 1871, when he noted that the 'minimum definition of religion' is a belief in spiritual beings, in the supernatural." This definition of religion is important, because for many if not most people, a belief in spiritual beings is conceptually coupled to some set of moral principles they associate with their faith. I see no reason why one cannot exist without the other. Indeed, this is often the case. I have a strong sense of right and wrong, I work hard to be tolerant and forgiving and I feel awful if I cause others pain, yet no one would use the word "religious" to describe me. On the other hand, someone like Fred "God Hates Fags" Phelps, who intentionally inflicts pain and intolerance, is undeniably "religious." Why? Because he believes in God. A hideous and vengeful God, granted, but his supernatural beliefs are reason enough to apply the term.

I rarely discuss my lack of belief with others - certainly not with casual acquaintances - and I think this is due to the widespread notion that religion is the only source of a person's morality. I don't like to waste time defending my worth as a person simply because my beliefs place me in the minority.

In addition to reading Paul Bloom's article in the Atlantic, there was a recent event that prompted me to write this post. A coworker of mine belongs to a "fundamental Bible church." He explained to me recently what his church is all about, and I admit I felt a bit uneasy. I was uneasy about the beliefs themselves, and I was uneasy about his uncritical acceptance of them. He is a recent convert (he received his baptism at his new church in October) so he is still learning the specifics, but his church believes - and by extension, he believes - there is evidence in the Bible that salvation is attained through faith alone, rather than through some combination of faith and good works. My thought upon hearing this was that his church was throwing out any social responsibilities religion might impose. Good works have always seemed to be the greatest - if not the only - benefit of organized religion. This man was brought up as a Catholic, so I can understand how the lowered threshold for salvation might be enticing. Do I sound judgmental? If so, consider the fact that my coworker thinks I am going to hell. What could be more judgmental than that?

I don't know whether religious beliefs are inherently dangerous to society. I am disturbed by irrationality in all forms, and religion is the pinnacle of irrationality. The prospect of an afterlife is clearly a tremendous source of comfort for many individuals. For my fundamentalist coworker, belief in a God who will forgive his trespasses - and apparently there have been many! - is his reason for getting up and going to work each day. I don't see a real benefit in denying him that.

I realize I'm not covering much new ground here, but it is useful for me to write about what I think. Even if no one reads this post or comments on it, I will have tied some loose thoughts together for myself. Plenty of good writing on religion, morality and human nature can be found at Majikthise, Pharyngula and Universal Acid.

*My grandfather used to leave the coffeepot on the stove for hours at a time while he talked politics with my father and uncles through the night. He sometimes left the pot on the stove overnight, only to discover a metallic puddle under the burner in the morning. I don't want this post to suffer the same fate.

**I did have a mental picture of heaven when I was little. It was a small wooden house in the sky, and it had white wallpaper covered with little yellow butterflies. I don't think there was any furniture there.