Thursday, August 28, 2008

Evil in the World

In Adult Sunday School, we are going through some curriculum on "Living the Questions." The theme for this month is the question, "If God is all-powerful, all-loving, and all-good, how can evil exist?" There are a number of prompts for discussion in the material and I'll be responding to some of them here. I'll start with a discussion of the question itself.

I think the question starts from the wrong place. It assumes that God is in complete control of everything that happens. If this is the case, then we are simply automatons who behave in a deterministic manner. But God didn't make us that way. We were given free will and can act any way we choose. One explanation that I have heard is that God gave us free will so that He could be loved by creations who choose to, rather than being programmed to. It is far less meaningful to hear a trained parrot say "I love you" on cue, than it is to hear a person say "I love you" with joy in his eyes.

Because God gave us free will, He doesn't control absolutely everything. But this does not diminish his power, love, goodness, or presence in our lives. Because we have free will, we can choose good or evil. Adam and Eve were given the choice whether or not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Jesus was tempted by power and by the opportunity to turn away from ministry.

Evil is not a dark menace out in the world. Evil is a possibility in each one of us. Evil is an act that diminishes us as individuals or diminishes humanity as a whole. By using this definition, evil can be both small and big. It can be the resentment that we harbor against a fellow driver. It can be the atrocities committed by a warlord. The challenge for us as humans is to confront evil possibilities in the minutiae of daily life and turn away from it.


Why is there suffering in the world? And where is God during suffering?

To build on what I have written above, there is suffering because an individual makes a choice to act in a manner that diminishes themselves, others, or the collective. God is present in the world, as He always is. We can turn to him for strength or we can turn away in anger. Author and Auschwitz survivor, Elie Weisel, was angry at good for a long time after World War II. But in order to be angry at God, one must a) believe that He exists and b) have a relationship with him. I am reminded of the poem Footprints in the Sand in which the protagonist sees her/his life flash before him as a series of footprints in the sand along the shore. The protagonist notices that most of the time there are two sets of footprints, but during difficult times, there is only one set. She/he confronts God about this disparity, and He replies:

The Lord replied, "My precious, precious child,
I love you and I would never, never leave you
during your times of trial and suffering.
"When you saw only one set of footprints,
it was then that I carried you."

If God is present in the world, does He intervene and take direct action? Sometimes. We really like it when God's actions are undeniable and obvious. For example, Moses and the burning bush, Joshua and the walls of Jericho, and Noah. But it's not always the way we think He does or should. For example, the maltreatment of Job. A friend suggested the idea of "severe mercy." God's mercy can sometimes be severe in the sense that He can use negative events in our lives to bring us closer to Him. I'm a bit uncomfortable with this idea, but it does make one wonder. Sometimes bad things just happen. Sometimes bad things are part of God's plan. It's hard to know.

Does Satan get a bum rap?

Definitely. Satan is a personification of evil and distracts us from the insidiousness of the evil within. It suggests that we look outward for the cause of evil (and the solutions to it). It suggests that Satan is out there in the world and leads to counterproductive ideas like demonic possession and devil worshiping. These phenomena can be explained through much simpler mechanisms, such as our own human foibles.

Satan as a personification of evil is an oversimplification. It's an attempt to explain the world in black and white terms, with God on the side of good and Satan on the side of evil. Things are actually much more complex. There are shades of gray and marginally better or worse choices. The personification turns Satan into a fetish, like a monkey wrench thrown into the great order of things. This concept is misleading, because it causes us to not look for the evil in ourselves.

Lime-Themed BBQ

We had some friends over last night and I used a bunch of recipes off the Internet that were new to me. As I was cooking, I noticed that there was lime in just about every recipe. I guess that flavor must have appealed to me as I was web surfing.

For drinks, I made a Basil Limeade. This choice was inspired by the yummy drink that I had at The Hungry Cat last week. This drink does not keep well and should be consumed immediately. It becomes bitter as more flavors come out of the lime pith over time.

For the main course, we had hot dogs. No lime there, but for the vegetarians, I made grilled tofu with a marinade containing lime. The maple flavor really came through in the grilling. I didn't have any balsamic vinegar, so I substituted rice vinegar. I think this was an improvement.

On the side, I made a Lime Quinoa Salad with mint. This was a low glycemic index salad from Karina the Gluten-Free Goddess.

I was going to make a dessert inspired by The Hungry Cat, but ran out of time. It was going to be a cornmeal cake with pickled stone fruit (very light simple syrup, with ginger, coriander, and basil), with whipped cream top (Cool Whip for those who can't have dairy). This is not low fat or low glycemic index. :) Instead, I bought a mango mousse cake from 99 Ranch Market. It was this week's loss leader, on for $10 instead of the usual $25.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The trouble with categories

I previously blogged about how troublesome categories can be in my post on an area of India where people were being pressured to declare themselves either Hindu or Muslim after centuries of practicing a hybrid religion. These issues of categories seems to come up on our modern age where it's necessary to put people into on group or another, so they can fill out a form or fit into a field in a computer database. Geoffrey Bowker and Susan Leigh Star wrote about precisely this phenomenon in "Sorting Things Out".

Here's another example of the problems that arise when it becomes possible to categorize things at a finer granularity than in the past. This story from the BBC reports on how an "Arctic Map shows dispute hotspots." New technology has allowed us to map the Arctic more precisely than before. As a result, circumpolar countries have more "facts" that they can use to argue over national boundaries. Fortunately, being cold-weather cultures with Northern temperaments, these countries will likely settle things in an orderly fashion.

Pink foam walls reveal national character. | MetaFilter

Traditional Japanese culture is highly formal, stylized, and restrained. Not so, with contemporary Japanese mass culture. This trend is demonstrated in their penchant for wacky game shows. People appear on national television participating in contests that are simultaneously baffling and humiliating, and sometimes painful.

On MetaFilter, a post entitled "Pink foam walls reveal national character" describes a putative game show and the variations that have appeared around the world. The original game show is actually a segment on a comedy program, similar to "What's my line?" In the show "Tunnels no Minasan no Okage Desu," also known as The Human Tetris Game, "contestants strike poses to fit through cutouts in pink foam walls." Bizarre and hilarious. I spent about 45 minutes watching the various YouTube segments.

Versions have appeared in other countries sometimes as part of a comedy show, as a show on its own, with comedians, and with celebrities. Links to versions from Italy, Russia, France, Denmark, Hong Kong, Korea, and Australia are available in the MetaFilter post. The contestants are typically dressed in goofy, tight super hero outfits, except in Italy where they are scantily clad models.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Whither wet nurses?

Rita Arens' post Whose Boobies? on BlogHer caught my interest.

In this and other posts, she is honest about not being entirely successful at breastfeeding her child, because she had difficulty identifying breasts as anything, but sexual. In this post, she mentions misgivings that she and other women have about wet nurses and cross nursing (nursing some one else's child). Some of the concerns that she cites are medical issues, cultural taboos, and intimacy concerns.

While I think these do play a part, to me the most significant factor that has changed is the family structure. In the current age, we think of the nuclear family as a good thing. The basic family unit is now mom, dad, and kids, with little extended family around. We live together, work together, and bond together in these units. A reliance on someone else for bonding or emotional sustenance is a kind of failure, especially for the mom. In the past, and in some places now, a child is raised by an extended family. A baby could be picked up and comforted by anyone. There were many hands-- and many mammaries-- to share the work. Extended families were the social safety net. These arrangements are what is denoted by the phrase "it takes a village to raise a child."

In this analysis, milk banks are a little more acceptable than wet nurses, because only the nourishment is being transferred. Actually, it's illegal in the US to sell breast milk, because trade in bodily fluids, such as blood, is prohibited. Hence, we have blood banks and milk banks. A volunteer blood donation program generally has higher quality blood (e.g. fewer pathogens) than programs where donors are compensated financially for their contributions. (Cue the image of the homeless person with the leaking bandage on his arm and a few dollars in his pocket.) Consequently, one certainly couldn't make a living by selling breast milk. But what about providing wet nursing as a service?

While we're at it, why are men allowed to donate sperm and receive financial compensation? Sounds like a double standard, I say. It's far less medically risky and socially damaging to share breast milk than sperm. There are many children out there who are wondering who is their anonymous sperm donor dad.

Fabulous Five Spice Chicken from Allrecipes

I have a package of five spice powder sitting around. I don't remember what recipe we bought it for, but it has been largely unused. I was looking for a marinade for one of our many packages of chicken from Costco and I had the bright idea of using the five spice powder.

I used the a recipe for Fabulous Five Spice Chicken from and it was yummy.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

We visit a boondoggle

The El Toro Marine Corps Air Station was closed in 1999 and a great deal of controversy followed regarding what to do with the land. Many people favoured opening an airport (and closing the nearby John Wayne airport). Everyone else wanted anything but an airport. The latter group prevailed, and that's precisely what they got, according to the monthly Orange County Journalists Roundtable on KPCC's Air Talk.

The plan was to parcel out the land into large parcels and sold at auction. The winning developer was expected to build houses and to use part of the profits to build the Orange County Great Park. Well, the housing market has collapsed, so the park will be a long time in coming. Irvine and Orange County politicians have received a great deal of criticism for this project.

In the meantime, we have the preview park. The most noteworthy feature is the Orange County Great Park Balloon, which is a tethered helium balloon, that one can ride free of charge-- after signing a waiver that indemnified the organization and gave them permission to use photos of one having a nice time.

I thought Mini-Mausburger would enjoy the big orange balloon, so we went.

For the bargain basement price of $14 million, we have displays, chairs, umbrellas, trees in boxes, and some patches of grass. It was funny explaining to our munchkin that this was indeed a park, but it didn't have a slide or a play structure. Considering how little is there, we have received an amazing number of flyers and newsletters in the mail.

As Mr. Mausburger pointed out, the site reminded him of the party where nobody showed up. There are party favours, games, and music, but nobody showed up. We went on a Friday morning and there were about five families with children there. The plans for the park are pretty cool-- fountains, cafes, pavilions, play structures, a tricycle track, lots of baseball diamonds, and lots of tennis courts. Currently, there's an RV storage facility on the grounds and there is (sanctioned) drag racing on one of the runways on the weekend.

The balloon ride was cool-- my motion sickness, notwithstanding. But for $14 million, I would have expected a little more bang for my tax buck. A slide would have been nice.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Montreal woman awakens to find python under bed

This must be true, it was on the CBC. One metre is not that big for a python, but it's pretty big if you're not expecting to see a snake under your bed. I would have loved to have seen this on an episode of Cops.

Oldest joke in the word is about farting

I love jokes about farting. Just the word "fart" makes me giggle. This used to embarrass the heck out of Mr. Mausburger when we first started dating. He has adjusted and tells me lots of nonsense joked using the word "fart." Even now, when I talk about poop (digestive problems, toilet paper, etc) in polite company, he still gets uncomfortable, but rolls with it.

A story on the BBC
reported that the world's oldest joke is as follows:

Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband's lap.

This was found in Sumeria, now Northern Iraq. The funniest joke in the article is about the Egyptian pharaoh. More examples can be found on a recent MetaFilter thread. To this, I contribute my favourite pharaoh joke.

"I have some good news and some bad news," the galley master of the Royal Barge told the rowing slaves, chained to their oars. "The good news is that today's gruel ration will be doubled. The bad news is that the pharaoh wants to go water skiing."

I don't know where this came from, but I'm pretty sure there's a Far Side cartoon to go with it.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Dreamboarding, not waterboarding

I saw this post today, and the first thing that I thought of was waterboarding. It turns out that the two have nothing to do with each other, except for the coincidental use of the term "boarding," but what if...

Dreamboarding is a technique for presenting your dreams or aspirations in a visual format. Kind of like a scrapbooking/collage/dreamcatcher mash up. It's supposed to be done to celebrate the full moon, with the hope that the dreams will come true.

Waterboarding, in the other hand, is a torture technique. I blogged about this previously, but essentially it simulates drowning by pouring water into the victim's mouth and nose.

What if dreamboarding was a peace-building technique where you poured dreams into your enemy until they drowned in them? By immersing him or her in one's hopes, fears, aspirations, love, joy, sorrows, and nightmares, one could win over hearts and minds, rather than alienate them. War is waged only against the "other," that is, against those who are not one of us. There is no "them," there is only "we." Resources, territory, and power are not zero sum games. Peace is not just the absence of war, it's the presence of a stable, just, and fair community of people who are fed, clothed, healthy, and sheltered.