Wish I was still reading Among Others

I fin­ished read­ing Jo Walton’s much prize-win­ning book, Among Oth­ers yes­ter­day. Through­out, I found myself sort of drift­ing, lik­ing the book, but not feel­ing ter­ri­bly com­pelled. Now that it is done, how­ev­er, I find that I am miss­ing it. Not nec­es­sar­i­ly in that way that you wish you knew what hap­pened to Har­ry after Volde­mort, but rather… well, I just miss it. The char­ac­ters, the world, the is-it-or-isn’t-it mag­ic, the feel of it.

I’m pick­ing some­thing else to read now, but I sort of just feel like sit­ting and day­dream­ing about Among Oth­ers a lit­tle while longer.

Quite a book. Not for every­one. ymmv.

Is philanthropy heroic?

Yeah, so Lance Arm­strong is a jerk. He won sev­en Tour de France races, but has just not-admit­ted that he won them all with the help of per­for­mance enhanc­ing drugs. He used those wins to fuel a shock­ing­ly suc­cess­ful endorse­ment career, and used that mon­ey to fuel a shock­ing­ly wide­spread phil­an­thropic effort.

Oh, and he beat can­cer, too. (Before he won all the Tours de France, mind you.)

The Live­strong Fondation’s dona­tions to can­cer research are esti­mat­ed at $470 mil­lion by Forbes. Char­i­ty Nav­i­ga­tor rates the orga­ni­za­tion very high­ly, high­er than any oth­er can­cer char­i­ty in the coun­try. It’s a good orga­ni­za­tion, and it would not exist if Lance Arm­strong had not won all those races.

So he’s a cycling hero, who has crashed off that bike. He was a sports hero, and now, he is not.

But, does his phil­an­thropic work make up for that? Is he Robin the Hood, not the sto­ry­book char­ac­ter, but the real out­law, killing and steal­ing for some Oth­er Good? Did he bilk his spon­sors out of mil­lions, cheat­ing his way into their cof­fers, in order to use that mon­ey and fame to build the Lance Arm­strong Foun­da­tion?

And is that so bad?

Hon­est­ly, I don’t know. Cheat­ing is bad. Giv­ing is good. Cheat­ing cor­po­ra­tions is, well, not as bad. Lying to kids, how­ev­er, is pret­ty bad. Giv­ing hope to mil­lions of can­cer patients (some of them kids, some of them cycling fans)? Undoubt­ed­ly good.

Per­son­al­ly, I’m not so bro­ken up about his cheat­ing in the bike races, but I am not a huge cycling fan. My moth­er is in remis­sion from can­cer, and I appre­ci­ate any­thing the Live­strong Foundation’s $470 mil­lion might have indi­rect­ly had to do with her treat­ment.

So yeah, regard­less of what I think of Lance Arm­strong, I think phil­an­thropy is hero­ic. And I think Lance Arm­strong may have come to the same con­clu­sion.

The search for church

I’ve nev­er been a reli­gious guy. I don’t believe in God. I see a lot of the crap that goes down in the world in the name of one God or Anoth­er, and it doesn’t do much to change my opin­ion. My moth­er used to take me to church when I was lit­tle (she took the whole fam­i­ly), but all I got from it was an abid­ing love for sug­ar cubes and a mem­o­ry of a burn­ing bush col­lage I once made.

As a young and not so young adult, I dab­bled in church­ing, but noth­ing ever stuck. I mar­ried Catholic, so we tried that (shout out to Sacred Heart in Oma­ha!) but we also checked out the Methodists and sev­er­al Uni­tar­i­an Uni­ver­sal­ist con­gre­ga­tions.

But you know what? Going to church every freakin’ week is hard. So we didn’t.

Then we had kids. Cou­pled with our recent move to Kansas City—a move we hope and plan to be our last—that set us to church hunt­ing again. The local Catholic parish is pret­ty strict­ly con­ser­v­a­tive, so they were out. We tried a UCC con­gre­ga­tion in the neigh­bor­hood, as they are pret­ty inclu­sive, yet still Chris­t­ian (some­thing we want­ed to try on for size), but between feel­ing like fresh meat and their pub­lic recit­ing of the creed (which I will para­phrase as “do good in the name of Christ”), we did not feel com­plete­ly com­fort­able.

So we went back to the well, and looked up the local Uni­tar­i­an Uni­ver­sal­ist church. The Shawnee Mis­sion Uni­tar­i­an Uni­ver­sal­ist Church (SMUUCh, and if that isn’t rea­son enough to join…)

The first time we vis­it­ed, we found it full of peo­ple. Young, old, fam­i­lies. There was singing, and food after­wards, Sun­day school and a ser­mon. It was like real church! As we walked up to the front door, see­ing Prius­es in the park­ing lot, the hip­ster glass­es on the woman greet­ing us at the door, I turned to Tiffany and joked, “these are Our Peo­ple.”

But I was right, I think. Four months lat­er, we are mem­bers (if you know us, you know we don’t buy ice cubes with­out research­ing them for a month pri­or). The com­mu­ni­ty is large, vibrant, engaged and engag­ing. They have exten­sive reli­gious edu­ca­tion class­es, exten­sive adult groups, and a strong com­mu­ni­ty ser­vice eth­ic. The church is active in the nation­al UU orga­ni­za­tion.

And, if you’ll par­don the lan­guage… they are Lib­er­al as fuck.

So, we’ve found a com­mu­ni­ty. It hap­pens to be a church. They have accept­ed us despite our foibles, as they accept every­one. They will help us learn and grow and most impor­tant of all, they will help our chil­dren learn and grow and be Good Peo­ple.

I still don’t believe in God, but I have always believed in some­thing. Now I can go, once a week, to be with peo­ple who also believe in some­thing. This isn’t our first time at a UU church. They vary wide­ly, and depend sig­nif­i­cant­ly on the min­is­ter at the front of the room. But more impor­tant­ly, the com­mu­ni­ty behind the church is what dri­ves it (and, more pro­saical­ly, hires and fires the min­is­ter…) That com­mu­ni­ty is what we were look­ing for, what we have found, and what we have joined.

Thank God.

I wish you all the best of luck find­ing a com­mu­ni­ty you can con­nect with, churchy or not.

Elephant graveyard

Cardinal feathers

Car­di­nal feath­ers

We’ve lived in our new house for about four months now. In that time, my wife (bless her) has col­lect­ed and dis­posed of two dead squir­rels, a ful­ly grown but dead rab­bit, and a mori­bund car­di­nal. We do have dogs, but nei­ther of them are com­pe­tent enough to have caught any of the above.

Which leaves either a neigh­bor­hood killer (cat, moun­tain lion, hexa­va­lent chromi­um?), or the mys­ti­cal: our new back­yard is the neighborhood’s ele­phant grave­yard, where dying ani­mals go to leave their bones. Or in our case, car­cass­es.

Per­haps this is not an unusu­al num­ber of dead things? But in our pre­vi­ous four­teen years of home own­er­ship I can think of… well, one poi­soned rat, one thread­bare squir­rel, and two ani­mals I killed with a lawn­mow­er (a wee baby bun­ny and a garter snake). So, that’s four in four­teen years, ver­sus four in four months.

Methinks some­thing is up.

Remote sensor for thermostats

This is one of the Mil­lion Dol­lar Ideas. Please, take this idea, and make it a real­i­ty, so I can buy it. And if you know that this exists now, please point me to it!

You know those weather/temperature sta­tions you can buy every­where now? The ones with the 2, 4 or 16 remote sen­sors, so you can see what the tem­per­a­ture is out­side, in your room, and in the dog house? Well, some­one needs to take that tech­nol­o­gy and apply it to the ther­mo­stat.

I want my ther­mo­stat, wher­ev­er it is (incon­ve­nient­ly) locat­ed, to be able to access 2, 4 or 16 remote sen­sors about the house. Then it could be pro­grammed to set the tem­per­a­ture based on the read­ing in our bed­room at night, the kitchen in the morn­ing, and the baby’s room dur­ing nap time.

It seems like an easy, cheap way to approx­i­mate zoned heat­ing.