Wrigley Field Demolition/Renovation

Wrigley Field is having major demolition/ renovation work done on it, and when I was in Chicago last week, my brother took us to go look at it. It looks pretty seriously awesome: you get a good look at the skeleton of the structure, in a way that you pretty much never do. I feel like I should make some sort of deep philosophical social commentary about destruction and reinvention and the cycle of architectural life and so on. But really, the pics are just cool.

Wrigley Field repairs 1 [Read more…]

Announcing the Atheist Baseball Team, the Mr. Paul Aints!

No, really.

Okay, it’s just for one day. But it’s still pretty cool.

Minnesota AtheistsHere’s the deal. There’s an atheist conference coming up soon in Minneapolis, on Saturday August 10: the Minnesota Atheists/American Atheists Regional Conference. It’s going to be a mega-spiffy event: I’m speaking there, along with PZ Myers, Hector Avalos, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Amanda Knief, Greg Laden, Stephanie Zvan, Rohit Ravindran, Kim Socha, Jill Carlson, James Zimmerman, Eric Jayne, Cliff Buhl, and Susan Campion. And if you register by July 31, you get the early-bird discount!

But the ultra-mega-spiffy part: The evening before the conference, Friday August 9, the minor league baseball team The St. Paul Saints is changing their name for the day to the Mr. Paul Aints. In honor of the atheist conference. Seriously.

A special group rate for the game is available for conference attendees. For $21 you can get seated in the Infield Reserved section (or Infidel Reserve), plus you get a limited edition Mr. Paul or Ms. Paula Aints hat (a ($29 value). Or for $10, you Outfield General Admission, plus a hot dog and a soda (an $11 value). And yes, you can come to the ballgame even if you can’t come to the conference. Info on getting tickets is at the conference website.

I’m going to be there. I even have my Mr. Paul Aints T-shirt…

Greta in Mr Paul Aints tshirt

and my Ms. Paula Aints T-shirt…

Greta in Ms Paula Aints tshirt

and my Ms. Paula Aints hat!

Greta in Ms Paula Aints hat

(It’s scary how much I look like my brother when I wear a baseball hat. And yes, I did a horizontal flip on the mirror selfies so the lettering on the T-shirts wouldn’t come out backward. And yes, you can get a T-shirt or a hat, even if you can’t come to the event: the Minnesota Atheists website has them in their store.)

Here’s the details. If you come to the baseball game, maybe you’ll get to hear me sing my demented, one-syllable-off version of “Take Me Out To the Ball Game.” Hope to see you there!

CITY: Minneapolis, MN (Minnesota Atheists/American Atheists Regional Conference)
DATE: Saturday, August 10
TIME: All-day conference
LOCATION: Ramada Plaza, 1330 Industrial Blvd NE, Minneapolis, MN
EVENT/HOSTS: Minnesota Atheists/American Atheists Regional Conference
TOPIC: Coming Out: How To Do It, How to Help Each Other Do It, And Why?
SUMMARY: Coming out is the most powerful political act atheists can take. But coming out can be difficult and risky. What are some specific, practical, nuts-and-bolts strategies we can use: to come out of the closet, to support each other in coming out, and to make the atheist community a safer place to come out into? What can atheists learn about coming out from the LGBT community and their decades of coming-out experience — and what can we learn from the important differences between coming out atheist and coming out queer?
OTHER SPEAKERS: PZ Myers, Hector Avalos, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Amanda Knief, Greg Laden, Stephanie Zvan, Rohit Ravindran, Kim Socha, Jill Carlson, James Zimmerman, Eric Jayne, Cliff Buhl, and Susan Campion.
COST: $10.00 – $60.00 if you register by July 31; $10.00 – $75.00 after July 31
EXTRA EVENT: The evening before the conference, the minor league baseball team The St. Paul Saints will change their name for the day to the Mr. Paul Aints, in honor of the atheist conference. Seriously. A special group rate is available for the game for conference attendees.
EVENT URL: http://mnatheists.org/

A Parade of Weird Little Worlds: Why I Like The Olympics

I wrote this piece four years ago, and thought it would be appropriate to repost it now. I’d probably write it somewhat differently now than I did then (less star-struck about meeting PZ Myers, for one thing); but in the interest of not being a revisionist swine, I’m leaving it as is. Enjoy!

Ingrid and I are not, generally speaking, sports fans. To put it mildly. (I had a brief stretch of fairly serious baseball fandom in the late '80s and early '90s, but I fell out of the habit in the strike of '94, and never got back into it.)

And yet, we are getting completely sucked into the Olympics.

I've been thinking about why.

Yes, we're watching the gymnastics and a couple of the other big-ticket events (diving is always a good time). And yes, I'm watching women's wrestling, for reasons that should be obvious. But mostly I'm being a big old dilettante, and am watching bits and pieces of the largely unsung sports.

Archery. Fencing. Badminton. Table tennis. Synchronized swimming and trampoline are coming up later this week, and I can't wait.

I'm having a ball with this.

Some of it is that it's always a good time to watch people doing something — anything at all — really, really well. The look of pure concentration on a person's face when they're deeply immersed in something they passionately love and are extraordinarily good at… it's one of the most beautiful sights there is.

And, of course, some of it is the two-week parade of beautiful athletic bodies in tight, skimpy outfits. My libidinal interest varies from sport to sport (sky-high for divers and female wrestlers, almost nil for weightlifters and female gymnasts), but I can't be the only erotic connoisseur/ drooling pervert who's getting off on this.

But most of it is this:

One of the things I love best about human beings is the way we create these weird little worlds for ourselves. The world of competitive ballroom dancing. Of model train building. Of comic book enthusiasts. Show dog owners. Historical recreation societies. Contra dancing. Atheist blogging. These worlds always call to mind for me a line from Dave Barry: "There's a fine line between a hobby and mental illness." Yet at the same time, they call to mind that line from the teenage kid from "Trekkies": "People tell me to get a life. Well, I have a life. This is a hobby. And having hobbies is part of having a life."

There are anthropologists and neurologists and evolutionary biologists who think that the human brain evolved to deal with about 100 or 150 other people, tops, and I'm convinced that the forming of these weird little worlds is a way of narrowing down the dauntingly enormous and increasingly interconnected global village into something a bit more manageable.

I love that each of these weird little worlds has not just its own skills and trends and passions, but its own gossip, its own politics, its own scandals and controversies. I love how immersed people get in our weird little worlds: how the issues of historically accurate shoes at Civil War re-enactments, or gender- balancing at contra dances, can seem like life or death. I love how much time and care and passion people put into these endeavors that will never make them famous or rich or remembered in the larger world, the world outside of a handful of equally demented enthusiasts.

And I love that these worlds have stars and celebrities that nobody on the outside has ever, ever heard of. If you don't do English country dancing, you've almost certainly never heard of Bare Necessities: and yet they are a band with a rabidly devoted following, across the country and around the world. And when Ingrid and I met PZ Myers on a recent visit he made to the Bay Area, we told all our friends about it with bubbly excitement… to be met with almost universal blank stares. (Stares that got even blanker when we explained that he was "a famous biologist and atheist blogger.")

As thousands of pundits have noted before me, the world is becoming ickily homogenous, filled with depressingly interchangeable supermarkets and strip malls, processed foods and chain restaurants. But the weird little worlds of hobbyists and enthusiasts are a bulwark against that tendency. Whenever I despair over humanity losing its quirkiness, all I have to do is read the Carnival of the Godless, or go queer contra dancing, or turn on "Project Runway" and watch the contestants pissing themselves with excitement over some fashion designer I've never heard of.

And what I love about the Olympics is that, for two weeks every four years, I get a peek inside a dozen or so of these worlds.

I love finding out what the strategy is in weightlifting (yes, there's strategy — I know, it was news to me as well), and that it's forbidden in Olympic weightlifting to lubricate your thighs. I love learning that a round of play in archery is called an "end." I love discovering the existence of a triathlon-style sport that combines running, swimming, fencing, shooting, and equestrian… and learning that it was invented as a narrative of a soldier ordered to deliver a message on horseback.

And I love how intensely immersed the athletes are in their worlds, how hard they work to become so superbly good in them with so little in the way of obvious payoff.

I mean, it's easy to understand why you'd want to be a famous gymnast or a multi- medal- winning swimmer. If you succeed, you actually get a fair degree of fame and fortune in the larger world. But if you sacrifice years of your life to become the absolute top of your game in archery or fencing or badminton, nobody is ever going to know about it but your immediate circle of family and friends, a handful of other archers and fencers and badmintonites… and every four years, some weirdos like me, who could care less about Michael Phelps's eight gold medals but get intensely sucked into the women's saber competition for about fifteen minutes.

I love that they do it anyway.

(P.S. Tivo helps with this a lot, btw. I can't believe I ever watched the Olympics without it. Tivo lets you watch all the weird events you want to watch… and skip the ones you think are boring.)

Ballroom dance photo by Petr Novak, Wikipedia.

I have my archives!

I have my archives from my old blog! They’re here! With comments and everything! They’re even in the right categories!

Images and videos didn’t make it over, and there are a handful of posts that didn’t make it and that I’ll have to put in by hand. (For some reason, it didn’t like my posts about alternative medicine, speaking at Stanford, making atheism a safe place to land, atheists having morality, and my recipe for chocolate pie. Make of that what you will.) But I can live with that. The archives are here. Years of my old work — all finally in one place. This has been driving me up a tree, and I can now finally relax about it. (A little.)

If you want to see them, scroll down in the sidebar to where it says “Recent Posts/ Comments/ Archives.” Click Archives. There they are! You can also search for posts in the archives with the handy Search box at the top right of the blog. Which works waaaay better than the search box at my old blog.

When I’m back from my Minnesota trip, I’m going to start working on (a) getting the old blog to redirect to the new one, and (b) getting the best and hottest posts listed in my sidebar, so newcomers to the blog can browse them more easily. And I’ll probably start linking to the cool stuff from the archives, so newcomers to this blog can become familiar with it. For now, I’m just going to sit back and cry tears of happiness and relief. I can haz archives! Yay!

I have to express my intense gratitude to fellow Freethought Blogger Jason Thibeault, at Lousy Canuck, for making this happen. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that atheists have no sense of community or compassion. I owe him big time. Go visit his blog, and tell him Thank You.

He’s A Super Freak: Tiger Woods and Sexual Compassion

This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog. I never reprinted it here, since it was very topical, and by the time the reprint rights had reverted to me the media flare-up I was writing about had run its course. But the Blowfish Blog archives are apparently no longer on the Internets, and the original piece is no longer available. So in the interest of completism and making all my published works accessible, I’m going ahead and posting it here.

Important note: This piece discusses my personal sex life and sexual fantasies. Family members and other who don’t want to read about that, please don’t read this. (I would also just like to point out: I believe this is my only post to be tagged with the categories Sex, SM, and Sports. I’m finding myself very entertained by this.)

Text messages Okay. Maybe I’m a freak of nature. But does anybody else like Tiger Woods better after reading the freaky text messages?

Or, maybe more accurately: Does anyone else have more sympathy and compassion for Tiger Woods after reading the freaky text messages?

Until recently, I had almost zero interest in the Tiger Woods sex scandal. Rich, famous, powerful man; maintained a squeaky-clean public image for years; turned out to be sneaking around on his wife with multiple mistresses and sex workers. Ho freaking hum. Wake me when something remotely unusual happens.

But then — pretty much by accident, since I’d been ignoring this story to an almost aggressive degree — I read about the text messages he sent to one of his sex partners, Joslyn James, which she saved and released to the media.

Including:

I want to treat you rough. Throw you around, spank and slap you

Slap your face. Treat you like a dirty little whore. Put my cock in your ass and then shove it down your throat

Hold you down while i choke you and Fuck that ass that i own

Then im going to tell you to shut the Fuck up while i slap your face and pull your hair for making noise

Where do you want to be bitten

I really do want to be rough with you. Slap you around

For years. And punish you for not seeing me more

I want you to beg for my cock. Kiss you all over to convince me to let you have it in your mouth

Next time i see you, you better beg and if you don’t do it right i will slap, spank, bite and fuck you till mercy

I read these texts. And my whole perspective changed.

All of a sudden, my perspective on Tiger Woods was no longer, “Powerful man with a sense of sexual entitlement, who cheats on his wife with impunity and doesn’t think sexual ethics apply to him.”

All of a sudden, my perspective was, “Oh. He’s kinky.”

And that’s a radically different perspective.

Cheating For starters: While I don’t generally condone cheating, there are a handful of situations where I understand why people do it, and feel some compassion for people who do it, and recognize that a reasonable person might decide that it’s the least bad choice available to them. The main one I’ve written about before is the situation where one partner in a deeply tangled relationship turns off the tap on sex — unilaterally, non-negotiably, and permanently. (And yes, I know, not everyone agrees with me about that. Please, can we not start that argument again?)

But I also have a fair degree of compassion for people in long-term monogamous relationships (or supposedly monogamous relationships), who have strong, deep-rooted sexual desires that their partners can’t or won’t accommodate. I have, for instance, a tremendous amount of compassion for married people who are figuring out, partway through their marriage, that they’re gay. I mean, what are you supposed to do? Break up with your spouse or partner of many years… before you experiment and figure out whether you’re really gay? It’s a lousy situation, one where no choice is going to be a really good one, and people who find themselves in it have to make the best bad choice they can.

And this applies to being kinky — every bit as much as it applies to being gay. What are you supposed to do if you start figuring out, partway through your marriage, that you’re kinky? That the fantasies you’ve been having for most of your life may be more than just fantasies? That they may be a core part of your sexuality, without which sex is always going to be disconnected and unsatisfying?

Coming out day Yes, in a perfect world, people would come out about their sexual desires and orientations before they get into committed relationships with people who can’t or won’t satisfy them. But we don’t live in a perfect world, or anything like a perfect world. We live in a sex-negative and sexually ignorant world, and both the hostility and the misinformation about sex — especially about sex that’s kinky or otherwise unusual — means it often takes years for people to figure out who they are sexually, and accept it, and find a way to fold it into their lives. At which point, their lives have often already gotten tangled into a web that it may be hard to get out of. Hard on themselves… and hard on other people.

Now. Add to this the fact that plenty of sexual desires and orientations aren’t socially acceptable. To say the least. Plenty of sexual desires and orientations will get you treated like a pariah if people find out about them.

And being kinky is definitely on that list. In fact, I’d argue that being kinky is significantly higher on that list than being gay. In much of the world, being gay has a fair degree of acceptance, and isn’t that big a deal. In the overwhelming majority of the world, being kinky still gets you treated as a mentally unbalanced, amoral freak. At best.

Consensual-sadomasochism Yes, some of us are willing to be out about it anyway. I am, obviously. But frankly, my willingness to be out about being kinky has less to do with my courage and integrity and fine nobility of character… and a whole lot more to do with the particular circumstances of my life. Circumstances I can’t really take credit for. I don’t have kids. I live in a sexually tolerant part of the world. I don’t have a job that coming out as kinky could jeopardize: I’m not a teacher, or a public official, or a pillar of the local business community.

Or a professional athlete.

And as long as being kinky is as deeply stigmatized as it is, I’m going to have compassion for kinky people who keep their kinks private. I wish they wouldn’t keep it private from their spouses; but again, that can be a complicated moral decision, and while it isn’t the decision I’d make, I can see why some people in some situations might decide to make it.

Finally:

This is almost certainly not fair or rational. But I now have sympathy and compassion with Tiger Woods for an entirely different reason:

I now see him as family.

I see him as one of us.

When I read those text messages, I did not for one second think, “What a disgusting person Tiger Woods is for doing those horrible things to that poor woman.” When I read those text messages, I thought, “Damn, that’s hot. I want to do that. I want to have that done to me. Now, please.” I could totally see myself doing any or all of the activities described in those messages. Or writing a porn story based on the messages. Or going to a Perverts Put Out reading and hearing a porn story by Thomas Roche or Charlie Jane Anders or some other brilliant sick fuck, based on the messages. And I find it easier to cut people slack when I see them as part of my tribe. It isn’t fair or rational, but it’s human.

Tiger-Woods-Nike I’m not totally letting Tiger Woods off the hook. For one thing, I have a serious problem with the deliberate way he played the squeaky- clean public persona to his advantage. There’s a difference between keeping your sexuality private, and deliberately projecting a deceptive, concocted image of it. What’s more, the squeaky-clean, All-American, family-man schtick totally plays into the exact same sex-negativity and kink- negativity I’ve been complaining about. I have compassion for kinky people who feel like they have to stay in the closet and get their kinky thrills on the down low. I have rather less compassion for people who do all this… while at the same time trading on the idea that a nicey-nice sex life somehow makes you a better citizen/ role model/ sneaker salesman. It’s not as bad as closeted politicians who vote for anti-gay legislation while screwing around on the sly with same-sex partners… but it’s in a similar category, and it’s a category that ticks me off.

Ultimately, though, I don’t know what the deal is with Tiger Woods. And neither does anyone else, except Tiger Woods himself (and maybe not even him). I have no idea, for instance, what the deal is with his marriage: whether he tried to bring his wife into his kinks and she refused, or whether he never told her about them, or whether they had a wild and kinky and happy sex life and he skanked around on the side anyway. Or what. There’s too much about this story that I don’t know for me to really come to any fair or accurate judgment about it.

I just know that my thinking about Tiger Woods has shifted.

The Tiger Woods sex scandal in general, and the kinky text messages in particular, are having the overall effect of making his popularity drop like an anvil. Most people — especially in the media — seem to be reacting to the text messages with derision or disgust or both. But I’m having the opposite reaction. The text messages aren’t alienating me from Tiger Woods. They’re making me identify with him. They’re making him seem less like an unapproachable cog of the carefully manipulated celebrity machine… and more like someone I might run into at a party. More like someone with a complicated sex life, who’s made some fucked-up but understandable choices about it.

More like, you know, a human being.

The Eroticism of Exercise

Please note: This piece discusses my personal sex life, in a certain amount of detail. Family members and others who don’t want to read about that stuff will probably want to skip this one. This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.

Dumbbell
I really wish I’d known about this years ago.

If I had, I would have gotten my ass to the gym long before I finally did.

I wish I’d known it years ago. Which is why I’m telling all y’all. It’s this:

Working out is hot.

I don’t mean that it makes you look hot and attractive: i.e., gives you a firmer body, better posture, a healthier and more attractive appearance generally. It does, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

And I don’t mean that it makes you feel hot and attractive: i.e., increases your libido, gives you better energy, makes you feel more comfortable in your own skin. It does, but that’s not what I’m talking about, either.

I mean that the activity itself is hot. Arousing. Sexually pleasurable.

Or it can be, anyway.

Gym
For one thing, if you’re at all into kink, there’s a wonderfully kinky flavor to working out. The weight equipment at the gym especially. The one that forces your legs apart and makes you squeeze them together? The one that puts you on your back with your hands and your chest pinned down? The one that presses your arms back and pushes your tits out? Yum. And there’s a toppy aspect to it, too: a feeling of forcefulness, of power, of pushing against resistance and making it yield.

Even if you’re not into weights, the soreness and endorphin high you get from pushing your physical limits a little bit more each day will be immediately familiar to anyone who’s enjoyed a good spanking. (Although you have to be careful with this — I actually did myself a mild injury from bench pressing too much weight, because it “hurt so good.”)

But it’s not just about kink.

Sports bra
There’s also the whole “being in a room full of healthy, athletic people, many of whom are dressed in skimpy or tight- fitting clothing” thing. Personally, that often doesn’t do much for me: I tend to go into my own little world when I work out, and I don’t usually pay much attention to the other gym patrons. (In fact, I once lost points in the “lust” section of a “seven deadly sins” morality quiz because I didn’t think of the gym as a cruising ground.)

But sometimes, it just can’t be helped. I don’t like to cruise at the gym — if you’re not a gay man, I think it’s kind of rude — but I’ve definitely spent some of my time at the gym pumping my thigh muscles and surreptitiously admiring other people’s… um, tattoos.

But that’s not the main thing.

The main thing is this.

I am:

(a) a person who tends to live in my head, and

(b) a person who tends to be horny.

So anything that pushes me out of my head and into my body will usually get me thinking about sex.

Trapezius
And being at the gym does exactly that. It forces me to pay attention to my body, to feel what’s happening in my flesh and joints and bones. And that almost always gets me turned on. Not in a generalized, “being in touch with my body” way, but in a very specific, immediate, “firm nipples and hard clit” way. It gets me paying close, careful attention to my thighs and my ass, my back and my chest, my hands and my feet.

Which gets me hot.

And which keeps me going back every week.

So consider this a public service announcement. People talk a lot about exercise as a natural anti-depressant… but it’s also a natural aphrodisiac. And I think if more people knew this, a lot more people would be getting their asses to the gym, and keeping them there.

The gym per se might not be for you. I personally find weightlifting to be totally hot, but I’m also a firm believer in the idea that the best exercise is the one that you enjoy and will therefore stick with. So if weights and treadmills don’t do it for you, then try basketball or fencing or synchronized swimming.

But if you’re trying to find inspiration to get more regular exercise, and if you’re also a horny person who lives too much in your head, you might find that this works for you as well. Working out is hot. It doesn’t just make you healthy and energetic; it doesn’t just reduce stress and depression; it doesn’t just improve your sleep. It also turns you on. It gives your body something it loves and is hungry for… and your body pays you back in sexual pleasure.

The Eroticism of the Olympics, and the Inherent Hotness of Variety: The Blowfish Blog

Please note: This post, and the post it links to, discusses my personal sexuality and sexual practices — not at great length, but in a certain amount of detail. Family members and others who don’t want to read about that stuff will probably want to skip this post.

Naked gymnastics
I have a new piece up on the Blowfish Blog. It’s about the eroticism of the Olympics, and the astonishing variety of beautiful forms that the bodies of top-level athletes come in… a variety that, in and of itself, I find erotic. It’s called The Eroticism of the Olympics, and the Inherent Hotness of Variety, and here’s the teaser:

It’s all too common in our culture to mistake athleticism for body fascism. “Physically fit” is too often used as a euphemism for “approaching a single ideal of perfection that all bodies are supposed to aspire to.” I’ve fallen into that trap myself: I’ve definitely felt lumpy and out of place at the gym as a chubby middle-aged lady in a weight room full of Venuses and Adonises. (It doesn’t help that I work out at a university gym, populated largely by grad students in their twenties.)

But watching the Olympics is a lovely, sexy reminder that even top-level physical fitness comes in a delightful variety of forms.

To find out more, read the rest of the post. Enjoy!

A Parade of Weird Little Worlds: Why I Like The Olympics

Olympic Rings
Ingrid and I are not, generally speaking, sports fans. To put it mildly. (I had a brief stretch of fairly serious baseball fandom in the late '80s and early '90s, but I fell out of the habit in the strike of '94, and never got back into it.)

And yet, we are getting completely sucked into the Olympics.

I've been thinking about why.

Yes, we're watching the gymnastics and a couple of the other big-ticket events (diving is always a good time). And yes, I'm watching women's wrestling, for reasons that should be obvious. But mostly I'm being a big old dilettante, and am watching bits and pieces of the largely unsung sports.

Archer_01Archery. Fencing. Badminton. Table tennis. Synchronized swimming and trampoline are coming up later this week, and I can't wait.

I'm having a ball with this.

Some of it is that it's always a good time to watch people doing something — anything at all — really, really well. The look of pure concentration on a person's face when they're deeply immersed in something they passionately love and are extraordinarily good at… it's one of the most beautiful sights there is.

And, of course, some of it is the two-week parade of beautiful athletic bodies in tight, skimpy outfits. My libidinal interest varies from sport to sport (sky-high for divers and female wrestlers, almost nil for weightlifters and female gymnasts), but I can't be the only erotic connoisseur/ drooling pervert who's getting off on this.

But most of it is this:

Ballroom_dance_exhibition
One of the things I love best about human beings is the way we create these weird little worlds for ourselves. The world of competitive ballroom dancing. Of model train building. Of comic book enthusiasts. Show dog owners. Historical recreation societies. Contra dancing. Atheist blogging. These worlds always call to mind for me a line from Dave Barry: "There's a fine line between a hobby and mental illness." Yet at the same time, they call to mind that line from the teenage kid from "Trekkies": "People tell me to get a life. Well, I have a life. This is a hobby. And having hobbies is part of having a life."

There are anthropologists and neurologists and evolutionary biologists who think that the human brain evolved to deal with about 100 or 150 other people, tops, and I'm convinced that the forming of these weird little worlds is a way of narrowing down the dauntingly enormous and increasingly interconnected global village into something a bit more manageable.

I love that each of these weird little worlds has not just its own skills and trends and passions, but its own gossip, its own politics, its own scandals and controversies. I love how immersed people get in our weird little worlds: how the issues of historically accurate shoes at Civil War re-enactments, or gender- balancing at contra dances, can seem like life or death. I love how much time and care and passion people put into these endeavors that will never make them famous or rich or remembered in the larger world, the world outside of a handful of equally demented enthusiasts.

Bare necessities
And I love that these worlds have stars and celebrities that nobody on the outside has ever, ever heard of. If you don't do English country dancing, you've almost certainly never heard of Bare Necessities: and yet they are a band with a rabidly devoted following, across the country and around the world. And when Ingrid and I met PZ Myers on a recent visit he made to the Bay Area, we told all our friends about it with bubbly excitement… to be met with almost universal blank stares. (Stares that got even blanker when we explained that he was "a famous biologist and atheist blogger.")

As thousands of pundits have noted before me, the world is becoming ickily homogenous, filled with depressingly interchangeable supermarkets and strip malls, processed foods and chain restaurants. But the weird little worlds of hobbyists and enthusiasts are a bulwark against that tendency. Whenever I despair over humanity losing its quirkiness, all I have to do is read the Carnival of the Godless, or go queer contra dancing, or turn on "Project Runway" and watch the contestants pissing themselves with excitement over some fashion designer I've never heard of.

And what I love about the Olympics is that, for two weeks every four years, I get a peek inside a dozen or so of these worlds.

Modern_pentathlon_pictogram.svg
I love finding out what the strategy is in weightlifting (yes, there's strategy — I know, it was news to me as well), and that it's forbidden in Olympic weightlifting to lubricate your thighs. I love learning that a round of play in archery is called an "end." I love discovering the existence of a triathlon-style sport that combines running, swimming, fencing, shooting, and equestrian… and learning that it was invented as a narrative of a soldier ordered to deliver a message on horseback.

And I love how intensely immersed the athletes are in their worlds, how hard they work to become so superbly good in them with so little in the way of obvious payoff.

FencingI mean, it's easy to understand why you'd want to be a famous gymnast or a multi- medal- winning swimmer. If you succeed, you actually get a fair degree of fame and fortune in the larger world. But if you sacrifice years of your life to become the absolute top of your game in archery or fencing or badminton, nobody is ever going to know about it but your immediate circle of family and friends, a handful of other archers and fencers and badmintonites… and every four years, some weirdos like me, who could care less about Michael Phelps's eight gold medals but get intensely sucked into the women's saber competition for about fifteen minutes.

I love that they do it anyway.

(P.S. Tivo helps with this a lot, btw. I can't believe I ever watched the Olympics without it. Tivo lets you watch all the weird events you want to watch… and skip the ones you think are boring.)

Ballroom dance photo by Petr Novak, Wikipedia.