Link Roundup: May 2018

Before I get to the link roundup, I’d like to mention an update I’ve made to an old post.  It was about an optical illusion you could make with origami, and now I’ve added nicer diagrams so that you can actually follow along and make it yourself.

IS SONIC 2 ABOUT CAPITALISM??!? (H Bomberguy video) – Ignore the title, this is a retrospective on gaming webcomics, especially the comic Control-Alt-Delete.  Hey, I’ve been into webcomics for a long time, I remember when people loved to hate CAD.  I think part of the reason was that webcomics were a new medium to most people, and we weren’t used to the fact that of course lots of webcomics are bad, and so what?  But the other major reason was that CAD was extremely popular.  I think it was easier to treat the author and his fans as having irrationally bad taste, instead of really examining what CAD said about gamer culture at large.

Sunday Sermon: Buddhism Sucks, Too – The treatment of Buddhism by anglophone atheist communities has always been problematic.  Buddhism is incredibly diverse, and has had a very long history across a very large part of the world, but atheists tend to flatten it into nothing but a philosophical and peace-loving counterpoint to western religions.  Marcus Ranum has the right idea by not even attempting to summarize Buddhism as a whole; instead he discusses how Tibetan Buddhists don’t live up to the image.

I’ve often thought that atheist attitudes towards Buddhism are the consequence of a movement that has systematically left out Asian Americans.  Or maybe it’s the other way around?

The Two Cultures, as per C. P. Snow – The “two cultures” refer to scientific intellectuals, and literary intellectuals.  The idea comes from an influential lecture by C. P. Snow in 1959 which argued that the two cultures don’t talk enough, and this is a barrier to solving the world’s problems.  The problem with this idea isn’t so much that it’s outright wrong, it’s more like a gross oversimplification based on sweeping stereotypes and endless anecdotes.  I’m also appalled by the quality of Snow’s anecdotes, such as that famous one saying that knowing the 2nd Law of thermodynamics is as important as reading Shakespeare.  Neither of those things is as important as Snow thinks it is.

Metachirality? (video, also see second part) – Vi Hart talks about symmetry transformations, and how these transformations can themselves be symmetrical or asymmetrical.  This is covering the same topics that I discuss in my origami symmetry series.  I think Vi Hart’s explanation is a bit hard to follow, but you could say the same of my series, no one said this was easy.  Fun fact: Vi Hart has published academic papers on origami, this one being an important work on the mathematics of curved creases.

Rewatching To Catch A Predator: Rape Culture Makes Accurate Predictions – Crip Dyke talks about how rapists are seen as monsters, to the extent that it becomes hard to see ordinary humans as rapists.  So for instance, predators have trouble seeing that what they are doing is wrong, because there’s too much conflict with their self-image as decent human beings.  I would add that victims often have the same problem, and that’s why a lot of victims blame themselves at first.

This is America (music video, cn: gun violence) – Well, that image is going to stick with me.


  1. anothersara says

    It’s not just anglophone atheists, anglophones of non-Asian descent generally think of Westernized!Buddhism as being THE Buddhism. Granted, pretty much any religion has to change to spread in a new culture (Buddhism sure changed a lot when it spread from India to China, for example), so in that sense this is not a unique phenomenon. However, when I’ve tried to do some research on Shingon Buddhism, I’ve been frustrated by how nearly all readily available books on Buddhism in English seemed to be based on an anglophone pop culture/religion perspective, when what I really wanted was some good anthropology on how Buddhism works in Japan.

    Even in Taiwan alone, there are several major sects of Buddhism, which are themselves various different syncretisms of the Eight Schools of Buddhism from the Tang Dynasty, not to mention the non-Buddhist influences. Even though Tibetan Buddhism is uncommon in Taiwan, the Taiwanese tend to like the Dalai Lama for a simple reason – they have a common enemy. Furthermore, most Taiwanese tend to have a lot of misconceptions and a highly oversimplified understanding of what Christianity is (for example, many Taiwanese I talked to were surprised to learn that Catholics were Christian – they thought Catholicism and Christianity were two completely different religions).

    In Taiwan, Buddhism is the old ancestral religion of your great-grandparents which is experiencing a modern revival, whereas Christianity is the religion of social dissidents, indigenous people, and others who are not entirely comfortable with conventional Taiwanese society. Furthermore, it was the Christians who set up the first hospitals and schools which admitted female students in Taiwan, not the Buddhists (this was also true in Korea).

    Yeah, living in Taiwan (and travelling in Japan and South Korea) influenced my perspective on religion.

  2. says

    Despite being Asian American, I don’t really know that much about Buddhism, since most of my family is Catholic or Protestant. There are a few people in the extended family who are Buddhist, and I’ve heard some of them express Taoist superstitions, but that’s not much to go on. Most of what I know is based on a course I took on history of religion, for which I wrote a paper on Shin Buddhism (the most common kind among Japanese immigrants to the US). As part of my research, I attended a service, and nobody could have mistaken that for the westernized image of Buddhism. It was actually very church-like, with some key differences.

    My overall impression is, wow, I don’t know shit about eastern religions. I wish that out of all the atheist writing I have read, they would have given eastern religions at least a fraction of the attention that they give to Christianity.

  3. anothersara says

    Michael Turton, who writes the most popular English-language Taiwan blog – “The View from Taiwan” – is atheist. He rarely writes about atheism (because it is usually off-topic for his blog), He sometimes writes about religion in Taiwan and, since he is atheist, I suppose you could call it ‘atheist writing about eastern religions’. Here are a few examples: (some of the comments are more interesting than the OP)

    On a completely different topic, I think you may find the essay “Freshly Remember’d: Kirk Drift” worthwhile even if you don’t care about Star Trek. Here are a couple of example paragraphs to pique your interest:

    “Perhaps the most major difference between these interpretive camps is that the perpetrators of Womaniser Kirk see their (self-insertion fantasy?) activity as absolutely neutral and unembarrassing, and their interpretation as the indisputable and monolithic truth of the text, whereas slashers are made to feel their chagrin for the most hesitant claims of queer possibility (they don’t even go full Eve Sedgwick on this shit, when they obviously could). No matter how textually supported an extra-hetero interpretation is, it’s illegitimate and “crazy” (feel the gendered force of that hysteria accusation). Meanwhile, these male and female characters had eye contact so they’ve for sure fucked. I mean, he was a boy, she was a girl, could I make it aaaany more ooooobvious??”

    “What unnerves me is how effortlessly “Kirk and the green women” conflates “trying to get out of a situation” with “making a conquest!!” If your vision of masculinity cannot distinguish between choosing to have sex and situations of dubious consent incurred in the line of duty, it is deeply toxic. You are insisting that men are hypersexual, unemotional, and can never be taken advantage of (lest they cease to be strong, compelling men due to their ever having displayed vulnerability). You could say it’s potentially a bit dodgy that Kirk uses his sexuality in this way, but that’s the kind of “dodgy” we’re looking at, and the distinction matters.”

  4. says

    The Kirk Drift article is well-written and fairly interesting. Most of the references–both to Star Trek, and people’s image of Star Trek–are unfamiliar to me, but there’s some good commentary in there about how masculine archetypes have changed over time, and how we erase this by superimposing modern archetypes over older fiction.

    That resonates with stuff I’ve been saying about how I feel that I was negatively impacted by toxic masculinity, but I find it hard to talk about because the toxic masculinity I feel I grew up with isn’t the same kind of toxic masculinity that feminists typically complain about. I feel like if you took masculinity, and peeled back the layers of sexism, violence, and anger, there are still problems that need to be talked about, but we just never get around to it.

  5. Queenie says

    Would folks be interested in reading recs on East Asian religion? (Well, mainly Japanese religion, since that’s my thing.) Although most of what I have to recommend is pretty academic… Mark Rowe’s Bonds of the Dead is pretty good contemporary Buddhist ethnography, though, and is pretty accessible: Jessica Starling’s work is also quite good, although her monograph still hasn’t been published.
    Also, Japanese Journal of Religious Studies is open access:

  6. says

    The book rec and journal might be a bit too inaccessible for me. (Although I am eyeing this article about gender in new religions.)

    Maybe it’s a bit hypocritical to complain about lack of information on Buddhism, when surely plenty of information is available for those who look. But, yeah.

  7. anothersara says

    I haven’t seen any of the Star Trek: The Original Series episodes/movies since my high school physics class (we had to watch ST: TOS episodes, and one of the movies, to evaluate whether what happened was physically possible. The answer was always ‘no’ but we had to explain ~why~ it was impossible). I never recalled anything from the episodes/movies themselves which indicated that Kirk was a womanizer or an incompetent captain, but since the Womaniser/Incompetent!Kirk meme is so prevalent, I just assumed that I misremembered or had not seen enough episodes. The way that essay presents Kirk is actually a lot more consistent with what I remember than the way Kirk is usually described these days, so it’s reassuring that I did not misinterpret ST:TOS as much as I thought I had.

    @Queenie, I don’t think I’ll be doing any research on Japanese Buddhism in the near future, but if I do research it again, I will consider tracking down that book. Thanks.

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