Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A problem and a solution...

At Sacrament Meeting, I wondered if perhaps I shouldn't take the sacrament. It had been three days since the incident with Walter, and I hadn't even started repenting yet. I knew that you weren't supposed to take the sacrament if you had some big sin on your conscience that you hadn't repented of.

On the other hand, I figured that if I didn't take it, my parents would notice and they would ask me what was up. That was a question I really didn't want to deal with. In the end I figured that my big sin plus unworthily taking the sacrament didn't really amount to all that much more than the big sin alone without unworthily taking the sacrament, so I just took the sacrament as usual.

I wondered if Walter was having the same dilemma in his own ward at church. Of course he was probably clever enough to have already started repenting by this point, so he probably didn't have to worry about it. Read the rest of the story ->

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Humanist Symposium reminder

Don't forget that I'll be hosting the Humanist Symposium in one week right here at "Letters from a Broad..." It should be a fun carnival -- I've gotten some great submissions so far!!!

Don't forget to submit your post!!! In addition to the usual "Humanist theory" posts, I'd hoping to see some more "Humanist practice" posts -- some real-life strategies and examples of humans helping other humans and humanity.

In the meantime, don't forget to check out Greta Christina's fabulous haunted house edition of the Carnival of the Godless!!!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Why I'm a bad mom, part 4: the Internet

Whew, this is getting to be a long series! So far we've covered naughty words, taking the kids on a pilgrimage to Lourdes, and giving them wedgies. Now, on to the worst offense of all: The Internet.

My adorable husband is a big-time Linux geek, so he loves to build computers, set them up all over the house, and network them together. The result -- I'm ashamed to admit -- is that a non-trivial amount of our family time is spent all in a row in the computer room, him reading Linux and Math blogs, me reading Mormon and atheist blogs, and the kids at their computer googling for pictures of dinosaurs.

When I admit this to people, though, I keep getting a reaction I didn't really expect. I thought they'd say "Wow, what a lazy mom you are, teaching them to type words into the google image search page themselves to find pictures without help!" Instead people say "Watch out -- now they'll know what to do when they want to find porn."

Note that they're only six and four years old. Personally I don't understand why people are so obsessively horrified by the thought that their children will one day develop sexual desires. Then I don't get that a child's enthusiasm for learning new things on his own would immediately be linked to the bogeyman that one day this child might grow up and masturbate.

On the other hand, it might be just a worry about getting accurate information. After all, real live porn experts agree that porn is very poor as sex ed. But to me that's all the more reason to be glad that they know how to find accurate information as a supplement.

After all, I don't think it's realistic to imagine that I could forcibly prevent them from figuring out how to find porn, even if I wanted to. I'd rather ensure they that they know what it means to behave responsibly and that responsible behavior is what we expect.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Could I really love a man who could do something like this?

Today's installment is the one that most requires the caution / disclaimer.

I stopped in front of the doors to the bathrooms.

"The surprise is here?" asked Walter.

"Not precisely here," I said. "Go into the men's room and wait by the door in the back."

He laughed. "You have the key to the baptismal font?"

Read the rest of the story ->

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Passing through the constellation of Mormonism again...

I try to vary my choices of topics, but it seems like I've been thinking about Mormonism a lot lately. It's probably because I hurt my little brain writing up the last article I'd planned for my economics of sustainable society series, so I needed to wind down with a light side topic.

To spare my non-LDS readers these highly-specialized musings, I've been posting them over on Main Street Plaza. After my conference post, I discussed the suggestion of a TBM commenter about "raising the bar" to exclude liberals and NOMs, then asked whether atheist pride was foretold in the Book of Mormon, then added a few of my own snarky comments to Hemant Mehta's interview of Ken Jennings. Plus I've got some more fun ones planned for over there in the weeks to come!! :D

One cool thing is that the discussion over on Main Street Plaza has gotten pretty lively lately, and we've even attracted comments from some bona-fide LDS bloggernaclers!!! You're welcome to go join in the fun, and remember that if you'd like to write a post for MSP, all you have to do is email latterdaymainstreet at gmail dot com or me at chanson dot exmormon at gmail dot com. See you there!!!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Earning admiration in today's world

There's more to the quest for riches than just gaining opportunities for more physical pleasure -- it's also a quest to be admired. Studying an interesting question or creating a thing of beauty is a pleasure unto itself, and it's one which can also lead to prestige and a sense of accomplishment. Leading a virtuous life is its own reward if you believe in the virtues you've chosen. In any case, there's a strong motivation to feel that you're doing something valuable in life, and to have others in your community agree with that assessment.

Virtue can be defined as placing others' needs above your own desires. Under this umbrella, the particular acts regarded as virtuous can change as the situation changes. Today conservation -- saving as much as possible for future generations instead of a short-sighted grab-and-gobble -- is rapidly rising in value to become perhaps the highest virtue as our environment-and-fuel situation becomes more and more terrifyingly urgent. Celibacy no longer ranks as a virtue in the eyes of the general population: with effective and readily available contraception, sexuality isn't equivalent to leaving more mouths to feed, so the self-denial of abstinence is no more admirable than self-flagellation. As the human race becomes more globally interconnected, rainbows of diversity take the virtue spotlight away from piety and faith (which can be used to bolster ethnocentrism and violence). It's no wonder the religious right is so desperately angry: nobody wants their own investments to lose value. In the middle, monks, nuns, and other ascetics retain a place of esteem as they can teach the faithful to admire leaving a small footprint.

Personal achievement is a beautiful way of earning esteem. Whether you're an artist or athlete, researcher, theorizer, philosopher, or whatever, flexing your talents typically costs little (in terms of Earth's resources) compared to the joy, satisfaction, and potential good that is produced.

Seeking status (and status symbols) seems like the opposite of virtue, yet as with virtue and personal achievement, vying for status is a typical human way of convincing yourself and others of your value. To me this is the biggest weakness of the communist idea "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs." Leftist intellectuals notice that it's bad that the idle rich enjoy a lavish lifestyle while poor children go without food or medical care. Yet if everything were equalized economically, the rich man loses his prestige while the intellectual is still admired either for his personal accomplishments or for his position as a leader. So it's hard to see pure communism as a selfless (hence virtuous) position for an intellectual to take.

A more realistic goal than equalizing wealth would be to try to narrow the extremes and persuade the top dogs to desire and value items which are less wasteful.

"Finer, not more or bigger" should be held up as the measure of true luxury. A bottle of wine that costs three hundred euros on the table of a five-star restaurant doesn't take significantly more of the Earth's resources to produce than a three-euro bottle of table wine served in a modest home, yet is an impressive display of wealth. An apartment with a fantastic location in Manhattan -- filled with original artwork -- will probably set you back more than a giant McMansion filled to the brim with rarely-used manufactured goods and accessed via S.U.V., but guess which one sets the world back more. Similarly, expensive designer clothing might be made by skilled artisans earning a living wage (rather than in a sweatshop), and the luxury food industry today can support innovations and traditions (organic farms and traditional artisans) which are more Earth-friendly than industrial farming. I'm not saying wealth is a virtue, but changing values can limit its harm. And people who want to be trendsetters can do some good by encouraging others to aspire to forward-thinking eco-friendliness.

I was over in the expensive part of town the other day, and noticed a few shops displaying handbags in the 900 to 1500 euro price range (and, no, I did not mistakenly add some extra zeros there). To my fashion-uneducated eye, the expensive purses were all grotesquely ugly. My immediate reaction was that you would have to be completely out of your gourd to even want one of those. But of course the ladies who want those purses aren't trying to impress me. (I'm happy to oblige by not being impressed.) On the other hand, if you've got money to burn and want people to know it, there are worse choices you could make. At least "taste" items are small, represent spending money on ideas (designs), and show some value for something somewhere on the education spectrum.

The guy who says "I already have four houses and ten cars, so I guess the next item on my rich-guy agenda is a yacht..." deserves more pity than envy because he's displaying his lack of imagination even more than he's displaying his wealth. America fervently believes in the Horatio Alger story, that unlimited opportunity exists for everyone in the U.S., and that it's one great, big meritocracy where your wealth is a measure of your merits. As a consequence -- since showing off good taste smells of "old money" -- obscenely wasteful over-consumption has long been the ultimate status symbol. But the connection between Horatio Alger's reward and the resulting values of "money = good, culture = bad" gets lost somewhere along the way, and we get leaders like George W. Bush: a wealthy heir who failed at the business opportunities that were handed him, and who is too elitist to show any kind of consideration for the growing ranks of the working poor, yet can still pretend to be salt-of-the-Earth by wearing his lack of culture on his sleeve. Fortunately his hypocritical example may nudge people's opinions in a positive direction. If you're going to be rich, at least make some sort of effort to demonstrate it's not wasted on you -- try to be a philanthropist or patron of the arts or something, sheesh!

So while capitalist theory holds that some economic disparity is necessary to inspire ambition and innovation, I'll quietly add that some economic disparity is not necessarily harmful. The key word, however, is some. People will work day and night to be just a little bit better off then their fellows, but it's all relative and values-based. If the Joneses don't have a swimming pool, there's a good chance you won't care that you don't have one either. If the Joneses just put up these fab new solar panels that power their house and their electric car, you might just need some too. But even if there's benefit to having a little room for economic advancement, that doesn't mean there's any benefit to extremes of wealth and poverty. It's not like the entrepreneur will give up and not bother to try to become rich if he hears that his capital gains or his children's inheritance might be a little less on an absolute scale -- being richer than others is just as rewarding even if it doesn't mean owning every resource on the entire planet. On the other end of the spectrum, no one benefits from seeing children lack basics like nutrition, education, and healthcare, particularly if the country can afford to do something about it. It's merely a question of choosing to invest in the future rather than choosing the instant gratification of gorging on pork today. In other words, choosing virtue.

The human desire to earn esteem and admiration can be what ultimately saves our species -- as long as we value forward-thinking and an eye for the future.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Be careful what you wish for...

Tuesday's rehearsal passed like the previous Thursday's, with no particularly special attention from Walter. I was getting desperate and felt like I had to do something.

At our next rehearsal on Thursday, Rex brought the school's videocamera and some special lights to do video footage with. Rex had a job working for the school district's media and technology services. According to Rex, during the Summer it was primarily doing inventory work on new items purchased by the school district, but it also involved various other tasks such as editing videos produced by the school.

Since our production was partially sponsored by the school's drama club, Rex had gotten special permission to make a video of the production for the school, and he wanted to include some footage of the rehearsals for fun.

Notably, he filmed my favorite number He's Just a Friend, where Julie, Shelley, and I sing about how Julie was dumping Wally for another guy and Wally and Greene (played by Jake) were singing about how upset they were about it. He also filmed the song Voices where Todd (played by Noah) sings about being tempted by various things such as "books and learning" as the chorus of bad kids does a dance acting out the various temptations.

Of course Rex filmed Pam's big number Line Upon Line. Read the rest of the story ->

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Carnival time!!!

My little post about Biblical morality has been featured in two fabulous carnivals: Carnival of the Godless and From Around the Net!!!

There's also a new edition up of my other favorite carnival the Humanist Symposium. I'm hosting the next edition right here in three weeks, so I hope all of my blog friends will think of submitting a great humanist post to me -- even those of you who don't normally send stuff to carnivals, don't be shy!!! In the meantime I have to think of a theme to make my edition of the Humanist Symposium a memorable one. Shall I do the "dirty edition" as Greta Christina suggested? We'll see....

For your further reading amusement, please have a look at my conference post over on Main Street Plaza in which I gleefully heap even more scorn upon that one sorry talk that took such a beating from the Bloggernacle. I try not to do negative posts picking on the Mormons very often, so be sure not to miss this one... ;^)

Thursday, October 11, 2007

French pot-luck!!!

This past weekend I went to my first pot-luck picnic since I've been living in France!!! (It was held by a club that my kids are in.)

In the spirit of true cultural exchange I probably should have brought green jello with grated carrots (Nomoxian's favorite!) or tried my hand at fMh Lisa's funeral potatoes. But the problem is that (being an apostate and everything) I don't like funeral potatoes and green jello.

So I decided to prepare the one recipe I know and love: Stuffed grape leaves!!!

I got this recipe out of my favorite cookbook: The Complete book of Greek cooking.

Now, I know that being my favorite cookbook isn't much of a recommendation since -- as I freely admit -- I never cook. But I kind of like the introductory section of this book where they explain the religious traditions (the book is actually from the recipe club of a Greek Orthodox Cathedral). I find the rules for Lent to be kind of intriguing: they're required to be strictly vegan except that (non-fish) sea-food is allowed. So buttered toast is a no-no, but delicious Mussels with Wine Sauce (p. 90) is A-OK. You could probably also have Baked Lobster Tails with Feta (p. 92) if it weren't for the feta. So, while cooking, you get the fun of contemplating this mysterious tradition. And we can all understand each other better in this big world by exchanging yadda yadda yadda, really I just like Greek food.

Anyway, stuffed grape leaves are quite easy to make -- it's just a little time-consuming to roll them, so I make this recipe only once every few years. There's a vegetarian version which normally I would make because it's better to limit one's meat consumption, however the meat version is easier, so that's the one I make.

I assume it's okay to excerpt this one recipe in case any of you would like to try it at home:

1 1/2 lbs. ground beef or lamb (I've tried both, they both work fine)
1 1/2 cups chopped onions
1 cup raw converted rice (I actually used Basmati rice since that's what we have at my house)
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
1/4 cup water
1-pound jar of grape leaves
3 cups hot chicken broth
1 T butter (olive oil also seems to work)

Mix together all of the ingredients listed above the asterisks. Drain the grape leaves and wash them thoroughly. Take a large cooking pot with a lid and line the bottom with grape leaves (use the broken ones for this, otherwise you'll run out). Then stuff the grape leaves by putting a heaping tablespoon's worth of filling at the base of the dull side of each leaf, then -- folding the sides in -- roll tightly. Place them in rows in the cooking pot as shown in the picture:

Pour the broth over them and dot the top with butter. Then cover them and cook them over low heat for one hour. If you have an enameled iron pot exactly like mine (see the picture), then they will fit just perfectly. Otherwise -- if there's room at the top of the pot above the grape leaves -- you may need to put a plate inside the pot to weigh them down so that they won't open when the rice expands.

And that's it, they're ready to go!

(The book recommends serving them with avgolemono sauce, but I don't think they really need it -- they're quite flavorful as they are.)

These are fabulous to bring to a pot-luck since they're a main course that divides very easily into small portions. And mine were a huge hit!!! They all got eaten, and I actually had people come find me so they could compliment me on my delicious grape leaves. (Hard to believe, I know, but my husband will confirm that this story is true.)

It surprised me to get such a reaction since -- have I mentioned this? -- I never cook. (Or rather every time I do I make a huge deal out of it and turn it into a photo op...). I'd have taken a picture of the finished product, but they didn't look any different from the delicious grape leaves I had at le Hammurabi.

So the moral of this tale is that if you ever invite me to a pot-luck dinner, there's a good chance I'll bring stuffed grape leaves... :D

Monday, October 08, 2007

A question of morality...

As if our usual three-hour services weren't sufficient, after dinner on Sunday Rex, Joy, and I had a youth fireside to attend at the bishop's house. Logically Rex shouldn't have been required to attend since he was eighteen and hence no longer in the youth program, but Mom insisted that she wanted him to go. Actually none of would have gone if we'd had a choice. So naturally we dragged our heels a bit getting there and arrived late.

When we got there it had already started. All of the couches and chairs in the living room were filled with kids. I waved to my friends Michelle and Alison, but there wasn't room for me to go sit by them.

The bishop's wife brought in some more chairs from the kitchen for us and set us up near the entry to the room. Fortunately our arrival didn't cause too much of a disturbance.

The speaker didn't interrupt his talk for us. By bad luck, his topic was morality -- exactly the subject I least wanted to hear about. It probably wasn't that much of a coincidence actually since it seemed like this was a subject they were always harping about. By "morality" of course they meant sex, and how young people shouldn't be having it. Read the rest of the story ->

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Evolution meme!!!

The evolution meme has finally arrived at Letters from a broad!!! (via Godless on the Wasatch Front)

In this meme, I explain how my blog has evolved, in five steps, giving examples.

1. The Utah Valley Monitor days: Some may recall that this blog started out as a column in a student paper called the Utah Valley Monitor (which I was invited to write as a BYU alum). That's where I got my crazy URL that I have never bothered to change. So from the beginning this blog was written with the idea of having a Mormon theme and audience, thus as light, friendly communication between Mormons and atheists. Most of my primary topics (motherhood, living in France, book reviews, Mormonism/ex-Mormonism) trace back to my earliest columns. Here's a blog entry that really captures this stage: Cultural Mormon.

2. The RfM period: While this blog was still an archive for my column (before the Monitor went belly-up), I used to like to read and post to the popular "Recovery from Mormonism" message board. (Just for fun -- it's not like I felt like my Mormon past was something I needed to "recover" from...) There I discovered that some other exmos (like JLO/substrate and Sideon) also had blogs, so we linked together to form a little network called "Outer Blogness." For a while, then, I was writing posts tailored specifically to the RfM audience. A good example of this was cults vs. cult-like behavior where I thought I'd have a little fun with the RfM'ers by challenging their beloved stance that Mormonism is a "cult".

3. The "digging through the archives" days: (This was actually more-or-less concurrent with the RfM phase.) I figured that my blog was a good place to post the "best of" projects I'd done years earlier including mathematical artwork, a childhood novel, a Student Review article on "Why I Hate Church", naked comics, and me on Star Trek.

4. The "enter politics" wave: For a long time, I'd been deliberately avoiding controversial political issues because, well, I wanted everyone to like me. After a while, though, I got bored of that stance and decided to dive in and write about politics even if some readers may disagree with me. A good example of this would be my first porn-and-feminism article yes means yes.

5. The novel-goes-live!!! Before starting my Utah Valley Monitor column (see #1 above), I had just finished writing my novel Exmormon. From the beginning of this blog/column I talked about the novel and promoted it here. Then one fateful day I decided that I am so addicted to in love with blogging and the Internet that I would like to give it my first-born novel, as a serial. So, since the beginning of this year, I've been illustrating and posting my novel little by little on its own site here. So far we're on part 3, and having a great time with it. (Luckily it has nine parts, so it won't end too quickly...)

So that's my story! I guess now comes the tagging part. Unfortunately it's a little tricky to find someone who hasn't already done this one and is in the mood to do it. I'm kind of tempted to tag Sideon since his blog covers the same time period and has had some related evolution (plus the last time he tagged me for a meme, I didn't quite get around to doing the meme, oops...). Then, while I'm at it, perhaps some of the other charter members of "Outer Blogness": La, Notamormon, Gunner, Eric, plus some other early members Rebecca, Mason is free and Bull.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

My biggest problem with Biblical morality

I know some of you are probably going "Oh, please, where to begin???" But I do have a place where I'd like to begin: the book of Joshua.

In a nutshell, God decides that He'd like to give a wonderful "promised land" to His chosen people. I imagine that -- being God -- He could have used His omnipotent powers to turn the wilderness into a land flowing with milk and honey. Or perhaps He could have anticipated this and reserved a wonderful land for them (by guarding it with cherubim or something). Instead He chose to give them a land that was already inhabited: all the recipients had to do was massacre the inhabitants, every man, woman, and child. What a wonderful gift!

This story looks like a tale from a pagan polytheistic paradigm where the one tribe's God happened to be demonstrating that He's more powerful than the other tribe's God. But let's suppose this really is a tale of an act performed by the one and only God of all humanity. Imagine a child in one of the less-favored tribes -- terrified by the violence and pillage going on all around her -- desperately praying "Heavenly Father, please save my mommy and daddy and me!" and receiving as an answer "Sorry, I can't help you. The privilege of killing you and your family is a special gift that I've given to someone who will be arriving at your house shortly."

To me, this is far worse than the many instances in the Bible where God Himself kills people because this story teaches a deadly lesson: Check your conscience at the church door because God may command you to perform an act of unspeakable evil, and when He does, it is good and righteous to follow His orders whatever they may be.

To any Christian who says, "Oh, that's just the Ooooold Testament -- starting from Jesus, God is all peace-and-love," I'd like to ask the following:

Is this the same God you worship or isn't it? Do you believe He did this, or at least OK'ed this story to go in His holy book? If Jesus really changed things by fulfilling the old law, then please show me the Bible verse where God says "Remember when I told you to massacre the Hittites? And the Girgashites? And the Amorites? And give Me their treasure? In fact, that wasn't righteous at all, that was evil..."

I'm somewhat less worried about Christians who simply don't realize that this is in the Bible or just never really thought about it. But I am more disturbed by educated Christians who attempt to justify and rationalize this, and ask us to "look at it in context." Let me be very clear: There is no context where genocide is right. Even if God is standing right in front of you offering you eternal paradise as a reward for murder and hellfire if you refuse. There may be just causes for going to war, but "I want their land and my God wants their treasure" is not among them.

Now I realize that this harsh post appears to fly in the face of my usual claim of wanting to foster mutual understanding between believers and unbelievers. But this point bothers me quite a lot and presents a stumbling block in my own comprehension of the Christian mindset. (Same for the Jewish mindset and the Muslim mindset, by the way, if they also see this as a story of righteousness.) The whole story seems so incongruous with the ethics of the believers I know, and I'm at a loss to imagine what could possibly be going through their minds as they're reading it in their Bibles.

Monday, October 01, 2007

You're my obsession...

(Please review the caution.)

During rehearsals over the course of the next few weeks, I had at least some individual attention from Walter essentially every time. I couldn't really be sure that that meant I was making progress with him, though, since he seemed to take time out to talk to each of the girls in turn during each rehearsal. Basically whenever he wasn't actively rehearsing a scene, he would go find some girl or other to flirt with.

Walter seemed interested in Charlene most of all, but Laura and Linda each got their allotted attention from him, plus he had several favorites among the girls in the chorus. He even sometimes appeared to be flirting with Pinky or with Jake's mom. I figured that it must just be that his regular personality was like that.

One thing that was clear was that he didn't have one particular exclusive girlfriend. It was probably just because he was about to set off on his mission, so he didn't want to get too attached to any one girl only to have her dump him while he was away like what happened to his character in the play. That was fine with me since it was really no problem for me to wait until he got back from his mission before starting a serious relationship. After he got back I would still only be seventeen.

Read the rest of the story ->

Living downtown and car-free!!!

A lot of people hate living in the city: the crowds, the hustle-and-bustle, the noise. Then there are lots of other people who think they would hate it, but -- once they try it -- discover they love it!!!

I fall into this latter group. I'm introverted, solitary, and anti-social, so the idea of living in a place that's full of people? It was a no-brainer that I'd hate it! I wanted to find my own "Walden Pond" or something. (Never mind that I've never actually read any Thoreau -- it's the principle of the thing!) Then, as I explained in my post le metro, once I tried living in the city, I loved it!!! It was like a revelation of new possibilities that I'd never considered, and now I'm hooked! Today I'm going to explain why I love it, and encourage you -- if you've never considered living downtown -- to think about it.

My number one reason why I love car-free urban living is convenience.

Since your car can take you anywhere, anytime, it seems like it would be hard to beat that in terms of convenience. But really it depends on your temperament and what types of tasks you find pleasant or unpleasant. As I said in my post about le metro, the stress and time wasted on concentrating on driving, finding a parking space, remembering where you parked, not to mention keeping track of maintenance, insurance, etc. add up to a huge pain in the butt compared to the breath of fresh air that is stepping out of your house and taking a pleasant, invigorating walk to your destination. I think commuting by car and working out are both intolerably boring tasks, and it galled me to have to do each one separately if there was any way I could trade them both in for a task I like, namely going for a walk. Walking regularly is a pleasant, painless, even entertaining way to get some exercise. (The entertainment factor come in if you love people-watching like I do -- it's fun and a source of great free material for aspiring writers.)

An additional plus over traditional workouts is that you can't just start up with good intentions (buy the equipment and/or gym membership) and then decide you're too tired, lose interest, etc. If your only means of getting home involves your own feet, then you don't need a whole lot of will-power to stick with the program.

And that's not to mention the cost in actual money! It was painful to me to see such a huge chunk of my paycheck go bye-bye for a vehicle that I didn't even want. For all of my exmo friends who talk about how much better they're doing financially after giving up tithing: giving up a car is even better!!! I caught another person on my blogroll making a similar calculation here.

There are a bunch of bunch of great noble reasons for adopting an urban lifestyle. Not wasting fuel helps us move towards a sustainable future both in terms of protecting the environment and keeping the peace with other people competing for the same scarce fossil resources. Living in the city, you typically interact on a daily basis with people from all different backgrounds, making it difficult to function as a hard-core racist, and encouraging understanding among different groups instead. But choosing this lifestyle isn't a question of martyring yourself for a grand cause -- once you've tried it you may end up doing it just because you want to.

But what about the kids?

That's the best part! Admittedly the question of the school district opens up a whole can of worms, and it may be a challenge to find a solution that works for you as I have in my European dream. But aside from that question, urbanism means a host of different options for kids concentrated within a few blocks of your home.

Back when I was living in New Jersey, a colleague of mine used to talk about the hours she would spend driving one kids to one private school than the other kid to another school, and would waste whole days driving her kids to their various lessons. And she had only two kids who were both young teens. When you live in the city with decent public transportation, it's possible to give kids a bit more independence at a younger age. Obviously you need to work out age-appropriate rules, but you're not locked into a situation where your kids under sixteen are stuck at home (with maybe a strip mall or something within biking distance) except when you're available to drive them somewhere. Plus if the car isn't an absolute necessity for getting around, it's easier to put off the dangerous rite-of-passage of giving your kid the car keys until you're sure your kid is mature enough to handle it.

Kids aren't the only ones who benefit from being able to transport themselves conveniently without driving. There are plenty of people who can't drive because of various handicaps such as blindness, and there are others who shouldn't be driving but do it because it's so inconvenient in many parts of the U.S. to transport yourself any other way. Elderly people can stay independent longer when they live within walking distance of shops. I see this in France all the time: very old ladies with their baskets making the rounds to the market, the bakery, and the pharmacy, and having a nice chat with the shopkeeper at each one. That's what I plan to do when I get old. :D

Plus even people who are normally okay to drive are often in situations where they shouldn't drive (and end up driving anyway for lack of other options). That includes more-or-less unavoidable situations (taking a required prescription, feeling angry and hence less able to concentrate), as well as irresponsible ones (driving while talking on the phone or after drinking). Drinking is only half of the problem of drinking-and-driving, the other half is the driving, which should be just as avoidable. And even if you're a safe driver, you are endangered by having to share the road with tons of poor drivers, many of them in super-sized assault vehicles...

The real question, though, is whether it's even possible.

Admittedly, in the U.S. it's pretty challenging to find a place to live that is a "walkable urban space" (where pretty much everything you need can be obtained within 1/4 to 1/2 mile or so of your home, even perhaps your job, plus ideally convenient public transportation and safe bike routes fill in any gaps). Daddy, Papa and Me wrote a post about the possiblity of walkable urbanism in the U.S. And I'd like to encourage more people to consider it, because the more people that want a walkable urban space and make it a priority, the easier it becomes to make it a reality.