Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Primate Parenting

Way back when people used to recommend formula-feeding (over breastfeeding), isolating babies in their own rooms to sleep, and putting mothers under general anesthesia for a birth, I imagine the idea was to make the whole procedure more clinical, hence more scientific. Now all of the sciency-types are looking to hunter-gatherer societies and even other primates to get ideas for the best ways of raising human babies.

Personally, I just got done reading Parenting for Primates, by Harriet J. Smith (primatologist and psychologist), and wrote up my reactons in a little article here for Rational Moms.

The picture above is one I found while looking through old photos to find one of me with baby Léo strapped on in a baby pouch. That's Léo and his daddy. (Dang, babies are cute, aren't they?)

Then, to make up for the fact that every time I talk about primates I end up just talking about humans, I'll add that I've also recently read Among Orangutans by Carel Van Schaik -- a researcher at the university right here in Zurich!

This is a gorgeous book filled with stunning photos (by Perry Van Duijnhoven) of orangutans in the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra.

Just because this looks like a coffee-table book doesn't mean it's a lightweight, though. This book outlines the latest information about orangutans, including some surprises like the fact that (when the environment is favorable) orangutans are far more social and less solitary than previously thought. Also, the author uses the orangutan example to outline a theory about ape intelligence. Primatologists commonly talk about the importance of abstract thinking for improving one's social rank (the machiavellian theory of intelligence). Carel Van Schaik proposes a related (but slightly different) idea that abstract thinking is critical for (cultural) learning about where and when to find food and how to get it.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Blogging Meme!!!

Lynet has tagged me for the Five ways blogging changed my life meme. I've taken my sweet time answering this one because the change has been so dramatic that I hardly know where to begin. But I'll take a stab at it:

1. New Skillz: 1.(a) Writing, obviously. Regular writing exercise for a few years is bound to have an effect.

1.(b) The new skills that surprised me most, though, are the social skills I've developed. I've always liked parties (and especially holding dinner parties for friends), but aside from isolated social events I'd always though of myself as a shy, aloof, anti-social, introverted person. The kind of person who doesn't make friends quickly or easily.

Now, through blogging, I feel like I know everybody. I have gotten to know an astonishing number of fascinating people around the globe through their blogs, through their books and manuscripts I've read, and through email and chat conversations. I've even had the fun of meeting a few of my blog friends in person, and I hope to meet more. It's amazing!!! And I never would have guessed or predicted this would happen.

2. It eats all of my free time: I'm starting to think that blogging is a form of O.C.D.

2.(a) I get up at 6 a.m. every morning so that I can have time to check my stats and reply to comments before work. I'm proud to report that my hit counter has recently passed 500,000 hits, half-a-million. (Note that that doesn't include hits on my articles on other blogs, but I am including every click on every page of Exmormon. I figure that if after reading one page the reader liked it well enough to click to the next page, that should count for something, at least in my own personal accounting. :D )

2.(b) Even though I I only post a few times a week, I still spend all my free time on it. When I'm commuting on the train or just walking around town, I'm generally composing blog entries in my head. Or reading a book (which I will no doubt review on my blog). Or reading a fellow blogger's book or manuscript and contemplating it (which I may or may not blog about, depending on the author's preference). Then, to relax when I get home from work, I grab a beer and skim the hundred or so new blog entries that have shown up in my google reader since the day before, selecting a few of them to read carefully and reply to.

Actually, even before blogging came along, I used to analyze different subjects and ideas obsessively and compose elaborate essays in my head. But I never used to bother to write them down because who's going to read them? I'm glad that blogging has given me the motivation to write.

2.(c) Naturally, the things I used to do with my free time, I don't do them anymore. I would be spending an hour or so a day on German verb drills, but that's an hour or so that I just don't want to cut out of my blogging time. Also, I'm less ambitious at work these days: to be the star requires a certain amount of thinking about problems from work on your own time at home, and I just don't care enough anymore to think about work anytime except when I'm physically there. Also, there are fun arts-n-crafts things I'd like to be doing with my kids (like making up puppet shows like my mom did with me as a kid). I haven't done as well on that as I'd like to, but I'm planning to make an effort to do better.

I probably shouldn't be posting all this since now everyone will think I'm insane. Next thing I know, people will come and stage an intervention. ;^)

Then -- by coincidence -- UneFemmePlusCourageuse tagged me for the Where would your eight homes be? meme. I imagine the idea is to tell you where my eight fantasy homes would be -- if I were to stop wasting all my time blogging and make some money instead. ;^)

1. Paris, France. I know it's cliché, but it's a really pleasant city, and incredibly convenient for visiting friends. It's so central for train and plane travel (and tourism in general), that it's easy to get people to visit if you have an apartment in Paris to invite them to.

2. New York, NY, U.S.A. Same reason.

3. Bordeaux, France. This was the one place in the world where I most felt at home, and (after seven years there) I was sorry to leave.

4. Zurich, Switzerland. My job is here, and so is my husband's, so it's rather convenient to have a home here. Also, it's an incredibly beautiful city and a nice place to live.

5. Minneapolis, MN, U.S.A. That way I could see my family all the time, and my kids could see their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Then those guys could organize all the arts-n-crafts and puppet shows for the kids, etc., and I could stop feeling guilty about it. ;^)

6. Provo, UT, U.S.A. Haha! Just kidding!!! :D

After that, I'd just like to tour the world -- not necessarily settle anywhere else. I'd like to visit India and other parts of Asia, Africa, various islands, more of Europe, and everywhere else! We'll see how much of that actually ever happens.

I don't feel like tagging anyone in particular today, but if either of these memes interests you, please go with it!!! And if you do the first one, don't forget to link back to the originator of the meme.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

New Carnivals!!!

this time I've gone nuts with the carnival circuit, participating in three carnivals I've never been in before!!!

For the first time, I've gotten a post into the highly selective last-one-before the election edition of the Carnival of the Liberals!!! Then, while I was at it, I decided to submit a post to the Carnival of the Elitist Bastards -- the classical poetry edition!!! Plus, one of my posts on Rational Moms has been included in the brand-spanking-new carnival Skeptical Parent Crossing!!!

Then, don't forget this is the week of The Humanist Symposium!!! I think it's also the week of the Carnival of the Godless, but unfortunately the "BlogCarnival" service is down, so I can't find it. I'll add the link as soon as I can...

All of these carnivals are chock-full of some of the best stuff in blogspace from the past fortnight or so, so if you're looking for some interesting new stuff to add to your usual blog reading fun, please go have a look!!! :D

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Novella wrap-up!

If you've been following this blog, you probably already know that I just finished serializing the five-chapter novella Temple Wedding last week. And if you're not among the four hundred people who've now read it, it's never too late!! :D

As I've said, this piece is a short comic drama about what it's like for young adult non-believers to go back and visit the whole extended clan on the occasion of a (religious) wedding in the family. This segment (and my whole novel Exmormon) are part of what I hope will be a growing genre: atheist/humanist literature. Non-believers are people too, and we have stories to tell!! Some of our stories deal with religion, some don't, but why not see some more atheist protagonists?

As a note to other writers out there: I like to work with other writers. I don't see them as the competition, I see them as part of the team. Anyone else out there who has written a novel (or novella or short story) and is interested in getting feedback on a manuscript or swapping tips and ideas, feel free to email me: chanson dot exmormon at gmail dot com. My areas of specialization are atheist/humanist lit and Mormon Lit (including stuff written by believers -- faithful Mormons, I'd be happy to give you a friendly and constructive "non-believer's perspective" on your story).

Also, remember that my publicity budget for Exmormon is exactly $0, and I don't have any kind of publicist helping me -- I've built up a non-trivial audience merely through my own antics on the Internet and through the book speaking for itself. And when I say "the book speaking for itself," I mean word-of-mouth. If you're reading this book and like it, any mention of it will be heartily appreciated. :D

Next up Orem High! This is one of the longest and most potentially controversial segments. I've got a lot of work left to do on the illustrations -- the one you see on the first page is the only one I've done so far, which means I have about fourteen more to draw. And since I'm no Quick Draw McGraw, that should take me until February 10, 2009.

I hope you'll all be joining me then!!! :D

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Be the good guys

I hardly know where to begin with the "Bush Doctrine." It should be obvious that you can't just decide to invade and attack any country that you (unilaterally) decide is a threat to you. At least not if you want to be seen as a peaceful, friendly nation as opposed to being a dangerous rogue state.

I think the obstacle for Americans in understanding this is a failure to see what it looks like from an outside perspective. "America is the good guys; America is a democracy whose actions I can vote for; America will ultimately be acting in my interests as an American; therefore America can be trusted to use this power wisely." I think that about sums up the reasoning for why it's okay. Now (if you're an American), I'd like you to try a little thought experiment of imagining that you're not an American, you can't vote in the U.S. election, and you have no reason to believe that your interests or perspective will be taken into account the next time the "America First" party decides who to bomb.

Obviously the Bush Doctrine relies on having one set of rules for the U.S. and a completely different set of rules for every other country. If every country were allowed to attack any other country that threatens their security, then Iran would be justified in attacking the U.S. already, and that would be just the beginning of the free-for-all of international destruction.

Now I know that some people will immediately dismiss me as a cowardly European, relying on the safety provided by the U.S. military without showing any gratitude and yadda yadda yadda. So let me explain myself a bit:

I'm an American, born and bred. I'm not motivated by hatred for America. I want to be proud of my homeland. I want my homeland to be the good guys. If America has chosen to be "the world's policeman" so be it, but launching unprovoked attacks on other nations, capturing foreign nationals and holding them without trial and torturing them -- these are not the actions of "the friendly cop on the beat." In order to find terrorists worldwide, in order to find and neutralize dangerous weapons that are floating around the world black market, in short to "win the war on terror" it is critical to have the trust and cooperation of lawful people worldwide. Thanks to the Bush Doctrine, lawful people worldwide are terrified of the U.S., and with good reason.

It's hard to exaggerate how sudden and dramatic the shift in world opinion has been. In talking with colleagues from all over Europe, those who have visited the U.S. universally speak of their experiences fondly, and they express surprise that I would choose to live in Europe instead. They also express shock and bewilderment at the current American foreign policy. These are people who would like nothing more than to view the current dismal failure as a fluke. It wouldn't be too difficult to regain their trust and affection if the American people were to stand up and demand a foreign policy that is more constructive, cooperative, and fair.

It's time to stop imagining that "American interests" is just another way of saying "goodness and virtue" and to stop assuming that foreigners don't deserve the same standards of fairness and justice. Remember that to people in other countries you are a foreigner. Trust and esteem aren't earned merely by having the name "America," they come from being fair and trustworthy. These things are earned, with effort. Let's make that effort.

Let's be the good guys.

Friday, October 17, 2008

I have totally already voted!

I don't know what's holding up you slackers, but my (absentee) ballot is already in the mail.

My neighborhood "get out the vote" efforts weren't too impressive though. I have only one American colleague, and he spontaneously reminded me weeks ago to register and vote. So he gets to count me towards his "get out the vote" efforts, and I don't get to count anyone...

Oh well, I hope the rest of you guys do better. ;^)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Nacho Nanny Rolls!!!

I was just playing with this silly anagram server, and that was the best one it came up with for my blog-name "Carol Lynn Hanson" (which is not exactly the same as my real name, as I explained here).

The anagram site claims "All the life's wisdom can be found in anagrams. Anagrams never lie," but I'm a little skeptical. I think they're trying to sell me something...

Of course it also came up with "Cannons All Horny."

Not too bad. It's probably wise, profound, and true if only I can figure out the correct interpretation. ;^)

Monday, October 13, 2008

You can't choose your family

On Sunday morning, Rex and I went out to brunch with those people who weren't going to church. Mom and Richard had been planning to visit the various local Christian churches that had LDS outreach ministries, but at the last minute the adorable baby motivated them to change their plans and have brunch with us instead.

As soon as we got to our table, Mom started installing baby Judy in her high chair. Mom had even brought some puppets and started playing with Judy and making her laugh. Susan seemed a tiny bit wary at first, but in short order she seemed to pick up on the fact that Mom was motivated by genuine affection and not proselyting.

"It's so wonderful to finally have a grandchild," she sighed. Then to Susan she said "I mean, I hope you don't mind if I think of Judy as my granddaughter." Read the rest of the story ->

Carnival Mania II!!!

Interestingly, my earlier installment of Carnival Mania has recently gotten a huge spike in search query hits. It's almost as though there's something else out there called "Carnival Mania" and Google is foolishly redirecting people to me! Oh, well. If you're looking for some sort of Carnival Mania other than my personal list of cool carnivals, then you've come to the wrong place...

First up The Humanist Symposium!!! This is a fun one, and I particularly liked John Remy's contribution A Personal History of Profanity. He talks about the typical Mormon belief that "A speaker who mouths profanity or vulgarity to punctuate or emphasize speech confesses inadequacy in his or her own language skills." I was taught that one, too, and refuted it way back here:

I live by all sorts of controversial theories of language. For one thing, I disagree with the theory that the use of profanity indicates that the speaker necessarily has a small vocabulary. The latent mathematician in me can't keep from pointing out that actively avoiding profanity technically makes your vocabulary smaller, not bigger. Sure it's easy to over-use naughty words, but if you know how to use them well, you can achieve certain effects that you can't create without them.

In other carnivals, there have bee two fab installments of the Carnival of the Godless since I last linked those guys here and here, and don't forget the not-at-all-concisely-named Feminist Carnival of Sexual Freedom and Autonomy #10!!!

Then there's a cool new carnival coming up for skeptical parents: Skeptical Parent Crossing!!! This one hasn't even had its first installment yet, but if you want to be in on it, submit your articles here.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Kids' Biology and Astronomy

A typical conversation from this morning at our house:

Nico: Mom, something tells me that animals didn't have their names without humans.
Me: [laughing] That's very true. How did you know that?
Nico: Because he says in "The Living Planet" that some species haven't even been named...

We've lately started branching out from biology to Astronomy though. Please see my new post at Rational Moms about it!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Merit, Elitism, and Crab-Bucket Feminism

Finally, an article that hits on what I wanted to say about the charge of elitism in the current presidential race: The Dumbing Down of the GOP (hat tip Holly).

Didn't the GOP used to claim that (in theory) they're the ones that care about merit, and about earning what you get?

I think one part of the GOP's political game of picking Sarah Palin was to scare Democrats into crying "Experience matters!" so that the GOP can respond by saying "Then pick McCain!" But the thing is that -- between Obama and Palin -- it's more than just a question of who has the most experience.

Barack Obama is a skilled negotiator and a highly intelligent person. He's the sort of person who can step back and observe how things work, can come up with new and insightful analysis of problems and their solutions, and write write a couple of (very accessible) books explaining his ideas. Sarah Palin is the sort of person who can be trained to recite talking points (whether they're relevant or not, without grasping the underlying concepts), which is a great skill for a T.V.-soundbyte-oriented election, but not so useful in a president. (Note: I know it's McSame who's a the top of the ticket, but Palin is running for Prez too as long as she's the understudy to Mr. One-Foot-in-the-Grave.)

Yet, if I point this out, I'll be blasted as an "elitist." Because not every Tom, Dick, and Harry can be smart like Barack Obama.

But haven't we had enough "Hey, I'm as dumb as you!" populism?

Obama has leadership skills and talent, and it shouldn't be "elitist" to suggest that such things are necessary to be an effective president. You're not paying Joe and Jane Average a compliment by saying that they can't deal with voting for someone who has relevant leadership/diplomatic skills that the average person doesn't have. Joe and Jane Average may not have exactly the same skill set as Obama, but they're capable of being qualified for their own jobs, and if they're proud of that, then they should expect no less from the President.

Now let's take another look at merit (or lack thereof) from Feministing (hat tip MoF):

For many Boomer women, the primary sexist experience of their lives is: "Those men gave the job to that guy instead of me, even though I am more qualified and/or have more seniority."

For many Gen X women like myself (and Palin is Gen X) the primary sexist experience is: "Those men gave the job to that clueless chick instead of me, because the boss thinks she's hot and/or will be a yes-man with no ideas of her own."

If, for some Boomer women, Obama's win over Hillary represents the guy they lost the promotion to, Palin's selection plays the same role for Gen X women. We've seen it: first the incompetent yet babelicious woman is promoted over her head, then the boss orders the attention of the entire team/department/etc. to focus on ensuring that "we" shield her from "mistakes" (or worse, we get blamed for her mistakes). Palin reminds us of when we got screwed by this sort of bullshit. And it shows in voters' response to her.

Really...? That's Gen-X's primary experience with sexism? Having to put up with a bimbo at work?

Not, say... getting viewed (and dismissed) by your colleagues who decide that you must be unqualified, incompetent eye-candy? Including (supposedly) "feminist" colleagues?!

Now, I don't want to be too hard on the authors of Feministing (since they got this quote from another blog, hence may not agree with it). I don't agree with it. I'm sorely tempted to go over there and post the following comment:

I totally agree with you about having to cover for all the incompetent bimbos at work that the boss just hires to flirt with him. Sadly, these bimbos keep getting promoted over real, qualified working men like me and my buddies. I've seen it over and over. Women use their sex appeal all the time to get unfairly promoted in jobs where women are just naturally less qualified.

I would love to watch the sh*tstorm that would rain down on me if I wrote that. (I can't, of course, since I'm not a guy.)

Yet, somehow it's "feminist" for a woman to say the same thing: to promote the stereotype of the incompetent bimbo who's had an unfair advantage at work. That's what you're saying when you say it's a typical gen-X woman's "primary sexist experience": having to deal with incompetent bimbos must be a pretty widespread problem!

As opposed to, say, having to deal with the incompetent guy who gets an unending string of unfair advantages, screws things up for his colleagues, and gets repeatedly protected and shielded from the consequences of his mistakes, because of being an admiral's son (hat tip Pz), or for having other connections. I guess rich white guys getting this kind of treatment is par for the course -- not worthy of the same scorn.

"The unqualified person got hired over me because of some unfair advantage!" Yep, it's something that really does (objectively) happen. Yet, too often this interpretation is in the eye of the beholder. Whenever you don't get something you believe you deserve, that's the first knee-jerk interpretation. As feminists, we shouldn't be encouraging women to seek out "blame the bimbo" as some sort of typically feminist interpretation to look around for as soon as things go awry. Everybody who is competing against an attractive woman at work (men and women alike) are vigilantly on the lookout for any unfair advantage she gets and will hate her for it, and she typically gets her punishment soon enough without "feminists" deciding that it's a major feminist issue to bash her and bring her down. (Keep in mind that an affair with the boss is far more likely to get a woman fired than promoted, despite the "sleeping your way to the top" stereotype.)

I agree with Feministing that this is a generational thing though. Think of the film Nine to Five. Remember how the other women stood in solidarity with the (unfairly advantaged and unfairly mistreated) babe? Instead of thinking it's their feminist duty to bash her? Those were the days. Nowadays "crab-bucket Feminism" (feminists bolstering their own position by pulling other women down) is the rule, not the exception (thanks MoJo for the term).

Feminists have learned (correctly) that women shouldn't be expected to be beautiful to be considered valuable and successful. But unfortunately many feminists have taken this a step further to the point where it's considered "feminist" to promote the prejudice that a woman who is beautiful or sexy is probably a brainwashed, exploited airhead. Now what about the woman who earned her position through merit yet all of her colleagues (male and female) keep assuming she must be just eye candy? Who should she turn to for help? Clearly not the current generation of "feminists"...

About Sarah Palin?

Yep, she's a beauty pageant winner, and that's a big part of why she's on the ticket. Like Dan Quayle who got unfairly promoted because of his looks and McCain and G.W.B. who got unfair advantages through family connections. Let's insist on merit and qualfication all around for both men and women in all lines of work.

But, feminists, let's not jump up and grab this as a golden opportunity to bolster the standard prejudices against women in the workplace. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and your own colleagues may wrongly be making these same assumptions about you.

Monday, October 06, 2008

The people who weren't allowed to attend the ceremony in the temple

On the morning of the wedding, we determined to sleep in a little bit. We were planning to meet April and Susan at the Hobbs' house, and we wanted to wait until we were sure that Brother and Sister Hobbs were gone to avoid crossing them and dealing with whatever wrath was the consequence of Rex's mother's visit the night before.

I had put on a church-style dress for the day, which wasn't my favorite thing to do, but I was willing to make a sacrifice for a special occasion.

At Matt's parents' house, we found the people who were not allowed to attend the wedding in the temple: April and Susan and Judy, my mom and her new husband Richard, and everyone who was too young to go to the temple, including Sam and Joe, plus a bunch of my little cousins. Read the rest of the story ->

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Fellow Tribes?

To a Mormon (even a cultural Mormon), the parallels between the Mormons and the Jews are totally obvious. To a Jew? Not so obvious.

It hit me the other day that perhaps it might be amusing for Jewish people to hear about the Mormons' affinity for them, and ask them what they think of it.

To that end, the kind folks at Lubab No More have allowed me to write them a guest post My Tribe.

Have a look, and see what you think! :D

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Rational Moms!!!

I've just joined a brand-new group blog called Rational Moms!!!

This new blog is all about skeptical parenting -- a subject you know I like to talk about (see my parenting posts). But I'd kind of been talking about it in my own little corner of cyberspace even though I know there's tons of great discussion out there I could be joining in. Naturally, I was thrilled when I heard about this new group blog starting up, and doubly thrilled when I was chosen as a contributer! :D

Please have a look and read my first post Aaaah… Turn green! in which I talk about teaching Nico and Leo a fun little magic trick. Then stick around and read some of the other stories and discussions posted by other rational moms!!! :D