Friday, December 28, 2007

Unexpected stuff from 2007

New Year's is a time to set new goals while reflecting upon how well we did at last year's goals. But that's so predictable. Today I will talk about stuff I did and stuff that happened to me in 2007 that I didn't see coming.

I went to an actual exmo gathering!!!

I'd met exmo Internauts before, but this time I got to go to my first real exmo gathering to meet the lovely lady exmos of Europe and Montana!!! Yay!!!

So any of you who were thinking I'm not a real person just because I'm never at any of the live events, Sister Mary Lisa can vouch for me -- and she knows everybody!!! :D

Blogging Awards:

I won a Stermy!!! I'd just like to thank Bill O'Reilly and all of the people who were waging war on Christmas who made this award possible for me.

On the other hand I also got farked, which is kind of the opposite of getting an award. The take-home lesson on that one? I'm not sure, but it looks like it's that you can write as many positive or mixed feminist critiques as you want, but if you write a negative one, then someone out there is going to see you as living proof that feminists are bitter, humorless, and hate everything. It's a little like being an exmo or an atheist, now that I think about it. The only annoying part is that I'm actually not bitter and angry. Maybe it would be simpler if I were, but I like to keep people guessing. ;^)

Nobody complained about the controversial part of my story

Maybe it was because I was careful to post a disclaimer? I've got the stats here, so I know it wasn't just that people didn't notice it. But seriously I was expecting at least one incensed Mormon to write me an irate letter about how blasphemous it was to have them, y'know, do it in the baptismal font. I had my explanation all prepared about how it was a question of logistics (it had to be in the building where the rehearsal was taking place, and there aren't so many choices) not a question of deliberate blasphemy (unlike an ex-Catholic who once told me she had a fantasy of doing it on the altar of a church, just to desecrate it). After all, Mormons can baptize people in lakes, rivers, swimming pools, etc., so logically the font shouldn't require special consecration (according to Mormon theology), hence it shouldn't be possible to desecrate it, right?

But as it turned out, the whole font thing didn't bother anyone. The take-home lesson? Teenagers having sex in a baptismal font is not all that scandalous. Now that I think about it, it probably happens all the time. Mormon kids are pretty resourceful -- I should give them some credit.

On a related note, I finished the illustrations for BYU plus the interlude. Hence I might be willing to move the start date up to February 5 if there's enough interest.

On a related related note, I'm pretty excited about my new story which I didn't imagine I'd write until I had written it. Unfortunately, industry pros tell me it is way too short to be published. It turns out that's a good thing, though, since I'd only wrapped up a few of the threads of the story, leaving plenty of others wide open, and I really like this imaginary country I've invented. So I'm going to keep going. I now have it mostly outlined, and I'm re-writing the weakest dialog in the original piece to make the political situation in the imaginary countries make more sense and to tie in better with the new stuff that's coming. :D

So, for anyone who's test reading and hasn't started yet, you're off the hook. Unless you want the new version so you can tell me whether this much of the novel tempts you to want to read more. ;^)

Big changes in real life!!!

I left my job of three years near the beginning of 2007 and set out to write a new Java book, and succeeded!!! That's the part I predicted. As soon as I was done, I found a new job with a company that was small enough that when they made me "director of client development" it meant that I was the one and only engineer writing the part of the program that runs on the user's cell phone. I saw the first product through to completion, and it was quite an exciting adventure! But as we were planning how the next project would go, negotiations broke down and I quit. Then I wrote an exciting story about the whole adventure, which I will probably post or something ten years from now. For the moment, of course, it's not appropriate -- I can't post any kind of professional details about existing companies. I've probably already written too much in this paragraph since it makes me look like a hot-head, which I'm not. Essentially they didn't give me the authority to make certain key tech decisions, and without it I couldn't accept the responsibility to guarantee the product would be done correctly and on time.

Meanwhile, my husband found himself a fantastic new job in Switzerland, so not having a job here wasn't such a bad thing after all. And now I've found myself a job in Switzerland too, so we're ready to go! The only problem is that moving an entire household to a foreign country is a humongous pain in the butt. That and I'm going to have to change the masthead of my blog. Oh, well.

Hope you had an exciting year too -- and Happy 2008!!! :D

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A typical conversation overheard at my house:

Boys! Boys!!! Don't fight, otherwise no story. And don't put that in your mouth Leo.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas!!!

If you're not celebrating Christmas -- or if you are and you need a break from it ;^) -- here are some pseudo-carnivals where various bloggers have collected up posts they've found interesting around the web lately: Cafe Philos, Ordinary Girl, and Skeptic Play's Dispatches from the War on Christmas. (Also check out this Christmas card the ordinary girl got. I hope it's a joke, otherwise somebody donated $100 to the creation science museum in her name for Christmas??? -- Yikes!!!)

Also, does anyone know what happened to the Carnival of the Godless? I thought there was supposed to be one yesterday, but maybe I have my scheduling screwed up...

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The "War on Christmas" and the war on being considerate to others...

So apparently the forces of Christmas have won the battle in Boston to call their public holiday tree display a "Christmas tree."

Here's my first reaction:

Considering that there's an actual war going on -- one where real people have given their lives -- how is it possible that it's not considered poor taste for the religious right to be calling this a war? And, really, could they even think of a stupider issue to use to distract the public from real issues like the president threatening to start yet another real war?

I don't even want to touch the whole first amendment establishment clause issue because it's been thoroughly and repeatedly covered by others. What I can't figure out is why anyone would even want to wage a war against the imaginary forces of anti-Christmas.

Apparently -- throughout the public sphere -- theocrats would like to see "Merry Christmas" replace "Happy Holidays." This is because "Happy Holidays" threatens Christmas's position as the one and only holiday people might possibly be celebrating during the holiday season. And poor Christmas feels degraded when it gets lumped together with less-important holidays like New Year's and Boxing Day and whatnot.

I guess I can almost sort of see the logic to that when it concerns people who celebrate Christmas. I love Christmas, and I'm happy to wish a very Merry Christmas to all my friends and family members who celebrate Christmas. The problem is that the crusaders for Christmas seem to want to insist that a Merry Christmas -- and only a Merry Christmas -- be wished to everyone, regardless of belief, by stores, by municipal holiday displays, at office parties, etc. In that case, what does "Merry Christmas!" even mean?

Here's what it means:

"I hope you have a warm and wonderful Christmas celebration! However, I don't hope that you have a happy Hanukkah. I don't hope you and your family have a happy (Pagan) Yule or Solstice celebration or a good Ramadan. And if you and your family celebrated Diwali this year, I don't care if it was a merry one or not."

What kind of person would want to say such a thing? Have they got something against being considerate to others? Call me crazy, but to me well-wishing should have some sort of (theoretical?) connection with actually wishing the person well. And especially during the holiday season, what's wrong with a little goodwill to all? Even to those people who are **shudder** a little different from yourself.

When it comes right down to it, the so-called "War on Christmas" isn't about the Christians vs. their favorite whipping-boy the atheists, as much as they'd like to paint it that way. Atheists sometimes join in the fray just on the principle of separation of church and state, but really, the apathetic-to-non-believing set aren't the ones being excluded. Atheism has no competing holidays, so non-believers tend to just stick with familiar traditions. That means that American atheists actually celebrate Christmas more often than not. Really, the "War on Christmas" is about Christian supremacists picking on other traditions and on other "people of faith."

Monday, December 17, 2007

Savage ethics II: What if one partner gets fat?

Sometimes I see Dan Savage as an advance scout, mapping out the ethical terrain of modern romantic/sexual relationships. But beating his way through all of this uncharted territory, he sometimes comes up with ideas that I think require a little further discussion by the rest of us. We had a very productive discussion here at LFaB about Dan Savage and the ethics of cheating, but now Dan has wandered into far more dangerous territory: the ethics of relationships and fat.

I almost hesitate to offer up my blog for such a touchy subject, but I'd kind of like to talk about Dan's conclusions. I'd also like to discuss his little stunt where he showed that his readers were okay with one partner (in a long term relationship) saying to the other "Honey, I'm not attracted to you anymore because of your weight gain -- shape up, or I'm shipping out," if -- and only if -- the partner who gained weight is male.

Dan seems to be of the opinion that it should be okay for one partner to say this to the other and expect results. Perhaps, but there are a couple of very important points that I think he missed:

1. While some people do achieve significant, permanent weight loss, they are the exception rather than the rule. It's not as simple as "anyone can do it if they care enough to do it." This is not from personal experience -- I'm not fat and have never dieted -- but everything I've read indicates that an attitude of "So-and-so did it, so anyone can do it" isn't justified by the evidence.

2. A focus on weight and appearance can be counterproductive when making healthy lifestyle changes. Greta Christina wrote an excellent article about this here. Nearly all of us have lifestyle improvements we could make to be more active and eat healthier. So if two partners decide together on a change they'd like to make (replacing evening T.V. with an evening bike-ride, replacing fast food with actual food), and if the focus sincerely is on health and feeling better about your body, then you have a good chance of succeeding in making a long term, healthy change (even if you can't count on changing your size or shape). And, really, there's a good chance it will improve your sex life. ;^) But too much focus on the scale and the "your not hot enough for me" factor will likely scuttle your efforts as well as your relationship, not to mention possibly produce an unhealthy (yo-yo dieting) result.

All of this doesn't explain the double standard, though, where a weight-loss ultimatum was seen as more acceptable when placed on a man than on a woman. Some will probably contend the Mr. Savage is full of sh-t, and that in fact a man is more likely to leave a female partner for "letting herself go" -- and feel justified in doing it -- than a woman is to leave a man for the same reason. However, considering the volume of anonymous opinions Dan receives every day, I think it's reasonable to suppose that he's right about what his readers believe is ethical behavior. How people in society at large actually behave is an entirely different question from the ethical ideals of Dan's (mostly young and liberal?) audience.

So the questions I'd like to pose are the following:

1. What do you think is an appropriate response when one partner gains a dramatic amount of weight and the other doesn't?

2. Body and relationship expectations for men and women are different. Is there perhaps a justification for having a double-standard on this question? Or not?

What do you think?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Humanist Symposium!!!

There's a new Humanist Symposium up for your reading pleasure!!!

And if you'd like to participate -- perhaps host this carnival yourself -- please see this post for more info!!! :D

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Update on belief in Santa...

Last year I explained that I didn't think believing that Santa is real makes the Santa story any more fun, even for kids (see: I Believe in Santa Claus). So I decided I wouldn't tell my kids Santa is real.

How is this working out? You may be wondering...

Not quite as expected. Last year I asked Nicolas a few times whether he thinks Santa Claus is a real person or just a story. As I recall, I even stated directly a few times that Santa Clause is just a fun story we like to tell -- not a real person. Nico responded by insisting that Santa is indeed real. Of course last year I wasn't really sure whether Nico understood the difference between a real person and a fictional character.

Fast forward to this year. Nico spontaneously told me one day "Some people think Santa Claus is just a dream, but he's a real person." (I think he was influenced by the special The Year without a Santa Claus.)

I responded by asking him "Are you sure he's real and not just a story? In that Christmas movie he looks like a doll."

Nico thought about it, and said "No, he's real -- we saw him. You saw him too. At the place where we go see Santa." [At the mall or something, I assume...?]

Of course I could argue this point, but I figured I might as well let him think about it on his own for the time being. So I just said, "Oh, okay."

So the magic of Christmas defeats the atheist mom.... For this round!! ;^)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Festive Carols for a Merry (secular) Christmas and other Happy Holidays!!!

Do you love the family Christmas scene? The Christmas tree is lit with the little electric train running around it, and the parents signing Christmas cards or decorating cookies with the kids? All you need are some familiar Christmas carols to complete the effect. Don't let lack of belief stand in your way!!! Our culture has a such a long and varied tradition of Christmas music that the religious pieces are the exception rather than the rule.

To help get you started, here are some of the tunes you'll hear at my house:

Winter Songs:

There are many "Christmas carols" which aren't about Christmas at all -- they're just winter songs that have gotten sucked into the vortex of Christmas. Examples include Jingle Bells, Jingle Bell Rock, Sleigh Ride, and Winter Wonderland. There's also a whole sub-genre in this category just for songs about Winter cuddling: Let it Snow!, Baby, it's Cold Outside, I've Got my Love to Keep me Warm, Winter Weather, and Warm December.

Christmas Traditions with Family and Friends:

Then there are songs that are about celebrating Christmas. What better way to celebrate Christmas than to sing about celebrating Christmas? There's The Christmas Song (Chestnuts roasting), It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, The Christmas Waltz, Christmas Is..., Christmastime in New Orleans, and It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year. Some of the oldest ones were originally party game songs (where the game is to make up words), but have since settled down to some standard festive Christmas-celebration lyrics: Deck the Halls and The Twelve days of Christmas.

This category also includes a number of songs about wanting to spend the holidays with loved ones: I'll Be Home for Christmas, There's no place like Home for the Holidays, Merry Christmas, Darling, I'll have a Blue Christmas, There is no Christmas like a Home Christmas, White Christmas, and one of my personal favorites: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.

Wishing You a Merry Christmas:

There are a number of songs to sing about wishing someone else a merry Christmas. This includes traditional "luck-visit" songs: We wish you a Merry Christmas, Here We Come a-Wassailing, and God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen. Some of the luck-visit songs contain Christian references, but they're interesting because they're reminders of the old caroling/wassailing traditions where the poor received Christmas treats in exchange for a song. (Bring Us in Good Ale falls into that category as well, although they skip the part about wishing the host a Merry Christmas...)

Some more modern songs center around wishing others a merry Christmas such as the fabulous Have a Holly Jolly Christmas, Welcome Christmas (from the Grinch), and Happy Holidays, as well as bi-cultural favorites like Mele Kalikimaka and Feliz Navidad.

Symbols of Christmas:

Let's sing about Christmas Bells: Silver Bells, The Carol of the Bells, and Ring those Christmas Bells! Or let's sing about the Christmas tree: O Tannenbaum, Trim up the Tree (from the Grinch), and Rocking Around the Christmas Tree. Or cut the B.S. and go straight to the point: the presents! Merry Christmas, Baby, All I Want for Christmas (is my two front teeth), I'm Getting Nothing for Christmas, Christmas Kisses, I'd Like You for Christmas, and Jolly Old St. Nicholas.

Christmas Characters:

Speaking of His Jolliness, there's no shortage of songs about Santa Claus: Here Comes Santa Claus, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Little Saint Nick, Up on the Housetop, Petit Papa Noel, Santa Claus's Party, and Santa Claus is Back in Town. And there are a couple where Santa sure makes good use of his list of naughty girls, see: I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus and TMBG's Santa's Beard.

Then there's a whole list of other favorite Christmas characters: Rudolph, the Red-nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, and You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch. You can also throw in The Little Drummer Boy and various songs about the baby Jesus here if you're so inclined.

Other Winter Holidays:

While you're at it, why not throw in a few secular songs about some other holidays you may or may not be celebrating? Try What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?, Adam Sandler's Hanukkah Song, and TMBG's Feast of Lights. There's also Good King Wenceslas for the "Feast of Stephen." That one's not exactly secular, but it's cool: for once the miraculous reward for charity isn't further riches, it's magically-warmed footprints.


Some are harder to categorize. One of my all-time favorite Christmas songs is Fairy Tale of New York which is kind of sentimental and unsentimental in a way that's hard to describe. Then there's John Lennon's So this is Christmas... (Merry X-mas, war is over), which is hard to describe in a completely different way, even though its message -- Merry Christmas and peace to all -- couldn't be more standard Christmas fare. I guess it just seems controversial because when he talks about "peace on Earth," he means for real...

Then there are some complete Christmas musical productions: The Nutcracker Suite and Babes in Toyland.

And don't forget to throw in a few funny ones. My favorite is Monty Python's Christmas in Heaven. The South Park gang also have a few amusing selections.

Religious Carols:

Okay, I admit it -- I include some religious carols on my Christmas music playlist. I mostly just include the liveliest and most familiar of the bunch, and even then I usually go with instrumental versions. I like Greensleeves, so I include a few versions of that one, but rarely with the religious lyrics ("What Child Is This?").

There are a few exceptions, though, where I like the words as well as the music. There's The Holly and the Ivy and The Cherry Tree Carol. Both of these are fun because they seem very pagan, hence highlight the pagan roots of the Jesus story. I also like Rudi Cazeaux's Angels Are Singing. Then there's Veni Emmanuel. That one is cool because it's one of the oldest Christmas carols that is still popular today, written in the middle ages. That's not why I like it though. I like it because it reminds me of my husband. Many people get to listen to somewhat more romantic songs with their S.O.'s first name, but when you fall for someone whose parents were religious, you take what you can get. I also like to listen to It's Christmas Time and Time for a Carol for essentially the same reason: Christmas time is time for me!! :D

On that note:

It's time for a carol, don't you think? :^)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Saturday's Warrior wrap-up

I couldn't be more thrilled with the response I've gotten to the novella I posted about Saturday's Warrior (part III of my novel Exmormon). According to my stats, hundreds of people read along in real time as I serialized it. And from the comments, I can see that number included Mormons as well as exmos and "never-mos" (that's people who have never been Mormon, if you're not in the Mo-know ;^) ).

I'd be interested in getting more feedback on this, and of course I'd love it if you bloggers could get the ball rolling by posting a reaction on your own blog. I'll post links to any blog reactions whether they're positive, negative, or indifferent. And to those of you who didn't read along in real time because you missed the beginning and didn't think you'd be able to catch up, it's not too late. The novella is only nine chapters long, so you can read the whole thing in one sitting (here) then give your opinion as well.

Also note that I've scheduled the next segment, BYU, to begin February 19. I'd post it sooner, but between work, kids, and (especially) preparing to move, I'm having a little trouble getting the illustrations done in a timely manner. If you've already finished Young Womens' and Youth Conference and still want more, you can email me (chanson dot exmormon at gmail dot com) and I'll let you read my new novel(la) which is not yet available from any source other than emailing me. ;^)

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Carnivals, carnivals, carnivals!

It's time for the Carnival of the Godless again!!! Also, the science carnival Tangled Bank looks interesting.

Plus, there are a couple of fun spontaneous carnivals to look at. An Ordinary Girl has posted a reading list that includes a post of mine as well as Paul's post on teen sexuality (which deserves more attention) and some other fascinating stuff.

Then there's my Romney Roundup of what bloggers from the Bloggernacle, Outer Blogness, and the Atheosphere wrote for "Romsday." ;^)

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Grinch and the True Meaning of Christmas

What happened then?
Well, in Whoville they say
that the grinch's small heart
grew three sizes that day.
And then the true meaning of Christmas came through,
and the grinch found the strength of ten grinches,
plus two.

The 1966 cartoon version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas is my all-time favorite Christmas special. I know last year I gave Heat Miser and Snow Miser the prize for "most entertaining," but this cute little cartoon about the Grinch is a masterpiece.

How much do I love this cartoon? Let me count the ways: (1) the fun poetry of it, read to perfection by Boris Karloff, (2) the humor and nonsense, beautifully captured in fanciful drawings, (3) the fabulous You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch as well as other delightful songs.

Plus this special has a very merry Christmas message for me and all of my not-quite-Christian friends who like to celebrate Christmas:

And he puzzled and puzzed till his puzzler was sore,
then the grinch thought of something he hadn't before.
Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store;
maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more...

See? Christmas isn't just an orgy of consumerism -- it means more than that.

But what?

The cartoon makes it very clear. Christmas is all about joy of celebrating and sharing traditions from one generation to the next.

It's easy to get disgusted with Christmas. It's this ever-escalating festival of gorging oneself, and then -- like some sort of penance for all the gorging -- getting reminded that you're supposed to be thinking about Jesus. But if Jesus were really the true meaning of Christmas, the clergy wouldn't have to keep reminding people of it. And if you believe in the standard model -- either Christmas is consumerism or it's Jesus -- then you've missed the warm and simple reason why the mid-winter festival of lights has been such a beloved and enduring tradion across so many different centuries and cultures.

So -- to my theist and atheist friends who celebrate Christmas as I do -- Merry Christmas!!!

And for all the other holidays you're celebrating this holiday season: Happy Holidays!!!

Be sure to share and pass along whichever holiday traditions you loved as a kid: decorating, singing, preparing holiday treats, etc. And feel free to join me in one of my favorite holiday traditions: watching The Grinch.

Monday, December 03, 2007

The sort of spiritual experience eternal companions should share

Walter arrived in his suit and tie since the plan was to go out to a fine restaurant. Dressed like that and with his haircut, he looked like he was on his mission already. With his gorgeous looks and friendly manner, it was clear that he would have no difficulty approaching people and convincing them to be receptive to his message in the two years to come.

We spent most of dinner talking about how excited he was about his mission. As I already knew, he was being sent to the Florida Jacksonville Mission. That part was a bit of a disappointment because, like everyone else, he had been hoping for a foreign call. But some people were needed to spread the gospel stateside, and it was important to go where the Lord called you and needed you.

When we got back into the car he told me that he wanted to take me somewhere special and show me something that he had never shown anyone. I agreed a little nervously.

Noting my unease, he laughed in a friendly manner. "Don't worry," he said. "It's nothing bad. In fact, it's exactly the opposite -- it's something very, very good." Read the rest of the story ->

Saturday, December 01, 2007

But that's a girl phone....

I took my four-year-old son Leo grocery shopping the other day, and once I'd finished selecting all the food items on my list, I let him lead me to the toy aisle to pick out a treat. (I know, buying the kid a treat every time is a very bad habit, but that's a post for another day...)

Anyway, after examining all of the possible choices, one toy caught his eye: a toy cell phone colored bright pink with a shimmering pink carrying case that had a pearly-pink beaded handle. And as soon has he grabbed it, can you guess the first thing that came out of my mouth?

"But, that's for girls."

And as soon as I'd said it, I was biting my tongue and thinking I'm a bad parent, I'm a bad parent, I'm a bad parent...

I've bought my kids toys before that are probably more marketed to girls (a few dolls and toy dishes), but the thing is that they'd never asked for anything quite so, well, pink before. They're just barely getting to the age where the toys for their age group are strongly gender-segregated. My involuntary reaction shows I hadn't thought much about this yet for my own kids, mostly because they're boys and the "boy version" of each toy tends to be inoffensively neutral (so I have no problem buying it), whereas the "girl version" ends up gendered. Take a toy cell phone, for example: it's obviously a gender-neutral toy. Why would a girl need a feminine version?

Back to my story, I gathered up the three possible choices of toy cell phones to let Leo select the one he wanted. The choices were (1) the pink one, (2) a kind-of-feminine lavender one that wasn't quite so over-the-top as the pink one, and (3) a red one with a picture on its fake screen of someone parachuting. I can only assume that cell phone #3 is the one boys are supposed to pick, although I wouldn't object to giving that one to a girl. Leo was sure he wanted the pink one (a reasonable choice since it was the sparkliest and most fabulous of the three), so I figured "Why not?" and bought it for him. We brought it home and Leo had lots of fun making fake phone calls and rough-housed with it until he'd broken the beaded handle off the case. (Then he got the beaded handle stuck in one of the keyholes of our old house, and I had the fun of figuring out how get it back out...)

The next day, Leo brought his fabulous phone to school, and when he came home, he didn't have it anymore. I didn't notice at first (and neither did he), but a few hours later he remembered and started crying about it. Apparently some other boy at school had taken the phone away from him. Leo said the boy took it because it's a girl phone (so he presumably then gave it to a girl...? Not sure...). So I hugged Leo and told him not to worry, and that I'd buy him a new phone.

Then the next time I took Leo grocery shopping, we went to the toy aisle to pick out his replacement phone. Can you guess which one he picked this time? It was #3, the red one for boys.

So the problem was solved in a sense, but it has a bit of an unsatisfying conclusion. What do you think? Parents out there -- what do you do about the whole pink-gendered-toy question?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Finally: New Fiction!!!

I've said here before that after I finished my novel Exmormon, I switched to blogging and haven't written any new fiction since. Well that was true right up until the past few weeks: This past weekend I finished writing my second novel!!!

(Actually third, if you count The Land Far-and-a-Half Away, which I don't...)

This new one is actually shorter than the novella about Saturday's Warrior that I'm currently serializing, but I'm calling it a novel instead of novella because it's a stand-alone work instead of being part of a series. It's just a really short novel (nine chapters, a little over 15,000 words).

To give credit where credit is due, this new piece was partially inspired by a clever article on writing a novel by Robinson Wells. (He probably wasn't hoping to support the exmo arts, but these things happen when you post stuff to the Internet... ;^) )

The whole article is kind of funny-because-it's-so-true, but the specific part that helped me is the following:

A boring setting is perfectly acceptable in novel writing. While the word “boring” might be considered pejorative, there are certain books that actually require boring settings. I’m speaking specifically of literary novels. These are books wherein kids die of wasting diseases, and they’re books that win national awards.

The absence of anything interesting in the setting is done purposefully; the general atmosphere of these books screams of despondence and depression, and such things simply can’t exist in an interesting setting. Imagine Summer of the Swans taking place in Narnia, or Angela’s Ashes including a chase scene on top of Mt. Rushmore. If something like that happened, readers might actually want to read these books, and then where would we be?

I read that and thought: "He's right, you know. I need to stop writing stories set in Utah. I should write a story set in an exotic foreign country..."

But you writers out there probably already know the problem with setting a story in an exotic foreign country: Lots of boring research. Then you still get the details wrong.

So I decided to go with inventing an exotic foreign country. That way if it's convenient for the story that my new country have some peculiar custom like wearing pancakes on their heads or somthing, it's not "wrong" it's just "making your invented country a little more colorful." (p.s. I didn't use the pancake idea myself, so feel free to steal it for your own novel.)

So in a nutshell, my new novel has all of the character-driven relationship intrigues of any segment of Exmormon, but minus the angst-filled contemplation of religion, and for the underlying situation I've dumped the boring reality and replaced it with amusing fantasy. Oh and I did throw in a few Mormons because -- let's face it -- Mormons are funny.

I'm thinking of trying to find an agent for this one, but since that is an annoying, painful, and time-consuming task, I'm putting it off for now. I might start by looking for test-readers, we'll see...

Yet another feminist movie review...

An amusing thing happened the other day: the review I posted at Hathor got "farked."

What does that mean?

That means that an army of concerned readers descended upon my post and were incensed -- incensed! -- that I would dare to post a negative movie review on a movie review site, no less!!! Many of them were kind enough to inform me of the error of my ways by leaving comments telling me how stupid I am, and helpfully informing me that I need to "get a life."

To the good people of Fark -- who are apparently unfamiliar with the whole concept of how movie reviews work -- I'd like to share with you one of the first principles of the mysterious art of film criticism.

It goes like this: "Crappy movie => bad review."

Now, I don't want to be too hard on the Fark people, though, because my stats tell me that in addition to the herd of bleating sheep, the link brought in a lot of people who were thoughtful and open-minded enough to stick around and read a whole bunch of posts here at "Letters from a Broad..." So if you're one of those people -- if you came in from Fark yesterday and you're still here today -- you're welcome to stick around and join in the fun!! :D

For today's post, I'd like to introduce you to the next principle in the art of movie reviewing: "Good movie => good review."

Today I review Kirikou and the Sorceress.


Monday, November 26, 2007

Hope you have fun...

At the end of the party I was hesitant to ride home with Rex because he had been drinking. He laughed at my fears and told me that he had only had two beers the entire evening and was certainly not drunk. Still, I suggested that since I had my learner's permit maybe I should be the one to drive. "Whatever," he said, handing me the keys.

On the way home Rex told me that he was planning to edit all of the videos of the production over the weekend and asked me if I would like to watch them with him and his friends on Tuesday night. I told him that I would like to except that I had a date. Read the rest of the story >

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Today's post

For today's post, I've put up another feminist movie review over at The Hathor Legacy covering Ice Age.

Also for your reading pleasure, my two favorite carnivals are up: the Carnival of the Godless (I've got a post in there this time) and the Humanist Symposium!!!

Note that the Humanist Symposium has some slots open for hosts, so if you like this carnival, don't be shy about bringing it home to your own blog!!! See Daylight Atheism for details.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Paris Exmo Expo 2007!!!

What a trip!!!

A huge thanks to Sister Mary Lisa for organizing this!!! I had a fantastic couple of days in Paris with the fabulous exmo ladies of Europe and Montana that you see pictured here: Aitch, Rip Zip, me, Sister Mary Lisa, and Wry Catcher!!! In this cartoon we're anxiously engaged in the time-honored exmo tradition of going out for a beer. Here you see us eagerly awaiting our beers at "The Kingdom of Beer" (La Royaume de la Bière).

The next day I got to meet another fabulous exmo blogger, Montchan. I'm hoping to arrange another trip to Paris with her for a little shopping and a visit to An Gel -- that looks like so much fun, and my hair could really use the attention... ;^)

During this visit unfortunately I only got to meet Montchan for a short breakfast and I wasn't really at my best. I like to claim I wasn't hung-over, but you can judge for yourself from the photo:

Chanson hides from the sun while breakfasting with the radiant Montchan.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Trying to make things right again...

I inserted the pills the next morning as instructed. Even though the counselor had explained what would happen, I didn't know exactly how it would go. It seemed to me like it wouldn't be a good idea to go to church, so I got back into bed and asked Joy to tell Mom and Dad that I wasn't feeling well. Read the rest of the story ->

Friday, November 16, 2007

Porn and Me

At one point during the fabulous Paris Exmo Expo 2007, I gave my usual spiel on porn and feminism. I can't remember why the hell I brought up porn at the "Kingdom of Beer" (and the other ladies are probably also wondering). But since the subject came up in the meatspace version of Outer Blogness (and because we've been talking about people's biases here lately), I figured perhaps I'd share with you my history (hence bias) on this subject:

I was raised in a religion (I'll just let you guess which one) that is extremely patriarchal as well as repressive and negative towards sexuality.

Then, when I gave up that religion at the age of seventeen, I was free to embrace my sexuality and my feminism with equal abandon. (Obviously feminism and women's sexual freedom go hand-in-hand, right?) So I became more and more interested in reading books and articles about feminism. To show you just how ready I was to accept and embrace any and all of feminism, I stopped shaving and wearing a bra for a few months for no other reason than because I'd heard that that was some sort of feminist thing to do. And as I was reading along, I learned that the feminist movement is opposed to porn.

My first reaction was surprise and bewilderment. Agreeing with the church on any sex-and-gender issue seemed like a humongous red flag. Those shame-sodden lectures that taught me I was a deviant for fantasizing about sex and that I'd be as worthless as chewed gum if I acted on my desires: they also contained a message about how pornography leaves your mind permanently impure. Naturally I had filed all of these hate-your-sexuality messages in the same mental drawer -- and later moved them all together into my mental garbage can.

My post-Mormon experience with porn started when I took a look at the magazine collections of various boyfriends. (Yes, they were physical, printed magazines. Yes, I'm that old.) I also watched some porn movies with another boyfriend. I didn't find any of it particularly objectionable. As a straight woman, I figured that being aroused by the sight of naked women was an appropriate quality in a boyfriend.

Naturally I also looked for materials that would be arousing for me. I found that stories did more for me than pictures, but even sex stories aimed at women left me going "meh" if they were really graphic. I liked the erotic scenario better than having the mechanics spelled out for me. And one of the main themes in my favorite erotic scenarios was the thought of a man being aroused by seeing and/or touching a woman (see here). I guess that makes me a rather unique type of pervert.

Anyway, I'd analyzed my own sexual responses, and found the anti-porn faction of feminism treating me every bit as much like a piece of chewed gum as the church had: they told me, in essence, that I should feel ashamed of turning men on with my body; of letting a man "use me for his pleasure." It was a harsh blow to see feminists -- the people I hoped would counter shame I learned from the church -- were giving me the same "poor, fallen woman" crap in new words.

But I was determined to be a feminist, so I was determined to figure this one out. Then I learned the slogan "Porn is the theory, rape is the practice."

"Aha," I thought. "Pornography is bad because it causes rape. Well, if porn has been shown to cause rape, then I certainly agree that it's bad." The next natural question was "So does it lead to rape? Is there some hard evidence to back that up?"

Um, no.

Reading along in various feminist publications, I discovered a curious excuse as to why it was okay for feminists to fight to suppress porn -- on the grounds that it leads to rape -- despite the lack of real-world evidence to that effect: Women can see intuitively that porn inspires men to harm them, and we women need to value women's type of reasoning (intuition) more highly than we value masculine reasoning (logic and evidence).

Let me tell you that I was about to breathe fire when I saw that argued as a feminist position!!!

Now, I really hope that I misinterpreted that feminist article I read so many years ago and/or that it was just in some student publication or something. Because if any serious, respected feminist intellectual argues anything even remotely like that I really, really, really don't want to know about it. There I was -- a female Mathematics major -- fighting with all my heart and soul to demonstrate that reason and logic aren't something unique to men, and that girls can do math too if they're encouraged to try.

So I fundamentally disagreed with the anti-porn squad on practically every level right from the beginning. (Did I mention censorship? And how obscenity laws often get used first against gay materials and women's health information? And how a Dworkin-inspired anti-porn law has been ironically used to censor Dworkin's own anti-porn book?)

Yet I've never really been an activist about this subject. I read a few books (like Defending Pornography: Free Speech, Sex, and the Fight for Women's Rights). I canceled my subscription to Ms. when I got fed up with its Dworkin-MacKinnonite stance and what a waste of feminist energy it was: a bunch of privileged white women navel-gazing about whether they feel "degraded" because some schlub is masturbating in the privacy of his own bedroom. Then I figured I was being a hypocrite since what am I on this issue but a privileged white woman navel-gazing about my sexuality? So I decided social justice was more important, and kind of put this issue on the shelf for a bit and focused on other issues.

I still think social justice issues are more important, particularly as they pertain to building a sustainable future for our species.

So why am I bringing this up now?

Hell, this is a blog -- I can talk about whatever I want. Navel-gazing about porn is no more a waste of my time than posting pictures of whale genitals... ;^)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The grace period

When I woke up, Jake was already in the shower. I rested in bed listening to the water and gathering my strength.

Jake came out of the bathroom in his boxers and started getting dressed. "Well? You'd better get up and take your shower," he said. "You've got a big day ahead of you."

In truth I was terrified even after Jake explained that this morning's appointment was just the warm-up.

Read the rest of the story ->

Saturday, November 10, 2007

A couple of parables about belief

Suppose two students are taking a math test. Suppose that for a particularly difficult problem one student writes "7" as the solution and the other writes "65000*pi/sqrt(3)". It is reasonable to conclude that at least one of the two students got the problem wrong. Is it also reasonable to conclude that at least one of the students must be an idiot? No.

Does it mean they can't be friends? Of course not. (They might have difficulty collaborating on an engineering project that uses the same techniques as the math problem, but that's not the only thing in life.)

Is it reasonable to conclude that the two solutions are equally valid or equally likely? Not necessarily, but it depends on the problem (both solutions may be completely and obviously wrong).

As you've probably guessed, all of this is to explain how I can consider myself a strong atheist and at the same time caution against dismissing religious people as stupid, closed-minded, or willfully ignorant.

Why do I think my conclusion about God(s) is right?

Imagine there's a street sign near my house that I pass every day. Imagine that one day there's a bright red political sticker sticking to the middle of it that wasn't there before. I don't know how it got there, but I can make some conjectures:
1. Some person came by and put it there.
2. A race of sentient bats made the sticker and stuck it there (but no one has ever seen them because they're invisible).
3. The sticker was actually applied at the factory when the sign was made, but it just wasn't visible until recently because it was made with a new technology of perfectly invisible stickers that become visible after a fixed length of time.
4. The sign and sticker don't exist -- I'm really just a brain in a jar, and my entire reality is an illusion.

To me, choice #1 is the reasonable conclusion, and I would feel very confident that it is the correct answer -- it conforms with experiences and observations. I don't think that #2 or #3 is rational conclusion, even though I can't disprove either one. I would be willing to reconsider my rejection of #2 or #3 if someone showed me evidence that the species (resp. new technology) exists. I think Greta Christina covered the solipsism argument (#4) pretty well. I'll just add that I've never met anyone who seriously believes that the solipsistic model of the universe is correct -- it's typically just thrown out there to bolster the post-modernist argument that we can't be sure of anything, so theories contradicted by evidence are just as reasonable as theories that are consistent with evidence.

This is the reason I feel completely confident in my conclusion that God(s) -- as typically defined by humans -- do(es) not exist.

I also know that if you are religious, you probably disagree with my second parable and/or my interpretation of it. That's fine -- I'm not trying to debate you on your perception of the universe. I'm just explaining what it looks like to me.

Around the Internet, I see a lot of people trying to explain away people who disagree with them. There's a whole lot of "those guys just won't listen to reason because..." These assessments are essentially always wrong (in my humble opinion). Or to be more precise, I think they're a little bit right mixed with a whole lot of wrong. In my experience, most people have many complex reasons for believing as they do, and what's more, just because two people have reached the same conclusions it doesn't mean that their character, motivations/biases, or even their reasoning style is the same.

It is false to say that all people who believe X are closed-minded and refuse to listen to anything but what they want to hear. It is false to say that all people who believe X have failed to think critically about their beliefs. It is also a fallacy to confuse confidence in a conclusion with closed-mindedness: Just because you've analyzed a question and feel confident that your conclusion is right, that doesn't mean you wouldn't consider new evidence and new arguments.

So in short I recommend critical thinking and sincere introspection (for everyone, me included). And I'm not going to look at your answer and from there presume to tell you how you reached it.

Friday, November 09, 2007

I love Ernie and Bert!!!

Ok, I normally don't devote a whole post to these silly quizzes, but...

I was obsessively reading my blog stats as usual, and discovered a fabulous new blog linking to me here, with a bunch of amusing stuff in the sidebar including a cute quiz result about a beloved childhood gay icon: Velma, from Scooby-Doo.

So I had to take the quiz myself, and even though I honestly answered the question about losing my glasses all the time (seriously, it's ridiculous, and I can't see a thing without my glasses!!!) I didn't get Velma. Here's what I got:

You Are the Very Gay Bert and Ernie!

Two grown puppets living together, sleeping in the same room?
They've even got coordinating striped shirts!

So cute -- I love watching their song about the boogie-woogie sheep with my kids. :D

Plus, I really am wearing a striped shirt right now!!! I thought that question was going to land me on Mo (from DTWOF, another fave of mine!), but of course she's not a childhood icon...

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

A favor for a friend

In the morning Rex dropped me off at Jake's house. Jake already had his motorcycle out in the driveway and was working on it with some tools. I hoped that it was just some last-minute adjustments and not that something was wrong.

"Thanks for doing this, man," said Rex.

"No problem," said Jake. "Like I said, I was planning to ride to Vegas one of these days anyway."

Then Rex turned to me and sighed. "Good luck," he said. "And try to... try to have some fun on this trip if that's at all possible."

"Thanks," I said.

"Don't worry about Mom and Dad," said Rex. "I'll take care of damage control on the home front if anything happens." Then he got back in the car and left. Read the rest of the story ->

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Humanist Symposium #10

Welcome to the 10th edition of the Humanist Symposium!!!

I know I said earlier that this one was going to be "the dirty edition." But the problem was that (aside from that ex-Mormon serial novel which has taken a rather questionable turn lately) nobody sent me anything dirty. They just sent me a bunch of articles related to "Humanism." And some fantastic ones at that!!!

So I'll just be presenting these articles to you, and my original contribution as host is a Humanist side illustration "Helping Hands."

Humanist Theory:

As a Humanist, you have to find or make your own meaning and purpose, but we're up to it. Lynet presents some hauntingly poetic musings on tragedy while Greta Christina covers both life and death. On the spiritual side, David talks about what it means to be fully present. And Miller talks about the value and excitement of being an active participant in the trend towards atheism.

Paul has written a clear, concise explanation of universal moral grammar: how the moral framework we're born with isn't quite the same as absolute universal morality.

Then Dale wishes us a very Merry Christmas! while explaining that whatever Christmas's origins, the combination of public and private meanings attached to it have developed according to no one's conscious plan, and will continue to do so. Then to celebrate our place in the universe, the Ridger has written a song: "We Are Starstuff".

Humanist Practice:

One of the first steps towards helping other humans is education. Vjack states it clearly: "If we are serious about every child deserving the opportunity to succeed in college, then we need to get serious about making sure they are adequately prepared." Black Sun cautions against widespread homeschooling because of the many ways it can limit a child's educational experiences. PZ has persuaded his readers to lend a helping hand on science education (though he'll be scandalized that by including him here I'm hinting he may be a humanist ;^) ). And Holly Ord gives some amusing examples of educating the public through non-theistic billboards.

Joel McDonald has saved a few trees by suggesting electronic alternatives to procedures that required excessive document printing -- the sort of improvement that could be made in so many workplaces if people care enough to think before always hitting "print."

GrrlScientist reviews a book that explains the basics of cloning and how it can benefit humanity (while creating some interesting new questions for us to deal with.)

Theory and Practice:

How do our proverbs fare without God? Lubab No More still follows the golden rule. David discusses the serenity prayer noting that we shouldn't be too hasty about accepting the big problems of the world if we can change things at least a little.

Speaking of how to handle the world's big problems, James suggests that if the various religions can't live in peace, perhaps we should go with none, and Shaun Connel explains that violence should not be used to deal with non-violent people.

And I've posted about how our human values are starting to change in the right direction so that reducing wasteful consumption -- thinking of the future -- is seen as the highest virtue. This essay completes own overview of strategies to cooperate and build a sustainable future for our little species!

I hope you've enjoyed this Humanist Symposium!!! The next one will be held on November 25 at the Greenbelt!!

Friday, November 02, 2007

A future for everyone's favorite species?

With population pressure mounting, environmental degradation increasing, and the precipice of "peak oil" just ahead, it's easy to lose hope for our future. Will we end up like yeast trapped in a sealed bottle of grape juice, eating all the sugar until our own waste renders our environment toxic to us and kills us? Or are we smart and adaptable enough to face this challenge and build a sustainable society?

It won't be easy, and it will require some real global cooperation. I've just finished a series of posts to outline some basic ideas and strategy:

First, people are far more willing to cooperate with others and plan for the future when they have enough resources to ensure their own health and the health of their children. In fertility, mortality I talked about how lowering infant/child mortality leads to parents choosing to have only a few children and investing an enormous amount of effort on each one. In is religion the problem? I argued that people of all nationalities, ethnicities, and religions will increase their racist element and find excuses for war when competition for resources becomes critical (and by contrast will be better off cooperating/trading with different groups when they're doing okay). Then in stand by your home-grown tyrant I discussed the fact that people will often side with a local leader -- even an obvious bad guy -- over a foreign invader if the foreign force's motives are tainted (by desire to control and take resources).

Second, we all need to get serious about limiting our own waste and excess consumption. The biggest, simplest strategy is to move towards low-to-no car urbanism. In living downtown and car-free I talked about how it's not just a question of saving the planet -- it can make your life simpler and more convenient in tons of ways. In European dream I argued that urban living can decrease racism (as kids grow up familiar with kids of all different backgrounds) which increases willingness to cooperate with other nations to save our planet. Finally, in earning admiration in today's world I discussed how our human values are starting to change in the right direction so that reducing wasteful consumption -- thinking of the future -- is seen as the highest virtue.

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.