Monday, January 29, 2007

A Goal to Gain a Testimony

As soon as I woke up on Sunday morning, I went to look at my painting again. It was beautiful! Wyxetta and Adrianna had such a perfect life in their little fairy kingdom.

Saturday had been a productive day since Lynn and Annette had decided to spend the day at the mall and then the library. I'd gotten the chance to add lots of colors and details to finish the scene. I hated to put it down when Mom came up to tell me to start getting ready for church.

I heard the door downstairs, which was undoubtedly Lynn getting back from her paper route, so I went down to the kitchen to have breakfast with her. I poured myself a bowl of cereal as Lynn took off her hat, scarf, and mittens and placed them on the drying rack, hung up her coat, and put her boots on the mat. more ->

Friday, January 26, 2007


They say Hillary Clinton is a polarizing figure, and that everyone has an opinion of her. I'm not sure how I've managed it, but somehow I've fallen into that elite 2% of voters in the "confused and undecided" category.

Is she too polarizing? Is she sincere? Is she a good leader?

Not sure.

I read a good Mother Jones article that tries to make sense of why she's so controversial (hat tip to Not Ophelia of fMh).

It's unfortunate that so much of the controversy surrounding her is because of her personal life. Especially since her personal life isn't that controversial.

So she forgave her husband for having an affair. So what? I heard people say "She doesn't really love him, she's just staying with him to stay in power." And I would think "How do you know what their marriage is like?"

The whole thing was a private matter within their relationship, and I'm not sure why the rest of the planet was so concerned about it.

I guess they're concerned because Bill lied about it, of course, which he shouldn't have done. But somehow I can't get as worked up about someone lying when faced with intimate questions about his private life as I do about lies that affect the fate of the entire world such as reasons and evidence for going to war.

(It's an unfortunate side-effect of the information age that we're all so knowing and cynical these days that we don't even expect our leaders to be honest...)

I know, I know, it's absurdly ironic of me to be bringing up that whole Monica scandal in a post about how we shouldn't be talking about that!!! ;-)

It reminds me of my first trip to Paris! I spent a month there at a math conference right at the height of the Bill-and-Monica thing.

I wasn't following the scandal intentionally, but it seemed like everyone wanted to make sure everyone else was up to date on the latest gory details. You might think going to France would turn down the volume on it a little. Nope. It was worse.

The reason it seemed worse was because people would meet me and want to make conversation, and as soon as I said I was American, the first thing people would say was "Oh, Bill-and-Monica!!! Hahahaha!!!" and start in on the latest scoop.

The funniest time was when I was talking to a cashier at a supermarket. He started with the usual "Bill-and-Monica!!! Hahahaha!!!" Then he proceeded to explain to me that they never have this sort of scandal in France because in France people don't worry about such things.

And I was left thinking "Ummm... Who brought this up, you or me?"

But I'm starting to wonder if maybe that guy was right, or at least was right that the French have a bit of a different attitude.

One time (more recently) I was chatting about politics with some colleagues, and they started joking about how one guy who was the president of France died while having sex with a prostitute. (To any French people reading this: Is that true, or were they just pulling my leg?)

My colleagues laughed it off saying, "It was an honest transaction -- he paid up front, fair and square," and "You've got to go sometime, and there are worse ways..."

So now you're probably asking "Um, Chanson, what the hell does this have to do with Hillary?"

Nothing, I guess.

Anyway, I don't think anyone's reading this blog for the political commentary... ;-)

Random stuff I found on the Internet...

I almost never click on that "next blog" thing. But maybe I should do it more -- you can find the randomest stuff that way!!!

Here I found an entertaining redone Matt Groening cartoon about questions poets don't like to get asked:


So the next time I start thinking it's hard to promote a novel, I'll just look at this cartoon and say: "Could be worse..."

Monday, January 22, 2007

Barbie Dolls and the Book of Mormon

"Oh no! Bobby will be here any minute!" shrieked Annette, playing her Barbie-doll Patty. "I can't let him see the house like this with the walls all splattered with green jello! I'm so embarrassed!"

"Yeah, we should have known better than to try to make Jennifer's special exploding jello for company -- the recipe's just too complicated!" said Lynn for her doll Tuesday.

To think that Lynn was already twelve years old and in Young Women's at church. For ten-year-old Annette to still want to play Barbies was already kind of borderline. But I supposed it wasn't too embarrassing if they just did it at home with nobody else around.

It was so annoying that Mom and Dad insisted I set up my drawing table and paints in the toyroom where Annette kept her elaborate doll house! I got to have the joy of listening to two giggly little sisters while trying to concentrate on creating my masterpiece graphic novel.

"Uh-oh, he's here now!" said Annette, driving a Ken-doll up to the house in a red convertible. more ->

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The birds and the bees and the whales...

For all you parents (and overgrown kids) out there -- it's time to swap some parenting strategies!!!

What do you tell your kids about "the facts of life"? How much and when?

I suspect it's easier for parents on a farm to cover the subject naturally, given all of the object lessons going on around them. Fortunately we have today's modern equivalent: nature documentaries!!!

One of my kids' favorite films is a documentary following the adventures of a pregnant tiger shark, and another favorite is one about whales. The shark one has made it very clear to my 5-year-old Nicolas that babies start out in mommies' tummies. (He loves to role-play all of his films, and it's super cute when he plays that he's a pregnant shark full of babies!!!) The whale film goes into a little more detail about how the baby got there...

Their whale film is educational for adults as well as children. Without it, I never would have known what it looks like when whales, y'know, do it. My favorite part is the narrator's perfect deadpan delivery as he lists off the dimensions of the whale's naughty bits, nonchalantly explaining that it's the largest genital organ in the animal kingdom.

That part always makes me giggle. I'm not sure why -- they list off the weights of a bunch of other whale body parts and I never think anything of it. I've narrowed it down to either (a) I'm just that immature or (b) documentaries about whale genitalia really are hilarious.

While I was pondering this question, my curious little Nico of course asked me "Mommy, what's that?" (pointing at the gigantic whale schlong on the screen).

Without hesitation -- without even giggling -- I replied "That's the daddy whale's zizi." (I'm getting good at this parenting stuff!!!)

He didn't have any follow-up questions. I guess since whales have a lot of body parts in common with people (eyes, mouths), it seemed perfectly reasonable to him that the daddy whale should have a zizi. (Indeed, a whale of a big zizi...)

Zizi, by the way, is the French baby-word for penis. I'm not sure if maybe I should be teaching them a more proper word, or perhaps a word in English for when we're speaking English or something. But this is working for us so far.

Regarding the differences between girls and boys, all they know at this point is that boys have zizis and girls do not have zizis. I'm kind of thinking that "what girls have instead" falls into the category of "advanced topics" since they're both boys and haven't asked about it. I'm not sure if that's the right strategy or not.

I don't really have a plan or a theory here, I'm just playing it by ear.

Anybody else out there have a theory or an opinion about how such topics should be covered?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Exmormon novel site up and running!!!

Hey Mo-lit fans!!!

I'm planning to start posting my novel as a serial, starting in one week: January 23!!!

Now I've got the site built and I've drawn an illustration for each section, please go have a look and tell me what you think: Exmormon, the novel.

You don't have to tell me the site design is ugly -- I know that already. Basically this is kind of a low-budget operation. ;-) So not only the design by the actual php files were hand-done by yours truly. But I think of the site as kind of a work-in-progress that will be improved at some indefinite point in the future.

I've also noticed -- looking in the budget -- that I have exactly $0 set aside for publicity, so if any of you would be willing to announce this fabulous literary event on your own blogs (with the date January 23 + link), I would really, really, really appreciate it!!! Thanks!!!

One last question for those of you who put ads on your sites: Can you recommend which ad services are good and give me some tips on how to sign up for them? I'm particularly interested in that whole Amazon partnership thingy and/or google ads, but I don't really know where to begin.

I hope you guys are as psyched about this as I am!!! It's going to be an adventure!!! :D

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Twin language...?

Okay, so my kids aren't actually twins, but they're very close in age, and really they spend more time talking to each other than either one spends talking to anyone else. So they appear to have invented some of their own words:

bramporte: A two-wheeled vehicle such as a bicycle or motorcycle.

cracre-de-paix (or perhaps cracre d'épée?): A heavy construction vehicle.

I can't tell if these are based on real words or wholly invented, but they seem to be pronouncing them as French words, which is why I've spelled them as French words.

You can guess what types of subjects they like to discuss... ;-)

Here I am hindering them from watching the movie "Cars"

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Why? Why? Why??? II

This is part 2 (continued from here) of my wacky theories about why some people oppose gay marriage. Today's half leans far more into the realm of armchair speculation, so don't feel pressured to agree with me on this one just because you agreed with my previous post. ;-)

Today's question is the following: "Why worry about gay people's love lives? As opposed to, say, minding your own business about what goes on in other people's bedrooms?"

I think this question is related to the question of "Why do humans mate in private?"

Lots of other animals (dogs, chimpanzees, pigeons, rabbits, etc.,) have no problem at all with mating in full view of others of their same species. Not people though. Some people like group sex or acts that involve watching and being watched, but in such cases part of the draw is breaking the privacy taboo.

The "Garden of Eden" story explains this need for privacy as an obvious natural consequence of self-awareness: Since humans can think, they know they need to cover up -- animals don't because they don't know any better.

This explanation isn't terribly convincing to me. Just because you know what you're doing, it doesn't obviously follow that you should be ashamed of what you're doing and hide it.

I got a different explanation from reading Jared Diamond's Why Is Sex Fun?

I know, I know, all the rest of the exmos read Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel, but I go straight for Why Is Sex Fun? I gotta be me!!! ;-)

The idea I gleaned is that a species that is at once highly social and highly monogamous (like ours!) would naturally prefer to mate in private.

It makes sense if you think about it. If a committed couple of people want to reproduce just with each other, they don't benefit by mating in view of other random individuals who may become interested and want to join in.

(That's the part I got from Diamond -- the rest of this crazy theory can be blamed on me.)

The way human society works, sexually mature adults are constantly interacting in a non-sexual way with other sexually mature adults. (Think of your colleagues, people you pass on the street, shop-keeps, etc.)

Very little reproduction would get done without sexual desire. However, if people felt only positive feelings towards sexuality, it would be a lot more difficult to stay faithful to one's partner. Therefore humans have strong natural inhibitions regarding sexuality -- often to the point of revulsion -- that counterbalance their feelings of sexual attraction and sexual desire.

Picture some person you see every day. Not your S.O., and not the hottie you have a secret crush on, but just some random person you interact with at work or something. Now picture that person having sex with his/her S.O. (Or worse -- picture your parents.) Yuck, right? I'm sure if you try you can think of someone where your reaction is "yuck," or at least "I'd rather not think about it." Yet you can picture the same person eating a sandwich and you feel total indifference, not revulsion.


Because of your natural aversion to other people's sexuality and sexual expression.

Even people who enjoy erotica typically have a limit; a point where an erotic image is "too graphic" and hence seems gross or vulgar (although exactly what constitutes "too graphic" varies widely from one person to the next).

For everyone -- even lusty people who like sex a lot -- there are sex acts that they don't find erotic, appealing, or arousing at all. When imagining such acts, one feels the usual aversion/repulsion without feeling the counterbalancing feelings of attraction and arousal. And so the unappealing sexual scenario seems nothing but distasteful and possibly disgusting.

Some potentially distasteful sex acts being performed by other people right now might include two men in bed together, a man masturbating while viewing consensually-produced pictures of naked people, very old people having sex, various fetishes, unusual uses of inanimate objects, etc.

The typical irrational response is to deliberately imagine the sex acts you don't like, to feel grossed-out by the image, and to say "This is horribly repugnant to me, therefore it is wrong and evil on principle -- for everyone -- and must be suppressed!!!"

A rational response is to say "Private sexual expression between other consenting adults does not concern me and is none of my business."

Keep in mind, people, that many gay people find straight sex disgusting. For every sexual expression that one person finds arousing, I can guarantee you 100% that there exists another human that finds the same exact scene repulsive and disgusting. The only reason the current debate is about straight people trying to repress gay sexuality rather than gay people trying to repress straight sexuality is just the fact of who is in the majority.

In closing, I'd like to wish each and every one of you a pleasurable and satisfying sex life according to your own tastes!!! I don't necessarily want to hear about all the graphic details, however you may rest assured that as long as it involves consenting adults only and appropriate safety precautions are followed, I'm rooting for you in spirit!!! :D

And that includes people who choose celibacy. My bias is to favor an attitude of "Sex is natural, sex is good!!! Not everybody does it, but everybody should!!!" ;-) However, I don't want to impose my personal sexual tastes on others, so to those of you whose pleasure is not to have sex, I wish you all happiness in that as well!!! :D

Monday, January 08, 2007

Discrimination against homosexuals: why? why? why???

Despite the Democratic victory in the mid-term elections (which some would have you call a "Democrat victory" instead), it would appear that some anti-gay-marriage ballot initiatives passed. (Did they really pass, or were they just on the ballot?)

Every time I hear of such laws, I can't stop asking: Why? Why? Why???

Why do some people care what other consenting adults are doing in the privacy of their own bedrooms? Why do people have to waste their time picturing other people's sex lives if they find it yucky? Why can't they mind their own business?

Well -- as with many random subjects -- it turns out that I have a wacky theory about this!!! And I'm going to share it with you right now!!!

Now if you're groaning "Oh no, not another one of those 'Chanson's wacky theory' posts..." you can go ahead and skip this one. And skip my next post too, as this is a two-part theory.

Part 1 of my theory answers the question: "Why deny gay people marriage? Of all things?"

(Part 2 will address: "Why worry about gay people's love lives? As opposed to, say, minding one's own business about what goes on in other people's bedrooms?")

A charge commonly leveled against gay people is that they're promiscuous. That's why religious moralists are doing everything in their power to try to encourage gay people to settle down in loving, committed, monogamous relationships, and trying to persuade gay couples to take on the civic responsibility of protecting their families through legal marriage.

Oh, no wait, they aren't. Indeed just the opposite -- committed long-term monogamous gay couples who seek to get married are being denied marriage licenses in many places. WTF?

I'm sorry if none of the following is new and/or if I'm preaching to the choir, but I'm going to say it anyway -- for the record -- because there are places (notably France and much of the U.S.) where gay people still don't have the right to legal marriage.

Marriage has changed. I don't think anyone denies it. Like all aspects of human culture, the expectations surrounding the marriage-type relationship have evolved over time. And I don't think I'm going out on a limb to say that some changes within the past fifty-to-a-hundred years have been fairly dramatic.

Now, I don't think that even the staunchest opponents of gay marriage claim that gay people or gay relationships caused this change. They merely see gay marriage as a part of a family of changes that they don't like.

Let's talk about a portrait of traditional marriage vs. a portrait of modern marriage. I'm doing this off the top of my head, so please feel free to correct me if I get any points wrong.

Traditional marriage:
* A woman could not typically expect the right or opportunity to command enough resources to support herself and her children. A husband was an economic necessity for a woman, especially a woman with children. Staying with one's husband -- even an abusive husband -- was a matter of survival.
* Since any act of heterosexual intercourse might lead to a child (requiring a father's economic support), marriage was the price a man was expected to pay for sex, on something of a "you broke it, you've bought it" basis. (see Deuteronomy 22:28-29: "If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay the girl's father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the girl, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.")
* Rape within marriage was not legally recognized as such because a part of the marriage contract was the husband's right to have sex with his wife regardless of her opinion on the matter.
* If a husband wanted to have sex with someone other than his wife (because he's gay or for whatever other reason), he could more or less get away with it as long as he had the financial means. If a woman was not sexually satisfied with her husband (because she's gay or for whatever other reason) then tough sh*t for her. (Punishments for female cheaters have traditionally been much harsher than for males.)

Modern marriage:
* With effective and available contraceptives, straight people can have romantic/sexual relationships without the worry that a moment of passion will result in an unwanted child requiring the long-term efforts of two parents. Thus people typically don't marry someone unless they actually want to be married to that person -- not just as a relief for horniness or the result of an "accident."
* Even though divorce generally spells dramatically reduced economic status for a woman, a single mother can still expect to command enough resources to successfully raise her children to adulthood. Thus it is no longer a virtue to tolerate an abusive husband just because he provides for the family. Abusive and otherwise dysfunctional marriages end in divorce.
* Love isn't just a nice plus in a marriage -- people expect to love and be in love with their spouses.
* Marriage is an equal legal partnership, not an owner/property relationship.

Many traditionalists would like to dump the modern model in favor of the traditional model. The modern model, however, is very attractive, so it's hard to persuade people to stick with the traditional model as long as the modern option exists.

Gay marriage obviously fits right into the modern marriage model: neither partner is the expected master, neither is the expected servant; you expect to marry the person you love rather than being expected to marry for economic/dynastic reasons. Naturally gay people want to get in on this cultural innovation -- why wouldn't they?

But it's very obvious that gay marriage is the result of the change in marriage, not the cause. Traditionalists can deny gay people their family/relationship protection nine ways from Tuesday -- but it won't shove the genie back into the bottle nor the woman back into her shackles.

Many traditionalists viscerally hate the idea of gay marriage because it symbolizes equal partnership marriage to them.

You straight feminists -- male and female -- who cherish your love-and-equal-partnership marriages: You're eating your cake while your gay brothers and sisters are bearing the brunt of the punishments that the theocrats would like to be directing at you.

Let's not leave them out to dry.

Stay tuned for my next installment: "Why worry about what goes on in other people's bedrooms?" I promise the theories I'll be presenting in that one will be far wackier than the ones in this episode. ;-)

Friday, January 05, 2007

Polytheism vs. Monotheism + Omnipotence

While learning about classical mythology at school, I was taught that these pagan religions are "primitive" (compared to our modern monotheistic religions).

But are they?

This question has always kind of bugged me. It's my impression that the pagan polytheistic beliefs had a certain logic to them that was lost in the transition to monotheism.

Monotheism seems to go hand-in-hand with belief that God is omnipotent, so to simplify things I'll group monotheism and God's omnipotence as a single belief. Feel free to dispute this connection in the comments. :D

Right off the bat, true omnipotence is as self-contradictory as "the set of all sets" (in Mathematics). However, most believers agree that God doesn't really need to create an immovable object (that is so immovable that it can't even be moved by God). So I assume the solution to this conundrum is to say "it's not that God can do anything at all, just anything within reason..."

But even if we ignore this paradox, the idea that there might be a bunch of different supernatural beings -- with different spheres of influence and different goals -- seems to correspond to our chaotic world a lot better than the idea that the world is run by one guy who can do anything (within reason) and actually has some sort of plan...

Then there's the question of followers. If I understand correctly, the pagan gods liked to have followers give them sacrifices because, well, sacrifices are tasty and/or they increase the particular god's strength or something like that.

On the other hand, the unique, omnipotent God likes to have followers worshiping Him because...... ?????

(A tangent for the Christians: Why did God need to sacrifice Jesus in order to forgive His children/creations of the flaws He created in them? Did He just want to do it that way? If not, is He omnipotent or what?)

My goal here isn't to offend people or mock people's beliefs. I am completely serious when I say that as a Mathematician (sort of), I see more logic and internal consistency to a polytheistic system than to a monotheistic/omnipotent system. However it's very possible that it's just that I haven't heard or considered all of the arguments in monotheism's favor.

If any of you monotheists have an argument I haven't heard or an alternate take on any of what I've said above, please post a comment.

p.s. to LDS readers: I realize that Mormonism has a system that isn't quite monotheistic yet is also different from pagan-style polytheism. I am particularly interested in getting a (faithful) LDS perspective on monotheism-vs-polytheism, and not to mock it or shoot it down. I'm genuinely curious as to what is a typical current LDS take on this subject might be.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Why Exmormon?

A lot of people have pointed out to me that calling my novel Exmormon makes it sound like it's some sort of expose of Mormonism -- a book that's going to shock you with all of Mormonism's deep, dark, dirty secrets.

Since it's not that at all -- it's just an ordinary story of Mormon and ex-Mormon young people -- I should have given it a title that makes people think story. Like, say, "Gone with the Wind" or something like that.

Others have pointed out that the plot of Exmormon is all over the map, if it can be said to have a plot at all. This novel seems like the classic example to illustrate one of my favorite Simpson's Quotes: "It's just a bunch of stuff that happened."

The novel does have a structure to it though, and it's one that ties in with the strange title. As Rachel noted in her review, the different individual sub-stories work together to build on the theme of what issues you face leaving the church as a young person:

1. Young Women's: Trying to be a good Mormon and live up to the church's expectations for you as a young teen.
2. Youth Conference: More serious indoctrination and the beginnings of cognitive dissonance.
3. Saturday's Warrior: The dark side of the resulting mindset.
4. BYU: The epiphany; realizing that it's not real or true.
5. Polygamist: Breaking free of the mindset.
6. Temple Wedding: Dealing with the family fallout.
7. Orem High: A second adolescence while exploring your new-found freedom.
8. Bordeaux Mission: Reflecting on your life, your choices, your feelings about the church.
9. Exmo Conference: wrap-up.

This is why I wrote the whole story in first person (although there are multiple narrators). The point is to see the world through the eyes of the Mormon (later apostate) character. I absolutely didn't want the story to be told by the omniscient (third-person) narrator who's giving you the objectively true "real scoop" on what's going on. The readers' question "What do I think of the narrator's perspective here?" is a part of the story.

As you know, I'm planning to make the novel available online so it will be more convenient to read it and to talk about how it relates to people's experiences in and out of Mormonism. I'm already happy to note that different readers have related to different characters -- i.e. several cases where from one email I can see that a reader disliked character X, whereas another reader clearly identifies with that same character. ;-)

And I've gotten good feedback from non-Mormon readers who have enjoyed it as a story and for its insights into what Mormon culture is like.

For my LDS readers, I've tried to write the story as complex, realistic, and fair enough that the faithful won't just angrily dismiss it as a bunch of bull. The novel is appropriate for some LDS readers but not all. Basically, if you're open enough to want to try to understand what your apostate friends and family members have gone through, you might be interested in reading this. And if you like Zarahemla books, then Exmormon probably won't offend you. And depending on your tastes, you might like it. :D

I was hoping to be ready to announce the novel site's URL and the date I'll begin posting it, but unfortunately I'm a little behind schedule. Keep watching this blog and I'll keep you posted!!! :D