Thursday, February 28, 2008

An Atheist's Tale

Remember my story of how I became an atheist? Well, it's just been reprinted here as part of Mind on Fire's Leaving the Garden series: personal reflections on the journey from religious conviction to uncertainty. Thanks, I'm honored to be part of this series!!!

On a related note, I've gotten a great response to my primate sexuality piece Come on baby, won't you show some class? (which explores the relation between sex/porn-phobia and classism). It's won me the coveted Stermy for exemplary writing!!! It was also included in O.G.'s weekly reader and the 54th Carnival of Feminists!!! Thanks!!!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Bending the rules to the breaking point

The week sped by, and the next thing I knew I was getting ready to go up to Jake's uncle's cabin with Cindy and Amy. Cindy and Amy's Aunt Julie lent us her car, and Cindy drove us up following Jake's map.

When the three of us finally found the cabin, Jake was already there with his three friends: two guys and a girl. I hardly noticed the rather ordinary-looking guys next to the girl all decked out in goth. Her black hair and eye make-up, pale skin, black lips, black nails and silver rings and ankh pendant seemed pretty typical goth to me (although I've never been knowledgeable about it), but aside from being all black, her outfit seemed atypical. She was wearing kind of a flouncy (black) skirt over black stockings and black boots, and over a black leotard top, she had a cute little tight black jacket. To top it off, she had on a wide-brimmed hat with the brim folded up on one side -- in black again as you might guess.

Her outfit struck me as really cute and reminded me of how goth culture can be kind of internally conformist yet still give a lot of leeway for individuality. I immediately wanted to make friends with her, so as I approached to take a seat, I took off my hat to reveal my own non-conformist side. Read the rest of the story ->

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Googl-oetry (search query poetry)

Through the magic of the Internet, the technique of making collages out of "found objects" can now be applied to poetry!!! The Exterminator followed by Ordinary Girl have created some astonishing poetry out of search queries that have led people to their blogs. Poetry is not my strong point, so this meme is a bit of a challenge for me, but it looked like so much fun that I had to try it!!!

Since my blog is currently going through the constellation of sexuality, my poem today is a comic-erotic poem. I was hoping to make a limerick, but the medium of search queries has its limitations... ;^)

Every line below is a (completely unedited) search query that led someone to my blog with the past few days!!!

looking for sexiest blog

nude beaches
topless beaches
unsuspecting photos of topless beach goers
moms at the beach topless here's some pics
is it wrong for my 5 year old to go topless
can you go topless in egypt

france male nude beaches
handsome men in kilts
photos of naked male bodyworker
men in kilts with no underwear

whale sex parts
picture of whales mating
studies about sex on the first date
is it ok to have sex on the first date

funny naked people
comic nudity
tucson topless sunbathing
nude beaches in nj pics
topless sunbathing in slovakia
topless beaches in new jersey
functioning democracy new jersey

sexually aroused look in his eye
men just can't help leering
people naked in the shower
topless/nude older women
promiscuous women
france public sex
sex mit der ex
masturbating public sex stories
why does porn lead to masterbation

mormon girls
byu chicks
naughty mormon girls
sex at byu
my first sexual experiences
post mormons
cultural mormonism
mormon sexuality
mormons virginity
any scrapbooking companies not owned by mormans?

an atheist's story
erotic atheists
intimate spirituality
atheist waiting until marriage to have sex
it takes a lot of faith to be an athiest
believe in love. believe in magic. hell, believe in santa cl

I was almost kinda hoping not to get tagged with this one...

It says "no cheating," but when I first saw the book meme going around, I was tempted to preemptively cheat by moving an interesting book into range, just in case. But I didn't do it, so I guess now that I've been tagged I'll play fair.

1. Pick up the nearest book of 123 pages or more. No cheating!
2. Find page 123
3. Find the first 5 sentences
4. Post the next 3 sentences
5. Tag 5 people

Here it is:

Make four gold rings for the table and fasten them to the four corners, where the four legs are. The rings are to be close to the rim to hold the poles used in carrying the table. Make the poles of acacia wood, overlay them with gold and carry the table with them.

Have you guessed what book it is?

It's the NIV Study Bible. Like a typical atheist blogger, I have a drawer full of scriptures handy as a reference while blogging. As a cultural Mormon I normally prefer to quote the King James, but this one happened to be on top. And I don't have any other books closer because I don't read for pleasure at my computer desk -- I do it in a comfy chair or in bed.

So there you have it, folks!!

I don't feel like tagging anyone today. If you like this meme, consider yourself tagged!!! :D

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Come on baby, won't you show some class? (more on primate sexuality)

You can't do a complete analysis of women's sexual choices without talking about class. Social class, that is; economic class.

Imagine what it would be like if we lived in a world where there weren't an effective way of preventing (heterosexual) intercourse from resulting in pregnancy. Imagine also that children's survival and success depended largely on their parents' long-term investment of both time and resources. Then imagine that there were dramatic differences from one male to the next in terms of the amount of resources they could offer. How would you expect women to behave?

Naturally you would expect most women to try to choose the best mate possible and to avoid mating indiscriminately. Still, women's behavior would logically vary by class. A woman who could expect to get a well-off man as a committed mate would have a strong incentive to please him by making it very, very clear that she's not sexually available to other men. Women whose prospects fall on the low end of the economic spectrum would have less incentive to make fidelity a priority -- in fact they (and by extension their offspring) might actually benefit if they opportunistically go from mate to mate.

Since privileged women are the ones with the greatest chance of attracting (economically) successful mates, we would expect to see sexual unavailability as the mark of being "high class" (for women) and open promiscuity as being the mark of being "low class."

Notice that (in this scenario) higher class women benefit from trashing sexually available women. Higher class women (and their offspring) are better off if their mates aren't directing their time and resources towards side dalliances. So privileged women have an incentive to promote the idea that promiscuous women are trashy and not worth one's time.

Men also benefit from publicly trashing sexy women (even if their private behavior is different). A high class man can please (or attract) a high class mate by making it clear he's not tempted by cheap sex. They also help convince their female relatives (sisters, daughters) to maintain a high class (less sexual) appearance to improve their chances of keeping prosperity in the family.

Is this the world we live in? Not exactly, but it's close.

For the reasons outlined above, humans have a natural prejudice towards seeing openly sexual women as inferior and less-valuable. Humans also have a tendency to come up with justifications for their innate prejudices (see my second discrimination against homosexuals article). Traditionally, the human prejudice against female sexuality has been expressed in terms of God and sin. Unfortunately, the hatred privileged women feel towards openly sexual women has also been dignified with secular feminist terminology, calling sexual women "objectified" (see Questioning Objectification) and claiming that promiscuous women lack "self-respect" and "self-worth." This last one is cruelly backwards as a "feminist theory" since feminists should be the last ones who would tell girls that their worth is based on their chastity and virginity (and corresponding marital prospects). (Here's a good example to illustrate how the twin doctrines of "objectification" and "sin" go hand-in-hand to condemn women and female sexuality.)

Now let's look at the modern situation.

Modern contraceptives have largely divorced sex from reproduction, and as a result the romantic/sexual aspect of our culture has changed in a fascinating way. For the long-term, most people (male and female) naturally want to be in a long-term committed relationship -- this is closely related to the human trait of feeling "in love." Humans are remarkably adaptable, and contraceptive use has caused males' romantic/sexual responses in our modern culture to evolve to some degree, but not as much as one might expect. Here's what I mean: A typical man is viscerally horrified at the thought of his mate being with another man sexually -- even though these days it's less likely to lead to raising another male's offspring. On the other hand, the preference for virginal, inexperienced females (as long-term mates) has proven far more malleable, to the point where many modern men actually prefer to marry a sexually experienced woman (see virginity: once an asset, now a liability).

At the same time, women's economic advances mean that women have greater power to set the terms and expectations for their own behavior and for their mates' behavior (see my post on gay marriage), or even to choose not to take on a long-term mate at all. So we finally have the opportunity to free ourselves from the ancient and medieval notion that a woman is "degraded" (reduced in value or class) by displaying her sexuality and engaging in casual sex. Parts of the feminist movement have embraced this positive development even though classist ideas (such as labeling heterosexual sex as "objectification" and "sin") unfortunately still persist in some feminist circles.

The irony of the feminist dogma of "objectification" is not just that it bashes women and female sexuality. Also, in reality women benefit when it becomes commonplace to display the female body in a sexual way. Allow me to explain:

In humans -- as with other great apes -- male sexual arousal is usually triggered by visual cues. The other great apes, however, can't control whether they're giving off visual sexual cues or not: a female chimpanzee has a red swelling if and only if she's in estrus, and there's nothing she can do about it. Since humans are at once highly social and largely monogamous, we've evolved a remarkable trait: human females can choose to display sexual cues or hide them at will (through the use of clothing, among other things).

Modesty is relative to culture (see topless on the beach). There exist cultures in which young women are generally prohibited from going out in public and where those few women who do appear in public must be covered in baggy clothing from head to toe. Traditionalists often believe that this is a good way to decrease men's inclination to view women as sex objects. This is an error. The real effect is exactly the opposite. Males are going to feel a certain amount of sexual desire no matter what. Taking the most obvious displays of female sexuality out of the public square merely changes the arousal triggers. It creates a situation where the mere presence of a woman -- even completely covered -- is sexually arousing. It takes away women's power to control whether they're giving off sexual cues or not.

Our society is a much happier place. Males, from a young age, are exposed to arousing images of women. This conditions them to require a fairly active display of sexuality (make-up and revealing clothing) before feeling aroused by the sight of a woman. I know many people will disagree and cite as an example some creepy guy they saw leering at every woman who passes. But as an obsessive people-watcher who has spent many years living downtown in more than one country, I can tell you that that guy is the exception. The overwhelming majority of men just interact with too many women on a daily basis to be aroused by every one of them. Let's face reality: a guy who fantisizes about having sex with every single woman he encounters wouldn't be able to function in society. It's because of this that the creepy, leering guy is the exception -- condemned by all -- instead of representing the expected male behavoir.

As a woman in a male-dominated field, I have a tremendous appreciation for how our modern society allows women to be seen as sexual on their own terms. On my own time I can put on a mini-dress or a bikini and enjoy the reactions I get. At work, I can dress in a professional way and expect that my male colleagues will treat me the same as one of the guys. This is because our culture allows for a huge range in terms of how much sexuality a woman can display.

So when I see a sexy woman in a bikini or less -- in real life or in the press -- do I want to degrade her by calling her stupid, exploited, and "objectified"? Not on your life!!! As a feminist, I have great respect for women who choose to display their sexuality, just as I respect the women who prefer rein it in a bit. That's what feminism is about: increasing women's choices.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

It's stupid, yet I can't stop laughing...

Over on Main Street Plaza we've been trying to persuade the Mormons not to be the biggest chumps on the planet by continuing in their (obviously unrequited) love for the religious right. Commenters felt that the Mormons will be ready to forgive and forget by November and that Utah's electoral votes would go to Republicans unless "McCain were to piss on the tabernacle organ."

Our own profxm obligingly provided a photo: John McCain urinating on the Tabernacle organ. I've linked to the photo instead of inlining it, to protect those with delicate sensibilites. ;^)

It is wrong of me to find this scandalous image hilarious? It's scandalarious!!! :D

Somebody's got to come up with an LOLCats caption for it or something...

Monday, February 18, 2008

Confidences, confessions, and advice...

I woke up to the most incredible feeling of dread. In those few moments of re-orientation while reaching consciousness, the full force of what had happened last night hit me. I ran my fingers along the side of my head, feeling the faint stubble on my fingertips and hardly believing what I had done.

"Ah, well, what's done is done," I sighed to myself, getting out of bed.

I grabbed my hairbrush and went to look in the mirror on the closet door. As I stood there brushing the remains of my hair -- the right side -- to a glossy sheen, I had to admit that it was rather striking as a look, although strange.

Just then Janie got back from her shower and saw me. She gasped, and her eyes opened wide behind her thick glasses.

"Oh, my heck!" she exclaimed, horrified. "What did you do to your hair?" Read the rest of the story ->

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Fabulous Carnivals!!!

I'm looking forward to seeing the Humanist Symposium "later today" on Café Philos!!! ;-P

Then, this installment of the Carnival of the Godless is not to be missed!!! Greta Christina has painstakingly illustrated each post with raunchy pulp fiction cover art!!!

Now, I'm not surprised that Greta is way ahead of me in the battle over who is the sexiest atheist blogger -- this lady is the expert on sexy!! The thing that really surprises me is that less than 30% of atheists polled voted for a woman at all. Now, I was led to believe that a supemajority of atheists are straight guys, and I was also led to believe that straight guys (in general) are so insecure about their sexuality that they could never vote for another guy as "sexiest" without feeling their own masculinity threatened. Am I about to have my assumptions challenged again?!

Clearly what we learn is that men are charmingly mysterious creatures and I will never fully understand their behavior. ;^)

One highlight from the carnival is the meme asking what kind of God would you be? Since faithful Mormons get to grow up to be Gods, I decided this would be a fun discussion topic for Main Street Plaza -- go here to add your thoughts!! :D

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Who is the sexiest atheist blogger?

Look, I've just figured out how to add a poll to a blog entry!!! In honor of this amazing new discovery, I've decided to ask the most pressing question in the atheosphere today:

F.A.Q. of this poll: (Cause I know you have questions!!!)

Q: Hey! Why aren't I on this list?
A: To answer this, ask yourself the following questions: Am I an atheist? Am I a blogger? Have I posted a picture of myself on my blog? Pictures of other people don't count, no matter how sexy they may be! (Yes, I'm talking to you slut and lifeguard.)

Q: So who are these people then?
A: C. L. Hanson, Greta Christina, Hemant Mehta, Ebonmuse, P. Z. Myers, John Remy, John Hamer

Q: Chanson, isn't it a little egotistical of you not only to list yourself here, but to list yourself first?
A: I've said it before and I'll say it again: this is a blog. It's supposed to be ridiculously self-absorbed. It's one of the conditions in Blogger's terms of service.

Q: Okay, but why are there so many men and so few women? Is it just because there are more male atheists than female ones?
A: No, it's because -- as a straight woman -- I'm totally biased on this.

Q: Biased? But... Chanson, isn't one of the people on this list your own brother?
A: Yeah, but I only listed him because I know for a fact that some of my gay readers want to vote for him. ;^)

Q: It's Valentine's Day -- shouldn't you be posting something romantic about your own husband instead of posting questionable polls about the sexiness of other guys?
A: My husband doesn't like me to post personal stuff about our relationship. Besides, none of these guys are going to win -- it'll be Greta for sure!! ;^)

Q: Why'd you use the "world map" poll theme? Because of the worldwide significance of this question?
A: Nah, I just like it.

Q: How come you don't have the atheist bloggers up against Christian or Mormon bloggers? Can't stand the heat?
A: That'll be the next round if people like this poll. :D

Monday, February 11, 2008

The most non-conformist girl in our dormitory

I watched the second hand slowly make its way around the clock face. For all of the bright, enthusiastic people running it, Sacrament Meeting in a BYU student ward really wasn't any more interesting than the Sacrament Meetings put on by the worn-out, tired families back home. And here of course Sacrament Meeting had the added fun of being mandatory, and I don't mean just "earn your stars in heaven" kind of mandatory. I mean more like "if you don't show up for church regularly, then don't bother to come back to school next semester" kind of mandatory. At BYU, your bishop was always watching, and an "ecclesiastical endorsement" from him every year was a requirement for continuing enrollment.

I shifted around in my uncomfortable wooden chair. The speaker had just gotten to the crying part of her story. I wished I were instead attending my Physics lecture that was held in the same building during the week. I felt like a real jerk for being so indifferent to the girl's spiritual joy in finding the one and only true gospel, but she'd already told essentially this same story in a couple of Fast and Testimony meetings, and I really just wanted to get home and out of these uncomfortable nylons.

The girl giving the talk was something of a celebrity or hero to our ward because she was a convert. She demonstrated the wonderful effects that the only true gospel has on people's lives when they join the world's fastest-growing religion. She was an inspiration to the rest of the ward who didn't have to find the true church because we were raised in it. I sincerely wanted to be happy for her. Yet I also wanted to go home. Read the rest of the story ->

Getting excited yet?

It's tomorrow... :D

Thursday, February 07, 2008

booze, the bottle, the sauce: alcohol

Mmm, delicious red wine!

During my exmo-social days I learned the art of "PUI." That's "posting under the influence." It turns out it's not so hard. With a little practice you can learn to write comments that are coherent, relevant to the conversation, and free of spelling errors -- even when you're so drunk you can't sit up straight in your computer chair. The problem is (as you'll quickly learn) a comment can be coherent, relevant, and free of typos, and yet still be really, really, really stupid.

So, as useful as it is to learn to post while plastered, it's an even more useful skill to learn not to do it.

I made myself a very strict rule about this once I switched to blogging (where you can't just go back and delete your posts the next day). It's particularly important if you like to post comments on the Bloggernacle blogs. I somehow imagine the faithful would be less understanding than the heathens if you go back the next day and post "please ignore all my comments from last night -- I was really drunk when I wrote that..." I even thought of inventing a breathalyzer computer peripheral for exmos which allows you to read all the web pages you want, but past a certain blood alcohol level it disables your browser's "post" function. Now that would be a useful gadget! If I knew how to build that, I'd make a fortune!!! ;^)

It was writing that furnished me with definitive proof that drinking does not make you any cleverer. If I'm typing in a draft that I've written out longhand, when the writing is neat and clear, I've found I usually have little editing to do. But whenever I get to a page where the writing looks a little slurred, I pretty much have to scrap the whole scene and start over.

Now you're probably thinking "Chanson, you can't seriously expect us to believe that a novel called Exmormon was written without the aid of large amounts of alcohol..."

Well, yes and no. The trick is not to drink and write at the same time. Here's how to do it: All day long -- during every free moment -- brainstorm the story, outline it, map out scenes, and compose the individual lines. Then, as soon as it's quitting time, have a nice apéritif. This temporarily breaks the obsession so you can relax and go to sleep early. And with the aid of a few drinks, you sleep hard, but for just a few hours. After a nice concentrated sleep, the dehydration wakes you up at two or three in the morning, ready to start writing. Then you go to the computer and brain-dump everything you composed in your head the day before until around seven in the morning when it's time to take a shower and go to work. (Why am I saying "you" here? Obviously I mean "me"...)

The drawback to this? Health, mostly, which is why it's better not to get struck by inspiration too often. It's not possible to do this for more than a few weeks at a stretch, and at the end of that you're basically a zombie. So hopefully by the end of a couple weeks the obsession has run its course, the first draft is done, and -- after a long nap -- you're ready to get back to real life.

Alcohol is the reason it's important to avoid the temptation to self-identify as a writer -- or as any kind of an artist, really. If you're, say, a software engineer or a mom, then hard drinking just makes you come off as irresponsible, and maybe even something of a loser. So you have a social incentive to avoid it. But when you're an artist, it doesn't have quite the same stigma. You can pass for "troubled" and "deep." It becomes an asset if you think about it. After all, it's just that much harder to get taken seriously as an artist if you're not a total basket case.

But suppose you've decided that you'd rather not sacrifice your health and other responsibilities for your art. You might imagine that the best strategy would be never to touch the stuff at all, in order to stay as far away from problem drinking as possible. But it's not clear that's the safest course. It seems like one extreme begets another, and a tee-totaling society produces a lot of people who have no idea of how to drink responsibly. This can lead to drinking problems which -- in the grand circle of life -- lead to "12-step programs" to lead people back to the other extreme.

Might there be a middle way?

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

It's not technically a run-on sentence, but...

Maybe it's too long....?

During a semester abroad learning the traditional music of a little country tucked away in the stans of central Asia, the students' own ambitions and desires get mixed up with the local political intrigues for a fabulous exotic adventure!

What do you think? Should I split it up somehow? Or otherwise improve it?

*** update ***

I think I'll go with the Exterminator's improved version:

While abroad in Asia studying the folk music of a little country tucked among the -stans, the students become embroiled in political intrigues and exotic adventures.

Thanks Exterminator!!! That's much better than what I had come up with!!! :D

Actually, it would be cool to have a whole paragraph, but I probably shouldn't push my luck... ;^)

What I'd like is a description like the first paragraph I wrote about Kindred Spirits or like the first half of my review of Brother Brigham, but it's tricky to write such a thing about one's own work. Author's myopia, perhaps?

Monday, February 04, 2008

Cephalopod Carnival of the Godless!!!

Outer Blogness's own Mind on Fire is hosting the "Book of 'Pod" edition of the Carnival of the Godless!!!

I'd give you a teaser, but it's easier to click on the link than to explain it. ;^)

Saturday, February 02, 2008

LFAB endorses Barack Obama for president!!!

And not just in a "lesser weevil" kind of way. I think this candidate is the leader we need.

I just finished reading The Audacity of Hope. (I know I was supposed to be reading my German lessons, but you know what they say "Procrastination is the mother of getting other useful stuff done." Or if that isn't a proverb, it should be...)

Barack Obama shows not only great empathy but also a great deal of respect for ordinary Americans. Over the past few decades, our political discourse has been maddeningly reduced to emotionally-charged (usually polarizing) soundbytes. The American people have been treated as though they can't handle any ideas more complicated than that. Barack Obama understands that our overall vision for America -- and strategies for how to get there -- are more complicated than a few catch-phrases, but not so much more complicated that everyone but the experts should be excluded from the discussion. He explains not only his reasoning but also his listening and learning in a way that invites discussion.

Personally, I've been incredibly frustrated by the use of the term "values" and especially "family values" in the last few election cycles. These code words look like such a clear-cut case of opposite-speak that it's easy to dismiss those who bestow these words on a narrow segment of the political spectrum as just a bunch of cynical politically-motivated liars. But Obama does not dismiss anyone out-of-hand. He recognizes that the "family values" people really are ultimately motivated by values the way progressives are, and that in fact people all over the political map share a lot of the same values. We'd all like to see America as a land of opportunity where people pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, so why not take a fair and rational look at what it would take to make sure opportunities exist, in terms of strengthening families, communities, and education?

In world affairs, Obama understands how important it is for America to take the lead morally. We need to hold our own policies up to high standards of ethics first in order to be able to expect the same from other nations. For our own security (if nothing else), we need international cooperation, and step one is demonstrating a willingness to cooperate and play fair.

Now I know a lot of you in the atheosphere are not happy about Obama's overt displays of Christianity. You'd like to be able to vote for an atheist. Hey, me too -- I'd love it if admitting to atheism weren't the kiss of death that dooms a candidate's chances before putting up the first campaign poster. But consider what Obama has to say (p. 219):

What our deliberative, pluralistic democracy does demand is that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals must be subject to argument and amenable to reason. If I am opposed to abortion for religions reasons and seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or invoke God's will and expect that argument to carry the day. If I want others to listen to me, then I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.

Then he goes on to explain that creationism (even disguised as "intelligent design") is not science, hence does not belong in the science classroom. "Reason -- and science -- involves the accumulation of knowledge based on realities that we can all apprehend." That's good enough for me, and should be for anyone who agrees with the Constitution on "no religious test" being required for political office.

Obama also explains how separation of church and state (even the "establishment clause" preventing government-sponsored religion) benefits religion, and was initially backed by religious leaders. I can try to tell Christians this message myself -- along with the message about shared values (see here) -- but they're more likely to believe it when it comes from one of their own. Such leadership will go a long way towards convincing the general population that non-believers deserve rights, fair treatment, and even a place at the table of discussion.

Now I don't want to bother with the negative side and explain why one should vote against Clinton. Frankly, I don't have a big problem with her except on foreign policy. I had a few choice words for Gloria Steinem, who saw Obama's success as unfair and apparently thinks feminism is about competing with other disfavored groups over who's the most oppressed. However, I don't want to blame Clinton for Steinem's article, and I don't want to advise people to vote against Clinton or to vote for "the black guy" over "the woman." I would like to ask people to vote for Obama because he's the best candidate, and because really he's a much better candidate than I ever expected would make it this far.