Monday, September 29, 2008

A Question of Perspective

When we got to Rex's parents' house, the three boys immediately rushed upstairs to put their backpacks in Jared's room. Rex's mother met us in the entryway and took my jacket. "Hello, Lynn," she said, "It's nice to see you again." Then she yelled up the staircase, "You boys come back down here. What is the meaning of rushing off like that without even saying hello? So anxious to get to your video games that you can't even be polite to an old lady?"

The boys came back downstairs. "Sorry Mom," said Jared. "These are some guys I know from school, Sam and Joe." Read the rest of the story ->

Guest Posts!

I've just put up a couple of fun guest posts on two of the other blogs I write for:

Estimating the cost of bad investments, or how much did the Church lose on you? is a fun little piece for exmo BYU grads reprinted (with permission) from the Student Review alums mailing list.

Elder Norton’s Most Embarrassing moment… is a story about being young and horny, reprinted (with permission) from exmo-social.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Jane Goodall: human, primatitarian

Jane Goodall is a remarkable individual, known not only for her ground-breaking scientific research but also for her service. I'd like to say "service to humanity" here, but in fact she goes a step further, helping not only her own species, but her order: the primates.

When it comes to habitat preservation, the chimpanzees' interests and the humans' long-term interests go hand-in-hand. The rainforests (which are being rapidly destroyed around the world) are critical for maintaining our planet's surface -- that thin, delicate layer we rely on for life -- in a human-habitable condition.

If you're asking "What about the interests of the people who live near the rainforest and would like to harvest its resources?" -- remember that the continued existence of the rainforest is in their long-term interest as well, for themselves and their descendants. But when you're faced with a choice between "food today" and "no food today," it's hard to put future generations' interests first. That's one of the reasons why the Jane Goodall Institute's mission involves ecology as a sustainable source of livelihood for the local human population (see here). (The same is true of many other rainforest-preservation organizations, such as our local favorite, aiding the Masoala National Park in Madagascar in conjunction with the Zoo of Zurich.)

I know that rainforest preservation gets painted as some sort of out-of-touch, elitist cause (especially with the U.S. economy exploding lately). But the thing is that once a section of rainforest is destroyed, the tremendous biodiversity needed to sustain that ecosystem -- thousands (millions?) of species that haven't even been discovered and named -- isn't going to just grow back within the span of a few human generations. And what if humans discover that, in fact, we needed that giant green lung in order for our species to survive? And what if we discover this after it's too late? There are rainforests now, but we won't have them for long unless we do something. The Jane Goodall Institute is a good place to start.

But that isn't what sparked my interest in Jane Goodall and her work. Her books on chimpanzees were the first primatology books I'd ever read, put into my hands by a boyfriend during my BYU days. And I've just read a fascinating recent biography by Meg Greene that brings to life the story behind Goodall's chimpanzee stories, from Jane's childhood dreams, to finding a way to fulfill them against all odds, to her astonishing research and discoveries (chimpanzee tool-use, warfare, etc.) that have changed the way we think about apes, including humans.

Early in the story, Meg Greene points out that Jane Goodall wasn't just an ordinary-type scientist. She was a woman scientist:

But through her work, Goodall brought a woman's touch, one that emphasized relationships rather than rules, to be receptive rather than controlling, to be empathetic instead of objective. Her approach flew in the face of conventional science, a science defined by male views and values.

Interesting point, I thought, reading that in the introduction. I hadn't really thought of relationships as being at odds with rules or objectivity as being a "male" view or value...

So I read the entire book with an eye out for Greene's claim that Goodall's femaleness was crucial to her research. The evidence Greene presents for this hypothesis is the fact that Goodall named her subjects and wrote down what she observed them doing (instead of performing controlled experiments on them).

My counterargument?

As Greene herself points out, Goodall didn't invent the idea of doing scientific research through field observations. This had been the standard technique for all naturalists (including male ones), and had merely fallen out of favor around Goodall's time. And -- through this book -- we learn that Goodall had a number of other qualities that were also crucial to the success of her work: ambition, tenacity (finding every possible opportunity and refusing to give up in the face of major setbacks), courage (to follow chimpanzees alone in the wild when she was well aware that they might easily choose to kill her), stamina (to continue to do research even when she had malaria so bad she could barely get out of bed), self-confidence (to know she was right despite ridicule from much of the scientific community), not to mention intelligence and a talent for observation.

How many of these qualities are "female"? How many are generic human qualities? But when you're a minority -- as women are in science -- you're always viewed through the lens of your minority status. (Now I'm starting to wonder how empathy helped Madame Curie understand radioactive elements...)

Anyway, all in all, Jane Goodall is one truly astounding female primate! :D

Monday, September 22, 2008

See? There's no problem.

Once Grandma and Grandpa's new business was cleared off the table and put away, I started showing everyone how to fold the little silver slips of paper into birds. I figured that it would be better to keep it simple and have everyone fold the same animal.

With so many people, it went pretty quickly. Grandma and Grandpa had a hard time of it, but Dad and Sam did pretty well, and we even convinced Joe to put down his book and come over and help us. We were getting close to the end of our pile of papers when a knock came at the door.

Sam went and answered the door. From the kitchen I could just barely see that it was Rex and his little brother Jared.

Read the rest of the story ->

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Technical difficulties & rss warning...

Way back when I started blogging, I'd gotten into the habit of hosting all the images on a separate webservice and just linking to them. Well, that service seems to have gone down a couple of weeks ago, and my usual system of "just wait until it comes back up" isn't working. We can't seem to track down the contact info and passwords, so it might just be time to say goodbye to that service. So over the next few days I'll be editing old posts to add the images back to them. I expect this will send them back through the RSS feed, so subscribers -- prepare for some re-runs. ;^)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Carnival Bonanza!!!

First of all, we have my two favorite carnivals: The Humanist Symposium #25 and The Carnival of the Godless #100.

Then a couple more that I'm adding to my reading list! The 8th Carnival of Sexual Freedom and Autonomy and Tangled Bank #114.

And -- as a special bonus -- Runtu has started re-posting the lost entries from his legendary blog: "Joseph's Left One"!!!

Monday, September 15, 2008

How little do you know me after all these years?

Friday morning April dropped off Rex to visit his family and dropped me off at Matt's parents' house to see if I could help with any of the preparations for the reception. April and Susan and little Judy set off to do some picnicking and nature-walks in the canyons. Read the rest of the story ->

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Invisible Assumptions: Martin Gardner's The Flight of Peter Fromm

Martin Gardner's novel The Flight of Peter Fromm is a fascinating portrait of how an intelligent and fundamentally honest person can hold assumptions that he is absolutely incapable of questioning. Peter Fromm's core belief is in the critical importance of having precise answers to questions about the physical nature of God, and especially the question of whether Jesus' body was actually resurrected.

Peter starts out as a Pentecostal fundamentalist who is absolutely certain of the literal inerrancy of the Bible. He sets off to call the intellectual theologians to repentance, and that's where he runs into trouble. With an honest conviction that truth can withstand scrutiny, he delves into all of the different arguments against Bible literalism, and his beliefs gradually change as a result. He becomes fixated on the question of whether Jesus' actual physical remains were truly reanimated. No matter how much heart and effort he puts into it, he can't find a satisfactory answer. This is a problem for him because the one solution he absolutely cannot accept -- the solution that nearly breaks his brain and causes him essentially a nervous breakdown -- is the idea that it's okay to be uncertain about it. Either possible certainty (that the resurrection happened or that it didn't) is far less threatening to his worldview.

The most intriguing point for me is that it doesn't even seem to occur to Peter Fromm that this need for certainty is itself an assumption; one that could potentially be questioned. And, to be honest, it looks like what we're seeing may be the author's own blind spot. He shows us sincere, simple Christians who hardly realize that it's possible for a Christian to doubt the resurrection. He shows us the atheist Unitarian minister who has at least reached a definite conclusion about the resurrection, even if it's not the answer Peter wants to find. Then he shows us the Christians who don't care whether the resurrection really happened or not: because either they're shallow or because they lack integrity. The idea that an honest Christian might have thought seriously about theology and concluded that such questions aren't important? That possibility doesn't exist in this book's universe.

Naturally, it's fun to contrast this book with Duck Egg Blue, another Unitarian-interest book which argues exactly the opposite thesis. One of the main heroes of Duck Egg Blue is a (Christian) Unitarian woman who doesn't care in the slightest what is actually written in the Bible. She just makes up whatever she wants to believe and blithely attributes her statement to Jesus. She thinks that being picky about such things is just another manifestation of closed-minded authoritarianism, and the author Derrick Neill sets up the book's universe to prove her right.

Weirdly, though, the fictional set-up in Duck Egg Blue doesn't precisely contradict the thesis of The Flight of Peter Fromm. The Unitarian in Duck Egg Blue has a value system that's a lot kinder and more tolerant that a fundamentalist's, yet her beliefs come off as being as unexamined and naively simplistic as the beliefs of a Bible literalist, even if the author (perhaps?) intended her spirituality to be deeper and/or more reasonable.

We run into exactly the same conflict in Mormonism, with the Bloggernaclers standing in opposition to both the "True Blue Mormons" and the "exmos" (for a key to this terminology, see here). Wry Catcher wrote a fantastic analysis of this conflict in her post Grayer than thou?.

In a nutshell, the 'nacclers (and other liberal Mormons) congratulate themselves for having a more "nuanced faith" -- one that can withstand disbelieving some of Mormonism's claims without throwing out what's really important. Consequently, they accuse both TBMs and exmos of "black and white thinking," and accuse people who leave the church entirely of "throwing out the baby with the bathwater." But, ultimately, this is less a question of binary thinking than it is a question of which part did you think was the important part? One man's baby is another man's bathwater, so to speak.

I'd also like to point out that religion isn't the only subject where humans hold beliefs that are invisible assumptions that they're not even aware of, hence aren't capable of questioning. I'd give some examples, but of course once you recognize them, they cease to be invisible. My recommendation is to always remain open to the strange and unfamiliar -- stop and think first before fearing and rejecting what you don't understand.

Oh, and what about the book? The Flight of Peter Fromm. Was it good?

I enjoyed it quite a bit. The characters and situation are interesting and (obviously) thought-provoking. The passionate young man of God who's curious, introspective, and open-minded to a point (but ready to clock anyone who pushes him too far...) is a character like no other I've met in literature, and I'm glad to have met him.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Subversive BYU Gals and a stream-of-consciousness political memoir

We're Poindexter, Casey, Ollie, and Ron,
people are saying we've done something wrong.
All that we did was sell some guns
to the Ayatollah and some of his chums.

We came to power because of those guys:
they took Jimmy Carter and cut him to size!
So we'd like to thank them for all that they've done,
we're Poindexter, Casey, Ollie, and Ron...

That was the opening verse of a song one of my faithful Mormon BYU dorm-mates privately shared with me my freshman year. It was a song by a garage band from Portland, Oregon -- the sort of thing that would be on YouTube today, but back in those days would be smuggled in via "cassette tape" to be played on a "boom box."

What dredged up this random scrap out of my memory?

Well, I'm currently reading Reading Lolita In Teheran -- an absolutely fascinating book about bright young women surviving under the heavy veil of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Like weeds that can't be kept from growing up in the cracks of a paved-over surface, they find a way to live and grow -- in this case nourished by the forbidden study and discussion of literature.

The author/protagonist Azar Nafisi is a professor who recounts a little of her past here and there, including memories of that crucial and turbulent time that took a largely secular/leftist revolution -- the overthrow of the Shah -- and turned it into The Islamic Revolution.

Marjane Satrapi recounts some of the same events in Persepolis (which I've lately decided is my favorite film), but since Satrapi was a kid at the time (around my age, by coincidence), she's a little vague on some of the details that Nafisi fills in.

These two books reminded me that the crisis in Iran was one of my earliest political memories:

It was around the end of 1980 and beginning of 1981. I was nine years old, and we had just moved to Minnesota, where I was baffled by the strange slang, fashions, and customs that seemed to be a requirement for fitting in. But as difficult as it was for me, it was clear it could be worse: one of the girls in my new class was from Iran.

Her name was Sanaz, the same name as one of the characters in Nafisi's book. Obviously, my new classmates in Mr. Berger's 4th/5th-grade class had dubbed her "Sa-nose." I imagine that the kids had been instructed not to blame her for the hostage situation that was constantly in the news (since she was just a kid so it was obviously not her fault), but let's just say it wasn't the best year to be "the kid from Iran."

Now, reading in these books about all the people who fled Iran at that time, I can't help but wonder what her situation was, and what became of her (since I have no memory of her past elementary school).

I'd like to turn this into one of those heart-warming tales of how I befriended the outcast -- since it's not too far from the truth. But the thing is that in order to give something, you have to have something. Upon my arrival in Minnesota, I immediately took my natural place on the lowest rung on the popularity ladder, teased and bullied just the same (earning the far more imaginative nickname "Medusa" -- still not sure precisely how), whereas Sanaz was already friends with the other despised foreign girl (who I think was from Mexico). I formed kind of a loose alliance with the two of them in the grand tradition of misfit loners who don't necessarily understand each other any better than they understand the popular kids. I had no other friends.

I think if it were today, I would have been diagnosed somewhere on the "autism spectrum." But in those days if you were the weird kid, it was your own problem to deal with: sink or swim...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A (video) tale of two campaigns...

1. We have very serious problems to address -- can we stick to those, no matter how entertaining the sideshow may be? here

2. A candidate divided, or perhaps confused... here.

Have a look, and spare me the usual blah-blah-blah about how supporting one candidate makes you a "partisan" whose perspective must necessarily be a double-standard. Please indulge me and consider for one moment the possibility that there may be a very real difference in leadership skills and integrity this time around.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Persona non grata

It looks so small from a distance. When you're immersed in it -- living in Utah or in an LDS household -- Mormonism is like a cage with one small clouded lens to look out through that distorts your every view of the world.

Then one day you step out. You leave home, or you leave the Mormon corridor of Arizona, Utah, and Idaho, and suddenly it's as if it's hardly even there. It's this tiny, unimportant thing that you can forget about for days, weeks, months, even years at a time. You can take it out of your pocket and show people if you like, as an amusing conversation piece at parties. Or you can just not even bother with it at all.

Except that if you come from Mormon stock and your family is LDS, you occasionally have to face the disorienting task of stepping back in. Now, after more than three years apart at our respective universities and one year back together at grad school on the East Coast, Rex and I were about to step back in. Read the rest of the story ->

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Temple Wedding

begins tomorrow!

Just sayin'.

p.s. If you've been following Exmormon, please feel free to mention this on your own blog or favorite forum! ;^)

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Ask Chanson, via Google II

Those search queries just keep pouring in!!! Scrolling through my logs, I can see that the magic of the Internet has sent tons of people with questions (and in need of advice) to my blog, and -- never fear -- I am here to help!

As in the first installment of Ask Chanson, via Google, all of the following are actual unaltered search queries that led people to my blog:

Q: boys and girls and use the same bathroom?
A: In my apartment they do.

Q: what to say if you are an atheist and a good friend tries to convert you
A: Give him/her a copy of The God Delusion. J/K, if you value the friendship, that's probably not the best solution. Try having that "Let's agree to disagree and respect each other's values" talk. If that doesn't work, and the person insists on believing "everyone's a seeker until they've reached the point of agreeing with me," then I would start to question the value of the friendship.

Q: how to handle religious inlaws who don't approve of my atheism
A: Boundaries. I would highly recommend having a serious talk with your partner to make sure you're on the same page. Even if your partner isn't an atheist, you should be sure your partner understands the importance of treating one another with respect for the sake of family unity. If your partner blows off your concerns and thinks it's fine for his/her parents to be giving you subtle (or unsubtle) jabs, then try to avoid visiting your in-laws (encourage your partner to go without you).

Q: dad gave me the birds and bees talk
A: Good! If you have any further questions, I'm sure the Internet + Google can help! :D

Q: some people have nightmares about going to class naked
A: So true!

Q: three reasons why barack obama is the best candidate for president
A: (1) Energy independence and the environment are critical issues that need to be taken seriously now.
(2) He's very intelligent in an open-to-learning sort of way. I've read both his books, and his analysis transcends the standard left vs. right, and not in the sense of "let's find the most strategic way to compromise with our enemies" but rather in the sense of "let's analyze our problems and their causes without being limited to the traditional answers."
(3) Now that the other team has added a die-hard theocrat to the ticket (a sick old guy's heartbeat away from the captain's chair), they've completed the job of demonstrating they intend to stay the course 100% full steam ahead on GWB's failed policies. Frankly, with the addition of the abstinence-creationism-godly-war gov behind Mr. one-foot-in-the-grave, this is the most terrifying ticket I've ever seen, and I hope every citizen out there will be taking their job very seriously come November. I know I will. This is a critical election for the entire world...

Q: solution to discrimination against gays
A: I'd love to help you, if only I had a solution...

Q: worried about girls sunbathing topless
A: Sorry, with America's deadly dependence on foreign oil, the economy mortgaged to China, and the civil liberties of our Constitution hanging by a thread, you're worried about girls sunbathing topless? Sheesh, I wish that were my top concern...

Q: ex at family functions ignores me
A: That's too bad. But if it's annoying to run into your ex at family functions, next time don't marry your cousin.

Q: a man's visual arousal is part of his sin nature a man is not supposed to be aroused sexually by a womans physi
A: Hmmm. Well, if you feel that way, you can always go with a guy who's not aroused by women's bodies. One place to start is the various ex-gay groups. But I really, really, really don't recommend that option for straight women...

Q: did mary really appear at lourdes
A: What do you think?

Q: where to buy souvenirs in lourdes
A: Everywhere!!!

Q: masturbation versus spirituality
A: You can take my opinion with a grain of salt, but I think masturbation is better.

Q: what is the typical latin woman's behaviour
A: If you're imagining you'll get a concise and accurate answer to this on a blog, then that's a bad sign...

Q: signs that you're a stalker
A: If you have to ask, then you should probably cut it out, whatever it is you're doing.

Q: i feel awful for stalking a girl
A: Well, then, stop it and don't do it again.

Q: stephenie meyer perverted
A: That is so true! Have you read Twilight? **shudder**

Q: does masturbation harm your body for women
A: Normally it doesn't, as long as you avoid using ridiculously oversized sex toys covered with sharp spikes.

Q: is it true after been broken there is second virginity
A: It depends on your definition of "virginity," but, if possible, I'd avoid dating guys who would be influenced by such a thing.

Q: i'm the sexiest women in colombo sri lanka and i want to have sex with a guy in colombo
A: Well, your problem doesn't sound terribly difficult to solve. Why are you wasting your time on the Internet? Go outside and look around!

Q: get sexy woman who wants sex only in gujarat,india
A: Well, I can't help you on that, but you might consider a trip to Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Q: is thomas the tank gay
A: No, it's James. How many times do I have to explain this?

Q: atheist kilt
A: What, you're looking for a tartan with the red "A" woven into it? That would be cool, but I don't know of one. But one or more of these kilt-wearing guys are atheists.

Q: pictures of naked scotsman in kilts
Q: naked men in kilts
A: I hate to be a stickler, but if they're wearing kilts, then they're not naked...

Q: men look better kilt
Q: photos of men with kilts and no underwear
Q: photo under men in kilts
Q: men in kilts with no underwear on
Q: do men wear underware under kilts
A: Yeah, I've heard there's some sort of custom about kilts and no undies. I'm not an expert, but this guy seems to have the scoop.

Q: why don't men wear underwear with a kilt
A: Are you kidding? And give up that mystique? ;^)

Well, that's all for now. But remember, if you have a question of any kind, just type it into a search engine and an answer will appear!!! (Your mileage may vary...)

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Touched by greatness, in a sense...

Please see my latest post on Main Street Plaza: Thoughts of Nancy.

In it, I talk about the life and experiences of my great-great-great-great aunt who was one of the teen brides of Joseph Smith, founding prophet of Mormonism.

Monday, September 01, 2008

"Any resemblance to real people is purely coincidental."

This I don't get.

Why do fictional works so often have a disclaimer to the effect that "Any resemblance to actual persons -- living or dead -- is purely coincidental."? Especially in cases where it's clear it isn't true?

Are there libel issues?

It seems inherently disingenuous (since fiction is always based to some degree on the author's experiences, see edit your life), and also unnecessary -- since calling something "fiction" means it isn't meant to be an accurate retelling of real people or events.

Am I missing something?