Saturday, May 30, 2009

I told you to "get over it" and move on???

Wow, I really need to work on my writing skills, especially clarity!

I was perusing my blog log this morning and discovered that the folks of RfM had linked to my ex-Mormon vs. post-Mormon vs. DAMU post. Here's their conversation (note: this link will be dead in two weeks). That's fine -- people are heartily encouraged to link to my blog! -- but the disconcerting part is that they seem to believe that in that post I was telling them that they need to "get over it" and move on!

Here's what I meant to say with that post: "Many people believe that to 'recover' from Mormonism means to forget about it (especially stop being angry) and move on. However, I disagree with that position. Even though I don't read or post angry rants myself, I don't want to judge people for being angry. Ex-Mormon, post-Mormon, DAMU -- we're all part of the same community, and shouldn't let labels divide us."

Does that come through in the original post, or did my double-negatives do me in? ;^)

p.s. I thank RfM for linking to me on their blog list. I only get a couple hits a week from that link, but almost all of them stick around to read part or all of Exmormon.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Survival on less than nothing: "The Jungle" by Upton Sinclair

I aimed at the public's heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach.
-- Upton Sinclair

The Jungle is one of those books with a reputation -- you can't read it without comparing the book it is with the book you expected. In the case of The Jungle, I expected a heavy-handed Socialist propaganda story mixed with a horrifically shocking description of filth being sold as food. It didn't exactly meet my expectations on either count.

The part about food preparation was disgusting, to say the least. Yet, strangely, it didn't shock me that much because I'd already heard about the worst parts before (the rotten meat coated with rat-dung getting thrown in to be sold as food and treated with chemicals to remove the stench, etc.).

Also, the story was more interesting than I expected. The socialist part is there, to be sure, but interestingly it's just at the end. Essentially, the story stops and then we're treated to a three-chapter discourse on Socialist theory, including a big plug for the Socialist newspaper that commissioned the work. It's like you're reading along then all the sudden it's "...and now, a word from our sponsor." Note that the discourse is about what today we'd call Communism (a command economy), not the modern usage of "Socialist" (which has come to refer to an economic strategy that uses both public and private organizations).

Up until that end bit, however, it's a living, breathing human story. Jurgis starts out with hopes, dreams, and ambitions; with a family and responsibilities. Through the course of the story, we see all of these things stripped away from him and more. The stress of the family's precarious position is almost unbearable as they struggle not to lose their investment in their house, and are fighting for their lives not to lose the basics of survival: food, clothing, shelter, and emergency medical care. Once that struggle is lost, Jurgis's life as a penniless hobo is comparatively simpler, despite his grief at the loss of his wife and son. Sinclair seemed to be demonstrating that "freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose," until, sadly, even that turns out to be false. Before the end, Jurgis loses every shred of decency and self-respect that he'd once had, going from having nothing to having less-than-nothing. A family member (who ends up as a prostitute) matter-of-factly sums up their mutual lesson: "When people are starving, and they have anything with a price, they ought to sell it, I say."

Sinclair did an amazing job of covering every single option that was available to Jurgis, from all different types of factory work, to migrant labor, to petty crime, to organized crime (political graft), to begging. And the reader can understand why Jurgis took each step and how he felt and how he changed. Sinclair -- despite the fact that he himself didn't have the limited options of an unskilled Eastern European immigrant -- shows remarkable empathy. In that sense it's like Zola's Germinal and unlike Uncle Tom's Cabin (where the author is horrified by the cruelty the slaves endure, but really only relates to the free, white characters).

Even though Sinclair explicitly aimed to illustrate the cruel injustice of Jurgis's plight, it's not a simplistic black-and-white caricature. For example, during the meat-packers' strike (which I gather Sinclair passionately supported), his protagonist (Jurgis) is a scab, and the reader still sympathizes with him and his plight. Sinclair really captures the complexity of the problems the unskilled immigrant laborers faced, which is why -- aside from the end -- the story isn't reduced to the heavy-handed propaganda and moralizing you normally get from ideologically-centered works.

That's also the reason the end part is so jarring: The problem he portrays is too complex to be neatly wrapped up with a simple solution.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Many of you have figured out by now that Main Street Plaza is down. Actually, it's been broken for more than a week. If you were thinking that the reason we hadn't posted anything new was because we'd run out of material, nope, it's not that. We have posts waiting to be posted, but unfortunately, we've been plagued with technical difficulties! I had hoped to wait until it was fixed, and then announce that it's fixed, but... well, we're working on it, and hope to be bringing you more fabulous discussion as soon as we can.

In the meantime, there have been some fabulous new carnivals posted! Check out Humanist Symposium #37 and Skeptica Parent Crossing #8!!! Also, the Carnival of the Godless is already up to episode #117, and the next one will be posted in just a few days over at Right to Think. It's not quite too late to submit a post.

Also noted: it turns out that it is now possible to buy Exmormon via Amazon. This may or may not be a convenience, given that they're charging $23.41 for it (presumably before shipping costs). There will be a new edition coming out this fall which I hope will be cheaper. Even if it's not, at least there will also be an e-version, including the illustrations. That means, of course, that you only have a limited time to get a copy of the super-expensive first edition -- which will undoubtedly one day be a valuable collector's item. ;^)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

My Adventures with Local Foods!

Thanks to some helpful comments on last week's local-food post, I've discovered it's not too hard to find online information about what's in season near you and where to buy it (some places to start: Local Harvest,, Sustainable Table, and Slow Food). The trouble is that most of these will just direct you to the news site of the farmers' market in your area -- there's no single global database where you can type in where you are and it will give you info on what's in season (and where to buy it). There's a certain logic, of course, since the info is local by definition. But I still think the sustainable food sites are missing a big opportunity, and here's why:

Currently, buying local food is a multi-step procedure which is not easy to share with your worldwide Internet friends. You must (1) go to one of the global sites (linked above), (2) type in your location so it will tell you how to find out about your local farmers' market, (3) go to the market or read their newsletter to discover what's in season, (4) find a recipe. None of those steps are hard, but in today's insta-society, that's perversely just hard enough to turn local food buying into some sort of obscure, esoteric hobby. And it's unfortunate because -- if they would just pool their databases and hook up with a big recipe database -- they could turn the procedure into a single fun click that could go viral in a snap!

I think I'll email the sites above and tell them to get on the ball. ;^)

Meanwhile -- even without checking the Internet -- I've started one local food habit, and I hope you will all be impressed by how very eco-friendly this is!

I like to buy beer from a local shop, and bring it home via public transportation. And -- going the extra mile -- I schlep it up two flights of stairs since we don't have an elevator. (Hey, it's cheaper than going to the gym!) The cool thing is that they sell the beer in re-usable bottles, so when we're done drinking it, we bring the bottles back. Then -- since the brewery is right near Zürich -- the bottles hardly waste any energy in transit making the round trip to be refilled with beer so we can buy them again!

Poking around their website, I don't see anything about them using local and/or organic ingredients. And yet, I think there's a high probability that they are using local organic ingredients. The Swiss are like that. It's one of the things I like about Switzerland. :D

Friday, May 22, 2009

Results of My Religious Identification Survey!

Since I didn't specify an end date on my poll, I will aribtrarily pick today as the day to analyze the results!

3% - Mormon (believer)
29% - non-theist (atheist, agnostic) with Mormon heritage
57% - non-theist, no Mormon connection
4% - non-Mormon Christian
5% - other monotheist
2% - polytheist

So what do I learn from this? Well, it looks like my readership is about a third Mormon-interest. That's cool because it means that I've got a niche, but I'm not confined to it. Similarly, 14% of readers reported being theists of one kind or another. That may seem like a low proportion, but I figure it's not that I have so few religious readers, it's just that I have so many non-theist readers! :D

Also, from the comments, it looks like a lot of people don't fit easily into simple categories, but instead have varied, individualistic attitudes towards what may or may not be out there. I think this applies to some people who selected non-theist as well as to those who picked "other monotheist." I was surprised by how many people selected "other monotheist" (because I'd kind of just thinking in terms of Jewish or Muslim believers when I wrote it), but I think it's rather a reflection of one phenomenon that was discovered in some of the recent U.S. national-level religious statistics: many people raised in the Christian tradition no longer identify as Christian, even if they still believe in God.

My biggest surprise, however, was the very low proportion of polytheists -- only 2%! I totally thought that neo-paganism and Wicca were on the rise and that lots of people are reading my blog in India. And I thought that the polytheists would be flocking to my blog after that post I wrote a while back explaining that I think polytheism makes more sense than monotheism (here). I really do think that, BTW -- belief in the supernatural is one thing, but to postulate on top of that that all of this chaos fits into a coherent plan of one loving and omnipotent being...? Let's just say that's a pretty big additional stretch. Interestingly, that post was cited on a theological discussion thread on an English-speaking forum in Pakistan. But that was a while ago, and I guess those readers didn't stick around...

Oh, well. All-in-all, it looks like we've got a fun bunch! Thanks for reading and commenting, everyone!!! :D

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Local/seasonal foods personalized recipe service!

OK, folks, I'm going to let you in on my million-dollar idea, mostly because I can't figure out why this service doesn't already exist. (If it's already out there and I've somehow missed it, please leave a link in the comments.)

Here's the deal: Recipes are big business. It's fun to page through cookbooks and cooking magazines to see the delicious-looking pictures and get ideas for new dishes that you might (theoretically) prepare at home. And there are billions and billions of recipes on the Internet! If you know what you want to cook, the procedure for finding the recipe is pretty much instantaneous. But the Internet hasn't really improved the procedure for getting recipe ideas. You still pick whichever recipe sites you like, and you get to see whichever recipes they've decided to post and feature that week. There's no advantage over just getting a subscription to a cooking magazine (except, perhaps, conserving paper).

So my dream service is the following: A little widget (that can go on a homepage or facebook page or whatever) that randomly finds me a recipe -- with a picture -- every day, according to my personalized parameters. For my personalized parameters, I'd like be able to enter a range of criteria, for example vegetarian or kosher, or, say, no strawberries (for people who are allergic to strawberries), or no broccoli (for people who hate broccoli), etc. And I'd like to be able to enter general preferences like the fact that I'm more interested in appetizers than desserts, I like Greek but not Thai, I prefer recipes that are easy, etc.

I'm illustrating this post with the pictures from the one-and-only recipe I've ever posted: delicious stuffed grape leaves!

And -- as a bonus -- I want it to use my locality information to pick recipes that feature foods that are in season in my area. Because, like every city-slicker liberal, I'd like to favor local, seasonal foods, but how the hell do I know what's in season? Sure, I can look around, and when I see that every grocery store has a million bunches of asparagus, all on sale, then that's a clue. But I'd like some more detail, and especially ideas for items that may not be familiar to me. I don't have that info, but I know there are databases that do!

Now, I'm sure there's a business model in there somewhere, for example a deal with some existing recipe databases to bring people to their site. Logically, the widget would just show the photo, the title, and the beginning of the recipe, and you have to click through to the real site for the rest.

What do you think? Does this exist already? If not, why not?? (I've done a number of searches, and I can't find it...)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Finding Love 101

Last week we deconstructed a finding love fail. The verdict was that (best case scenario) the guy was just having a bad day or (worst case scenario) he's a clueless, self-absorbed loser.

Unfortunately -- as amusing as it may be to call random people names on the Internet -- I really don't want my blog to be about gratuitously trashing people. I'm not going to waste time fretting over whether or not the name-calling was "nice" of me (because the niceness debate opens a whole new can o'worms). Instead I'd rather focus on constructive advice for people who can't find love and can't figure out why.

When looking for love, there are three key factors:

1. What you're offering. This includes the obvious things like your physical attractiveness, your wit, charm, intelligence, status, wealth, and earning potential, and it also includes valuable character traits such as loyalty, honesty, stability, trustworthiness, fairness (in particular a willingness to divide tasks with your partner fairly), open-mindedness, reasonableness, affectionate-ness (affectionality? cuddliness?), libido, etc. These are just some that came to my mind -- feel free to add any trait one might like in a partner.

2. Your expectations for a partner. See #1, only in reverse. Which traits do you value in a partner?

3. The set of people you meet. That is, your entire social network.

You can change all three of these things in order to work out an effective finding-love strategy.

1. People say that people should love each other for "inner beauty". I agree. The first step to inner-beauty-based love is to think about how you treat other people, and especially about how you treat your partner. (Henceforth in this article your future love-interest shall be referred to as your "partner".) Be considerate of your partner's feelings and make an effort to treat him/her how s/he would like to be treated -- don't just base your actions on how you personally would like him/her to treat you.

That said, physical attraction is a huge and critical part of love and romance. There's nothing wrong with wanting to be as beautiful as you can be and wanting to be with someone who's beautiful. I'd just recommend being realistic about it and not going totally overboard on the skin-deep component. (Also be wary of going overboard on wasteful wealth/status symbols.)

2. A lot problems arise from unrealistic expectations. I hope I don't have to explain what's wrong with saying (a) "It's not fair -- all of the [handsome, rich, outgoing] guys just want docile women with perfect bodies," or (b) "It's not fair -- all of the [sweet, gorgeous] women just want handsome, rich, outgoing guys! Those [sweet, gorgeous] women should stop being so shallow, and love me for who I am on the inside!"

Admittedly, there's also (c) "It's not fair -- even the ugly, unemployed guys who can't talk about anything but 'World of Warcraft' still only want docile women with perfect bodies" (regarding guys who believe in statement (b)), but it's a fallacy to imagine that all straight men suffer from unrealistic expectations. And that brings us to...

3. Meet lots of people! This is the most important factor, and it's a factor that many tend to under-estimate. Finding someone who offers what you want and who wants what you're offering is no small matter. You have to meet a lot of people to expect to find a good match.

I don't mean that you necessarily need to date (or hit on) a lot of people -- often it's better just to have a large network of friends. If you're nervous about approaching a prospect (of your desired gender/orientation), spending time with lots of different friends means frequently meeting new people in an informal context. (Who knows? Maybe your friend's roommate's girlfriend's cousin will turn out to be your soul-mate.) And you can make friends (and perhaps find love) while improving yourself doing social activities you enjoy such as clubs, sports, volunteer work, classes, etc.

The Internet is obviously a fantastic resource for meeting people. However, explaining the best strategies for meeting people online would require a whole additional course (Finding Love 102 perhaps?) which I hope will be offered by one of the other profs of the World Wide Blogiversity.

Now, probably some of you are going "Chanson, how cold and calculating! You must be the least romantic person on the planet. Going on a date with you must be like going on a date with Mr. Spock!" Guilty as charged, as I explained in the disclaimer to my atheist love scene.

But some people like that. ;^)

p.s. Unfortunately my brother has taken down the photos of me dressed as a Vulcan/Romulan for our community-cable Star Trek parody, but maybe I'll try to find them again and re-post them.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Most Insane Sitcom Premise Ever

Back in 1987, some network executives at NBC thought it might be amusing to do a show about two men, living together as parents. Obviously the makers of My Two Dads had to come up with a plausible explanation for how that could possibly happen. So they explained that the mom had been sleeping with two guys, got pregnant, didn't know who the father was, then died. Naturally, the the two guys moved in together. (It even has my favorite cliché!) Even back in 1987 (when I was Mormon), I thought it was completely nuts that this was considered a more palatable alternative to just having "my two dads" be gay.

I was thinking about this the other day, and about how this has got to be the most insane sitcom premise ever. Then I thought to myself, "Come on, the crazy premise is a key part of the sitcom formula. There have got to be plenty that are worse than that one." Let's see... identical cousins, whole families of monsters, prisoners-of-war that sneak out at night past their inept Nazi guards, a family adopts an alien that wants to eat their cat, beverly-hillbillies, Fantasy Island...

Yet, somehow, none of those can compete with "my two (straight) dads" when it comes to the sheer "Wha...? Why?" factor.

Of course that was a simpler time. I'm sure one of our modern "reality shows" can beat it.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

My Religious Identification Survey

VJack of Atheist Revolution discovered -- through the highly scientific technique of internet polling -- that his readership is more than 97% non-theist.

"Ha! I can do better than that," thought I. And -- especially after his first commenter remarked on what a shame it is that religious people don't read atheist blogs -- I decided to put my stats where my mouth is and post my own poll:

I realize this one isn't nearly as amusing as my earlier poll (Who is the sexiest atheist blogger?) -- that's why I decided to use the tropical vacation poll theme. So you can pretend you're taking a tropical vacation while taking this poll. Don't let that influence your answer, though...

Monday, May 11, 2009

Is this "nice guy" a "Poe"???

I consider myself very much a "pragmatic feminist." In my own writings, I don't like to focus on the misogynists -- holding them up to show how bad they are -- because I feel like that grants their ignorant POV more power and influence than it deserves. I'd rather work with male allies in a constructive way, if possible. So when I see feminists complaining about "nice guy entitlement", my first instinct is to say "Hey, let's cut them some slack -- at least they're trying to be nice, and that should be encouraged..."

Then I read this article (hat tip Bloggernacle Back Burner). It so perfectly captures the problem with self-described "nice" guys, that I almost wonder if it's satire! But whether it's satire or real, it's just sad.

I'm not saying this guy is a misogynist, BTW, but I will say that he's a bit clueless and self-absorbed. Or rather, he lacks the ability to read social cues, and in frustration he directs his hostility at women.

I kind of feel bad for him, but I feel worse for his unnamed female friend you can see behind his rant.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The State of AIDS Today: Elizabeth Pisani's "The Wisdom of Whores"

A.I.D.S. has been with us for a couple of decades now, but how much do we know about it? Its story has unfolded through countless articles across space and time, making it a little hard to follow.

Enter Elizabeth Pisani, an epidemiologist (and excellent story-teller) who's been in the thick of the international fight against AIDS from its earliest days. In The Wisdom of Whores: Bureaucrats, Brothels, and the Business of AIDS, she gives the straight dope on what happened -- where, when, and why -- with a focus on using data and evidence to track how the virus is spread, and on how to use that knowledge effectively to stop it. She has no time for euphemisms. Both liberal hand-wringing about stigmatizing affected groups and conservative/puritanical fear of the realities of sex and drugs can be obstacles to solving the problem.

The central dilemma is whether or not to push the claim that everyone is at risk. Pisani argues (with some impressive evidence to back her up) that HIV doesn't spread efficiently enough to stray very far from the high-risk groups: sex workers, men who have sex with men, injecting drug users, and people in southern and eastern Africa. The problem is that when you admit that AIDS won't kill us all, it's harder to drum up the sympathy (hence funds) necessary to effectively fight it, but when you exaggerate the proportion of so-judged "innocent" victims, you wind up with funds that have strings attached -- strings which tie your hands away from doing the very things that have been shown to prevent the spread of HIV: getting clean needles to drug users (including in prison), and getting sex workers and Africans to use condoms.

Friday, May 08, 2009

World-wide book discussions!

Thanks to everyone who has contributed so far to the discussion of The Authoritarians!!! In addition to a lot of insights in the comments of the original post, Matt has written two follow-up posts, one about how followers shouldn't be dismissed as innocent victims of bad leaders and another about the infamous Mormon plane-crash object lesson.

Then, for something completely different, I saw an interesting discussion of reaching the market for Mormon-interest literature. The question of what to do about "anti-Mormon" works naturally came up. And, naturally, I was curious to learn which works the Mormon Lit folks consider "anti-Mormon," so I put up a little game -- Anti-Mormon... Or Not? -- giving real-life examples of borderline works. And the Mo-Lit gurus were kind enough to continue the discussion by including my challenge in the litany of excellent links roundup! :D

Also, remember that for Non-Believing Literati we're reading The Jungle. Posts are due on May 29, so if you haven't read the book yet, it's not too late to join in the discussion. I imagine a lot of you have been thinking of reading this one since it's becoming relevant again (see, for example, this article, hat tip Pixelfish) -- so what are you waiting for?

I went to the bookstore last weekend to pick up The Jungle, but unfortunately it was sold out, so I had to order it. I'll get it tomorrow. In the meantime (being at the bookstore and all) I picked up another book at random, and it turned out to be very interesting! Stay tuned -- I'll post about this mystery book this weekend!!! :D

Saturday, May 02, 2009

The Authoritarians!

This is what I get making a simple observation about the tea baggers:

The weirdest disconnect in the whole right-wing-anti-government movement is their relative silence on the torture issue. This is just me, but I would think that if your issue is to supposed to be protecting freedom against tyranny (from your own government), then preventing your government from being authorized to torture people at will, without trial woud be a very big issue.

As a helpful explanation, Jonathan Blake suggested reading the (free e-book) The Authoritarians. Thanks Jonathan -- it is an absolutely fascinating read! I couldn't put it down! (...even though I had a bunch of other stuff I was supposed to do yesterday... grumble, thanks a lot Jonathan...)

As a bonus, it also explains (((billy)))'s riddle posted recently:

Please, Christian religious right: MAKE UP YOUR MIND!!!!! Either Christians are a persecuted minority, isolated and persecuted by the courts, the government, the schools, the publishing industry, the music industry, basically, just about everyone, or Christians are the majority who get to make the rules. Either one. It cannot be both.

Note that when the author researches "Right Wing Authoritarians," he has defined "right" as supporting "the established authorities in their society, such as government officials and traditional religious leaders" -- not the standard left/right political spectrum. Still, in North America the group he describes lines up pretty well with the Religious Right. Since his findings aren't very flattering to them (and you all know how much I love the Religious Right), I'll bet many of you are thinking "Confirmation bias!!!" (Yep, I've been playing Internet long enough to anticipate your next move.) But, seriously, the book is not long, and it's really quite readable -- go ahead and download it and read it. If you think this is just my bias talking, then I'd be very curious to have your reaction to the book itself, and discuss some of the author's points with you.

After that, we can all play a friendly round of the Global Change Game!!

p.s. to those who have already read this book: Were you thinking "Wow, that Global Change Game sounds like fun!" or is it just me?

p.s. to Bloggernaclers: You should suggest the "Global Change Game" for your next ward activity night. Seriously. It would be way better than that Plane crash object lesson.