Religion and Atheism in Geek Spaces

I was talking with a friend a couple of weeks ago about religion and codes of conduct for geek spaces. Geek spaces are unusual in the U.S. in that they lean toward majority-nonbeliever populations without explicitly being organized around a lack of religious belief. This can create some unusual dynamics that organizers might want to consider, one of which my friend was trying to figure out how to deal with. I’m sharing the outcome of me thinking about this, reading up on prior discussions, and talking with other friends here as a framework for others thinking these questions through.

The first thing to remember in spaces where a minority becomes a majority is that, while the power structures that exist outside these spaces may be attenuated within them, they don’t disappear. To use an example people are familiar with, men may unconsciously expect and even be allowed to disproportionately interrupt and talk over women even in feminist spaces. Their words may carry more weight. We carry the habits of a lifetime with us even into groups that are created to oppose them.

Those of us who are involved in organized atheism see proofs of this all the time. It’s trivial to find atheists telling atheist activists–in activist spaces—that they need to demonstrate more respect for the phenomenon of belief or religious tradition or the role that religion plays in society. Though atheists themselves, these people have internalized the demands of religious power and impose them on others.

If the concerns of the dominant religion can intrude into explicitly atheist spaces, they will intrude into spaces that are incidentally majority-atheist. They will continue to be found in geek spaces.  [Read more…]

Saturday Storytime: The Vaporization Enthalpy of a Peculiar Pakistani Family

Often in horror, it is the fantastic element we’re supposed to be fascinated by and fear. This is not so true in the stories of Usman T. Malik. This story was also nominated for a Nebula.

“I know you,” she whispered to the Beast resident in her soul. “I know you,” and all the time she scribbled on her flesh with a glass shard she found buried in a patrolman’s eye. Her wrist glowed with her heat and that of her ancestors. She watched her blood bubble and surge skyward. To join the plasma of the world and drift its soft, vaporous way across the darkened City, and she wondered again if she was still capable of loving them both.

The administrator promised her that he would take care of her children. He gave her food and a bundle of longshirts and shalwars. He asked her where she was going and why, and she knew he was afraid for her.

“I will be all right,” she told him. “I know someone who lives up there.”

“I don’t understand why you must go. It’s dangerous,” he said, his flesh red under the hollows of his eyes. He wiped his cheeks. “I wish you didn’t have to. But I suppose you will. I see that in your face. I saw that when you first came here.”

She laughed. The sound of her own laughter saddened her. “The world will change,” she said. “It always does. We are all empty, but this changing is what saves us. That is why I must go.”

He nodded. She smiled. They touched hands briefly; she stepped forward and hugged him, her headscarf tickling his nostrils, making him sneeze. She giggled and told him how much she loved him and the others. He looked pleased and she saw how much kindness and gentleness lived inside his skin, how his blood would never boil with undesired heat.

She lifted his finger, kissed it, wondering at how solid his vacant flesh felt against her lips.

Then she turned and left him, leaving the water and fire and the crackling, hissing earth of the City behind.

Keep reading.

“GMO Revisited!” Anastasia Bodnar and Greg Laden on Atheists Talk

Genetic Engineering, or Genetic Modification, is a process that creates a shortcut method to crossbreeding and hybridizing crops and livestock for favorable traits. Technologists create genetically modified organisms, or GMO’s, by inserting genes into the chromosomes of the target DNA. Sometimes the transplanted gene is from an organism in the same species as the target species, other times the gene is from a different species or it may be the case that an animal’s gene is spliced into a plant’s gene. In a recent show, Dr. Anastasia Bodnar and Mike Haubrich discussed the difficulties of spreading the news about the science of GMO’s due to rancor in the social media.

On this show, Dr. Greg Laden will join us to continue the discussion in a more positive light. We will go through the positive benefits of using genetic engineering to meet the growing demands of an ever larger population with a shrinking land area for raising the food to feed billions of people. We will address the ways in which the technology will adapt our food to help cope with the effects of climate change and help reduce other threats to the environment as well.

Related Links:

Listen to AM 950 KTNF this Sunday at 9 a.m. Central to hear Atheists Talk, produced by Minnesota Atheists. Stream live online. Call in to the studio at 952-946-6205, or send an e-mail to radio@mnatheists.org during the live show. If you miss the live show, listen to the podcast later.

Follow Atheists Talk on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates. If you like the show, consider supporting us with a one-time or sustaining donation.

Right Where Dr. A Pinched

I received a comment on my post about Isaac Asimov’s habit of sexually harassing women at conventions yesterday. I’ve seen and received other comments like it, but this one hits all the buttons. Because of that, I figure it’s worth responding to.

The commenter arrived via a Google search. There’s no indication that this person is who she says she is, but I’ll extend the benefit of the doubt for the purposes of this post. I’ve certainly seen these sentiments often enough from people I do know belong to old-time fandom. I’ve seen them as recently as the WisCon debacle, when some of these people were forced to confront the fact that a friend of theirs had harassed many women over the years (me included) and the fact that other friends of theirs had ignored and enabled the problem.

In fact, if I hadn’t seen that behavior, I probably wouldn’t bother with a response to this comment. To me, the problems with it are transparent. Apparently, however, that isn’t the case for everyone. [Read more…]

Saturday Storytime: When it Ends, He Catches Her

This is another Nebula award nominee. Eugie Foster died the day after it was published. Though she was much mourned, that isn’t why this story was nominated.

Act II, scene III: the finale. It was supposed to be a duet, her as Makira, the warlord’s cursed daughter, and Balege as Ono, her doomed lover, in a frenzied last dance of tragedy undone, hope restored, rebirth. But when the Magistrate had closed down the last theaters, Balege had disappeared in the resultant riots and protests.

So Aisa danced the duet as a solo, the way she’d had to in rehearsal sometimes, marking the steps where Balege should have been. Her muscles burned, her breath coming faster. She loved this feeling, her body perfectly attuned to her desire, the obedient instrument of her will. It was only these moments that she felt properly herself, properly alive. The dreary, horrible daytime with its humiliations and ceaseless hunger became the dream. This dance, here and now, was real. She wished it would never end.

The music swelled, inexorable, driving to its culmination, a flurry of athletic spins and intricate footwork, dizzying and exhilarating. Snowbird’s Lament concluded in a sprinting leap, with Aisa flinging herself into the air just above the audience–glorious and triumphant at the apex of thunderous bars of music. But she had to omit it. There was no way to even mark it, impossible to execute without Balege to catch her.

Out of breath, euphoric but dissatisfied, she finished on one bent knee, arms outstretched, head dramatically bowed in supplication. The score in her head silenced. This was where the curtains were supposed to come furling down and the audience was supposed to leap to its feet in a frenzy of adoration. But there was no one to work the ropes and pulleys, and the rows of benches in the theater were all empty.

It didn’t matter. She didn’t dance for the accolades and applause. When the last stages and theaters in the artists’ district had barred their doors, when all the performances had gone forever dark, Aisa had found this place, this nameless ghost of a theater. So ramshackle to be beneath the Magistrate’s attention, so ruinous that no one had bothered to bolt the doors, it had become her haven, the place she fled to so she could dance by herself in the darkness and the silence. No matter that the world had turned to chaos, in the end, a dancer danced. It was the only peace, the only sanity that remained.

A pair of hands softly clapping in the wings intruded upon her reverie.

Keep reading.

“Breath of Wilderness: The Sigurd Olson Story,” Kristin Eggerling on Atheists Talk

Sigurd Olson was a conservationist and writer and a driving force in preserving the solitude and quiet peace of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. A native Wisconsinite who moved to Minnesota to teach biology, he faced the displeasure of many around Ely who wanted to have fly-in resorts and roads through the pristine natural wonders in Northern Minnesota. Kristin Eggerling has written a biography of Sig to illustrate for children the importance of fighting to save the quiet places and to instill a love of the natural world around us.

Kristin Eggerling is a conservationist and a writer who lives in Northern Minnesota. She will be in the studio as our guest for this show, talking with Mike Haubrich about the inspiration of the wilderness and how it gives her breath.

Related Links:

Listen to AM 950 KTNF this Sunday at 9 a.m. Central to hear Atheists Talk, produced by Minnesota Atheists. Stream live online. Call in to the studio at 952-946-6205, or send an e-mail to radio@mnatheists.org during the live show. If you miss the live show, listen to the podcast later.

Follow Atheists Talk on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates. If you like the show, consider supporting us with a one-time or sustaining donation.

Saturday Storytime: A Stretch of Highway Two Lanes Wide

Continuing this week with Nebula award nominees, it’s always fun when the nominated stories that were previously subscription-only become more widely available. This one, from writer and singer Sarah Pinsker, seems to have been the first. Let’s hope the rest come out.

In the mirror, he saw his gaunt face, his narrowed shoulder, the sleeve. His left arm, with its jagged love letter. On the right side, he saw road. A trick of the mind. A glitch in the software. Shoulder, road. He knew it was all there: the pincer hand, the metal bones, the wire sinew. He opened and closed the hand. It was still there, but it was gone at the same time.

He scooped grain for the horses with his road hand, ran his left over their shaggy winter coats. He oiled machinery with his road hand. Tossed hay bales and bags of grain with both arms working together. Worked on his truck in the garage.  Other trucks made their slow way down a snowy highway in Colorado that was attached to him by wire, by electrode, by artificial pathways that had somehow found their way from his brain to his heart. He lay down on his frozen driveway, arms at his sides, and felt the trucks rumble through.

 

#

 

The thaw came late to both of Andy’s places, the farm and the highway. He had hoped the bustle of spring might bring relief, but instead he felt even more divided.

He tried to explain the feeling to Susan over a beer on her tiny screen porch. She had moved back to town while he was in the hospital, rented a tiny apartment on top of the tattoo parlor.  A big-bellied stove took up most of the porch, letting her wear tank tops even this early in the season. Her arms were timelines, a progression of someone else’s skill; her own progression must be on other arms, back in Vancouver. She had gone right after high school, to apprentice herself to some tattoo bigshot. Andy couldn’t figure out why she had returned, but here she was, back again.

The sleeves of his jacket hid his own arms. Not that he was hiding anything.  He held the beer in his left hand now only because his right hand dreamed of asphalt and tumbleweeds. He didn’t want to bother it.

“Maybe it’s recycled,” Susan said. “Maybe it used to belong to some Colorado rancher.”

Andy shook his head. “It isn’t in the past, and it isn’t a person on the road.”

“The software, then? Maybe that’s the recycled part, and the chip was meant for one of those new smart roads near Toronto, the ones that drive your car for you.”

“Maybe.” He drained the beer, then dropped the can to the porch and crushed it with the heel of his workboot. He traced his scars with his fingertips: first the scalp, then across and down his chest, where metal joined to flesh.

“Are you going to tell anybody else?” Susan asked.

He listened to the crickets, the undertones of frog. He knew Susan was hearing those, too. He didn’t think she heard the road thrumming in his arm. “Nah. Not for now.”

Keep reading.

“As the Board Turns”, 2015 MN Atheists Board on Atheists Talk

Stop me if you have heard this one before.  “If atheists don’t believe in anything, why do they organize and talk about nothing?”  Far from being a Seinfeldian sideshow, the Minnesota Atheists are a very active group. We are very much involved in the community; volunteering for various worthy causes, having fun with fellow atheists, meeting and speaking and watching and listening and just generally enjoying each other’s company.  With so much activity, we need to have a board of directors to make decisions and generate ideas as well as revenue.  Each year we elect a new and fresh board and on this episode we talk to members of the board so that people know who is representing them.

Listen to AM 950 KTNF this Sunday at 9 a.m. Central to hear Atheists Talk, produced by Minnesota Atheists. Stream live online. Call in to the studio at 952-946-6205, or send an e-mail to radio@mnatheists.org during the live show. If you miss the live show, listen to the podcast later.

Follow Atheists Talk on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates. If you like the show, consider supporting us with a one-time or sustaining donation.

Family Matters: How Geek Communities Turn Dysfunctional

“My people!”

If you’ve ever followed Twitter as your friends walked into a conference or convention, you’ve seen this. Someone sees a fellow cosplayer, a T–shirt from their favorite obscure fandom, 201–level discussions of issues that are ignored in mass media, or even the simple lack of the background nonsense they deal with everywhere else, and they are home. They’ve found their people.

“Our baby!”

A software startup, a magazine, a political campaign, an event, or an organization—there is nothing quite like seeing all your hard work and sacrifice build something new. Creation is a heady thing that only becomes more intoxicating when shared. When you create together, you don’t have to wait for the final product to exult. You can celebrate each accomplishment, each step of realized potential, as your baby comes to be. [Read more…]

Mock the Movie: Uncredited Cameo Edition

Your Mock the Movie crew is indulging themselves on two fronts this month. First, we’re taking on a classic film with a decent script, good actors, and stat- of-the-art (for 1954) special effects. Then, while we’re doing that, we’ll also be playing Spot the Nimoy, because we can.

That’s right, we’re watching Them!, that granddaddy of nuclear paranoia monster films. Don’t worry, though. There’s still plenty to mock even in a decent film. We’ve got this.

This one is available at the Internet Archive. [Read more…]