Producing The Humanist Hour

Those of you who are friends on Facebook know that I recently became the producer for The Humanist Hour, the American Humanist Association’s podcast. Bo Bennett decided he wanted more time to work on his personal projects, and in a whirlwind 48 hours of good timing and good credentials, I applied and was hired to take his place.

Bo’s been building up the team of interviewers over the last few months. If you’ve followed the show in the past, you know Kim Ellington. Peggy Knudtson and Jenn Wilson are recent additions. I’ll do the occasional interview as well as producing, because I know I can’t help myself when there’s a good guest whose brain I can pick. We’re all excited to bring you solidly humanist content.

What does that mean, and how will the show change? The biggest immediate change is that the show is moving to a biweekly schedule. Will it will stay that way? Stay tuned. We’re very enthusiastic about this show.

Otherwise, you can listen to Jenn interview me in my first podcast, where I talk about our plans. Even if that doesn’t interest you, listen to the rest of the show. Kim attended the Black Nonbelievers anniversary celebration in Atlanta last month, and she talked to a fascinating array of authors you probably haven’t heard of but should. Really, give it a listen.

Reproductive Justice: Activism on the Sidewalk

I don’t have any new stories from clinic escorting for you. Two weekends ago, I was out of town for Secular Social Justice. This weekend, I was still recovering from con crud.

You don’t need me, though. Instead, have Niki Massey, who’s been doing this far longer than I have and who inspired me to start escorting. This was her talk at Skepticon, given on about ten minutes notice on Sunday morning when another speaker couldn’t appear. She volunteered without thinking when she found out about the problem, and neither I nor the organizers gave her any time to change her mind.* You can see why.

* I did make sure she was well taken care of after the talk. I’m only so cruel.

The Reading List, 2/7/2015

I share a lot of links on Twitter and Facebook that I don’t blog about because I don’t have much to add. The reading list is a periodic feature where I share those links with my blog audience too. Of course, you’re still welcome to follow me on Twitter.

  • Why the calorie is broken“–“Humans are not bomb calorimeters, of course, and we don’t extract every calorie from the food we eat. This problem was addressed at the end of the 19th century, in one of the more epic experiments in the history of nutrition science.”
  • If You Don’t Take Women’s Harassment Seriously, You Don’t Want to Understand The Problem“–“Every few months stories like these make it into the news cycle, even though related harassment and assaults are happening every day in the US and elsewhere.  When stories do surface, people express surprise, sadness and outrage, all of which seem to dissipate in a heartbeat.”
  • Navajo water contamination more horrific than Flint Michigan’s“–“Navajo water has long been contaminated by Peabody Coal mining on Black Mesa, uranium spills, strewn radioactive tailing from the Cold War uranium mining, and recently the EPA’s poisoning of the Animas and San Juan Rivers.”
  • Pregnant, Sick With Zika—and Prohibited From Getting an Abortion“–“Of the countries that have called on women to avoid pregnancy, only Colombia allows for abortion in cases of fetal anomaly, and the vast majority of nations in the region don’t permit abortion in such cases. Even in Colombia, 99 percent of abortions are clandestine, because so many women are turned away by doctors who won’t perform the procedure.”
  • 10 Things I Hate About Sex (Scenes)“–“You know what two words NEVER belong in a sentence together? Nipples and scissors.”
  • Female Shark Wins Seoul Aquarium Turf War, Eats Male Shark“–“Despite her best efforts to make a meal of the male shark, the female shark is expected to at some point regurgitate the remains of her former roommate.”
  • free memberships to CONvergence (& many other cons)“–“The following SFF con memberships are newly available, first-come first-serve, to fans of color/non-white fans”
  • UrsulaV explains the Oregon Occupation“–“Here’s what I don’t understand about the Oregon militia, and because I’m me, I will use Star Wars as a metaphor.”
  • Against ‘Don’t Read the Comments’“–“The fact that we joke about it documents an acceptance of a culture of abuse online. It helps normalize online harassment campaigns and treat the empowerment of abusers as inevitable, rather than solvable.”
  • NECSS and Richard Dawkins“–“First, many have pointed out that if we had such reservations about Dawkins we should not have invited him in the first place. This is a fair point.”
  • Feminism isn’t a side issue, it is a central issue in any movement with a pretense to rationalism“–“Feminists tend to be natural allies of the atheist movement, except as we’ve been seeing lately, when self-proclaimed leaders of that movement use their pulpit to dismiss their concerns as minor disagreements getting in the way of the great cause.”
  • ‘Hundreds’ of masked men beat refugee children in Stockholm” (warning: auto-play video)–“Before the attacks, the mob handed out leaflets with the slogan ‘It is enough now!’ which threatened to give ‘the North African street children who are roaming around’ the ‘punishment they deserve’.”
  • The readers’ editor on… handling comments below the line“–“As a result, it had been decided that comments would not be opened on pieces on those three topics unless the moderators knew they had the capacity to support the conversation and that they believed a positive debate was possible.”
  • Let’s Talk About The Other Atheist Movement“–“I don’t want to talk about Richard Dawkins. Not today. I want to talk about the amazing, indispensable atheists I work with, and all the positive changes they’re making in the world.”
  • FOMO for Writers: in which bad puns are mostly avoided“–“If you want to make a career of this, you really need to go to cons. Or man, it sure does help. And then when you get back you have something to talk about on Twitter, with the people you now know. Unless you’re bad at Twitter, and you can’t afford to get to a con.”
  • Observations on the Nebraska Walk for Life“–“It was around this time that his friend in the green coat turned around, got a couple of inches from my face and said, ‘I love you. I love you and there’s nothing you can do about it.’ I told him that was creepy.”
  • Dawkins insults feminists, complains when feminists feel insulted“–“Here’s a link to the video, but if it you don’t want to watch it I don’t blame you in the slightest. I didn’t want to watch it either, but did so that I could provide this transcript”
  • To the Ghosts of the Past I Left Behind“–“In one case, I had known a particular friend for over twenty years, but I knew all too well how the conversation would go if they found out — in fact, I knew because we had discussed evangelism tactics over lunch once in the past.”
  • A question for straight people“–“From lobotomies and workplace harassment to bullying and violence by the state, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people have long experienced unique forms of discrimination tied to our sexual orientation and gender identity. It is because of that discrimination that Pride is important and is the reason why Pride exists.”
  • The left must speak uncomfortable truths about migration and sexual violence“–“The truth is this: Asylum-seekers, refugees, emigrants and immigrants are people, human beings in a full spectrum of behaviours and qualities.”
  • Please Don’t Eat Your Placenta“–“Neither of these functions is even remotely relevant in a modern human context. Unless, that is, you gave birth in a forest full of hungry wolves.”
  • World Fantasy Con 2016 doesn’t care about your harassment and accessibility concerns“–“The screengrabs show that the people behind WFC 2016 were told repeatedly that they needed these policies, and that it is unfair to not have the policies up before the lower registration fee deadline passed.”
  • Police swarm Katherine Clark’s home after apparent hoax“–“Clark said she assumes she was targeted because she has spoken out on the issue. She is the sponsor of the Interstate Swatting Hoax Act, which would make it a federal crime to spur an emergency response by any law enforcement agency without cause.”

Saturday Storytime: The Sincerity Game

I’ll be right back. I just need to go read all of Brit Mandelo‘s stories.

Hiding in plain sight—that’s a version of the sincerity game.

Or, more accurately, it’s a motif.


The fairy–lights strung over the bar’s patio lit his face in pale blues and reds. I knew the line of the jaw, the abrupt bump of muscle between neck and shoulder that I had mouthed with mute passion two nights before in a cold backyard like a teenager. I threw back the last of the PBR I’d been sipping, ordered another, and watched him. He was alone, tense, leaning against the far end of the bar top, knee jiggling in a jerky pattern that didn’t match the music. His mouth was pressed into a tight line when it wasn’t wrapped around the neck of a bottle—some high–price IPA, I suspected, pegging him by his black–rimmed glasses and unsubtle air of agitation as someone a little more hip than the laughing man I’d fucked around with before.

I could do hip. I could handle that, palm it, pull it in where I wanted it to be.

I went over, half–smiling, holding my beer at waist level with my free thumb tucked through a belt loop. Casual, relaxed, open. Evens to his odds. As I approached his eyes cut over to me. He raised an eyebrow and watched the close of my approach, then said, “Fancy seeing you here.”

“I was about to suggest the same thing,” I said, turning my back to the bar and slouching against it a couple of inches from his perch. “I guess you left the party, the other night?”

“I did,” he said.

There was a moment’s silence. I sipped, he sipped. Our eyes roved. He looked good in the colored lights, lithe and fit, wearing nice slacks and a tight thin sweater. I wondered at the odds of seeing him again, counted them higher than usual—small groups of friends, moving in the same circles, going to the same watering holes. Of course I might run into him.

“I’d ask if you wanted another drink, but I’m cheap,” I said with an edge of a smirk, glancing from under lowered eyelashes. Rolling the dice.

“But you would like me to be drunker,” he said. His voice had taken on the high–tone of a joke, a ruse, a little game of one–upmanship.

I bit. “Oh, certainly. It’ll make me more palatable.”

Self–deprecating humor: the kids love it.

“Good,” he said. His grin flashed incongruously white; his eyes were a silver–grey that stole the breath right out of my chest when I met them stare for stare. His voice dropped, normal and soft and so suddenly unapproachable. “I do need help with that. Otherwise, I might get bored.”

I swallowed a mouthful of razor–cold beer, looked out across the patio.

And all I had to say was, “Touché.”


The sincerity game is a tactic, or so I like to think of it, for revealing significant information but in the process making the truth seem so outlandish, so comedic or harsh or impossible, that the listener skips straight past it without acknowledgement. Tell the truth; it comes out like a lie. Then tell a lie, tell it simple or awkward or stammering; it comes out like the truth. And it’s all a joke. We live in the age of post–postmodern irony—the new sincerity is no sincerity at all, I hear.

In short: I am a liar, but I am also quite sincere.

Keep reading.

No, You Can’t Address Misogyny in an Election Year, Comments Edition

Yesterday, I posted something about the race for the Democratic nomination. It wasn’t an endorsement of either candidate. It made no argument in favor of either candidate. It didn’t even express my preference for either candidate.

What I posted yesterday was a critique of the political process as it’s playing out this year. It pointed out that allowing our progressive selves to embrace decades of right-wing character assassination of Hillary Clinton harms more than Clinton. It pointed out that doing this harms me and other women who have been subjected to similar campaigns for being politically active and effective. And it pointed out that it’s nearly impossible to get people to pay attention to this problem.

It also said this:

Commenting note: If you think a personal reflection like this is a place to argue for or against your candidate, whoever that might be, think again. Think hard. Trying to talk about this problem–and having that treated as though I were campaigning instead of engaging in the same cultural critique I do every day as a feminist–has been exhausting and disheartening. My reserves of diplomacy are running low.

Here are the comments I received on that post that you won’t see there. [Read more…]

If Clinton Is a Monster, So Am I

I was chatting with someone last night about politics, like you do, privately, like you do, so we could have a conversation instead of being interrupted by people telling us how Hillary Clinton is evil. Things get a little rough when politics turns people into sea lions. He mentioned appreciating a piece on the Democratic contest at Shakesville, so I went looking for it.

I don’t know whether “Expectations of the Monster” is the piece he was talking about, but I didn’t get past it. I got stuck instead, stuck trying to figure out how to share it. I got stuck trying to figure out how to get people to read it as it was, there on the screen, instead of as a piece of partisan propaganda. It was the same stuck I’d been trying to figure out how to share the “All-Caps” piece (warning: brief auto-play video at the bottom of page) from earlier.

I was still stuck when I went to bed. When I woke up, this is what came out.

When we’re talking about the Democratic presidential nomination, and I tell you that Hillary Clinton’s actual record shows continual movement to the left (which is not flip-flopping), some of you will tell me that you just don’t trust her. You’ll tell me Clinton is calculating, cold, evasive. You’ll point to “scandals” as though the existence of so many allegations proves there must be some core of fact.

You might as well call me “dogmatic” and “authoritarian” to my face. [Read more…]

Getting Fun Again

Late Saturday afternoon, we were arguing about armed revolution, and I was grinning my head off. (I have a minor interest in the topic.) Sunday morning, talking plans and projects, I thought to myself, “You know, this movement could get fun again.”

Me listening to Sikivu Hutchinson at the end of Secular Social Justice. Photo by Alix Jules. Used with permission.

Me listening to Sikivu Hutchinson at the end of Secular Social Justice. Photo by Alix Jules. Used with permission.

It’s hard for me to talk about the value of a conference like Secular Social Justice. We need space for these topics, yes. We need to hear from these activists both about the problems they’re grappling with and about the solutions they’re finding, yes. We need to put this vigorous humanism center stage in a movement where even the humanists have centered atheism, yes.

More than that, though, we need to come together sometimes in places where we’re not having to justify any of that. We need to spend our energy on each other and our work and our dreams. We need to be where our voices drown out all hostile chatter instead of it happening the other way around. We need the time and the space and the energy to concentrate on each other.

There aren’t many places in the atheist and humanist movement where I see that happen on this scale. It happened at the first Women in Secularism conference, where what happened on stage was only the smallest part. Nearly five years later, we’re in a different movement, one where women are approaching 50% of conference speakers, anti-harassment policies are standard, and even Richard Dawkins faces significant consequences for targeting feminists. [Read more…]

Mock the Movie: Tarantella Edition

The tarantella is a dance, supposedly with its origin in a spider bite. Tarantella is also a spider woman, according to Mesa of Lost Women. You can tell by those things on her fingers. And by the dancing, which isn’t anything like a tarantella, but why invest in new words when you can grab some old ones and call the whole thing “ethnic”?

This one is available on YouTube. [Read more…]

Saturday Storytime: The Spy Who Never Grew Up

If you’ve read here for any length of time, it will be no surprise to you that I love to see stories grow and change, like this from Sarah Rees Brennan.

The submarine drifted to a stop not far from the island, the periscope breaking the surface of the water like the lifted nose of an inquisitive pointer dog. After a few minutes, a man emerged from the submarine and got into a boat, one not at all like the children’s boats arrayed on the shore.

When the boat sliced through water to white sand, the man stepped out of it.

They had given him a number, and taken away his name. Unfortunately for him, his number was 69.

This was a subject of many tasteless jokes in the Service, but nobody would have known that from 69’s serious face and his extremely dapper black suit.

He took a few purposeful steps along the shore to the forest, then looked down. Under his feet, and under a layer of the black grease of age and filth were pebbles like jewels, and children’s toys, and human bones.

There was a barely perceptible shift in the air before his face, but the men and women in Her Majesty’s Secret Service are extremely highly trained. 69 looked up.

The boy before him was beautiful in a slightly terrible way, like a kiss with no innocence in it.

More to the point, he was holding a sword as if he knew how to use it, and floating about a yard above the ground.

“Dark and sinister suit,” said the boy. “Have at thee.”

“I am afraid I do not have time to indulge you,” 69 said. “I am here on a mission from her Majesty.”

“Ah,” said the boy, tilting his chin. “I know it well.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“The Majesty,” the boy said, waving his sword vaguely. “Belonging to… her. I know all about it.”

“Her Majesty the Queen,” 69 said with a trifle more emphasis than was necessary.

“I knew that,” the boy informed him.

“She feels that the Service has a need for a man—”

The boy hissed like a vampire exposed to the sunlight, lifting his free arm as if to protect himself from the word. Man.

“Excuse me. A boy of your special talents,” 69 said smoothly. He had been raised in diplomatic circles.

The boy spun around in a circle, like a ballerina with a sword in zero gravity.

“My talents are special! So awfully special!”

“Indeed,” said 69. His countenance remained unchanged. 69 was very highly trained, and also a gifted amateur poker player. “And the Queen needs—someone of such talents for a job.”

The boy started to laugh, a high lovely laugh that wavered between a baby’s gurgle and the peal of bells. It did not sound quite sane.

“A job?” he asked. “Make a man of me, will you? Oh no, oh no. You sailed your boat to the wrong shore.” He made a quick, deadly gesture with his small sword to the island around them, the dark stones and trees with branches like bared claws. “This is no place for men.”

“So I see,” said 69. “And I see there is nobody here who would be brave enough to risk all for her Her Majesty’s sake: nobody who is enough of a patriot to die for their country.”

Peter was not entirely sure what a patriot was, but he would have scorned to betray this fact. He did not even acknowledge it to himself, really: Peter’s thoughts always moved like a stone on water, skipping and skimming along the surface until they hit a certain spot.

69 had turned towards the sea, but he was not entirely surprised when a sword landed, light as a very sharp butterfly’s wing, on his shoulder.

He turned back to meet the sight of the lovely, terrible smile.

“To die for your country,” said Peter. “Would that be an awfully big adventure?”

Keep reading.

Dawkins Goes Denialist: An Open Letter to the CFI Board

Let me start this by offering my sympathy. You have what was probably a tough decision just behind you. You have another ahead. You haven’t had much time to be comfortable that you made the right decision in between. You have no options that will please everyone or even any options that will not sadden and anger many people.

That said, I’m writing this to make sure you understand the full import of what’s ahead of you. When someone like Richard Dawkins conjures up a new storm on the internet every week or two, it’s easy to slip into the habit of thinking they’re all the same and they’ll all blow over. That isn’t the case here.

What Dawkins has done over the course of the last couple of days has ramifications for CFI that need to be considered carefully. I don’t want you to miss them. [Read more…]