Saturday Storytime: A Member of the Wedding of Heaven and Hell

Richard Bowes is no stranger to writing about meddling gods and complicated universes. He did so in his 2005 novel From the Files of the Time Rangers, and he does it again here.

The Defiler didn’t so much walk as roll as if he were on treads to the passenger door. He opened it, bowed slightly, and offered his hand to a lovely dark-haired lady who looked to be in her early thirties. She wore a picture hat, stiletto heels, a little black dress and a string of pearls.

“And here’s the Fiend!” said Bob. The two straightened up and stood, each with his hands clasped at the small of his back.

The couple came toward them with the Defiler on the woman’s left and about three paces behind, his face blank, a fighting machine on medium alert. The Fiend looked right at them.

“Door demons, at ease,” she murmured when she was a short distance away, “Anything?” she asked Bill.

“Civilians: eighty-four so far,” he said softly, “Theirs and ours. About even. The heavenly host—the bride and half a dozen bridesmaids—are inside.”

“We got a roof demon on top of the church. And woods demons covering…” Bob started to tell her.

Without breaking stride, the Fiend looked around and, for an instant, flames brighter than the sun leaped up wherever she looked. They appeared on the grass, the walk, the front of the church, on the two door demons who now wore hairless green skin and glowing red eyes.

It lasted only a moment and then all was as before, except for just a hint of sulfur in the air. As the Fiend passed the two, she reached out and, faster than a human eye could follow, slipped her hand halfway into Bob’s chest and then drew it back.

Guests approaching blinked at the flash of pyrotechnics. Their noses crinkled slightly at the smell. Most thought it was all their imaginations.

When the Fiend, the Defiler and the wedding guests had gone up the steps Bill said quietly, “If the Fiend wants to know, She asks.”

Keep reading.

Complicated Heroes

Sometimes in atheist and skeptic circles, we like to say we don’t have heroes. We do. We may try to keep from granting them epistemological authority because of that status, but we still grant it. Any endeavor that is meant to inspire will produce heroes.

It was a relief, then, when Christopher Hitchens died, to see so many people, even those who looked up to Hitchens as a hero to atheists, acknowledge his terrible flaws. (Yes, they were terrible. People who move the world enough to be heroes don’t tend to do things by halves.) It was also a relief to see that few people insisted those terrible flaws invalidated all that Hitchens had done for organized atheism.

Similarly, now, it is good to see the same process happening with Adrienne Rich, the feminist poet and activist who died earlier this week. [Read more…]

Atheists Talk: Maggie Koerth-Baker on “When the Lights Go Out”

Maggie Koerth-Baker is the author of the new book, Before the Lights Go Out: Conquering the Energy Crisis Before It Conquers Us. Maggie is the science editor and a regular writer at Boing Boing, and hails from the Twin Cities. She was once described as “A lighthouse of reason in a churling ocean of stupidity,” which is exactly why we all need to read her book and listen to her interview this Sunday on Minnesota Atheists Talk Radio.

From the publisher’s review of Before the Lights Go Out:

“Hi, I’m the United States and I’m an oil-oholic.”

We have an energy problem. And everybody knows it, even if we can’t all agree on what, specifically, the problem is. Rising costs, changing climate, peaking oil, foreign oil, public safety—if the fears are this complicated, then the solutions are bound to be even more confusing. Maggie Koerth-Baker… makes sense out of the madness. Over the next 20 years, we’ll be forced to cut 20 quadrillion BTU worth of fossil fuels from our energy budget, by wasting less and investing in alternatives.

To make it work, we’ll need to radically change the energy systems that have shaped our lives for 100 years. And the result will be neither business-as-usual, nor a hippie utopia. Koerth-Baker explains what we can do, what we can’t do, and why “The Solution” is really a lot of solutions working together…

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.

When Being Good Isn’t Good Enough

Danielle Belton of The Black Snob has something to say about Trayvon Martin’s murder. It is perhaps the most astute observation on bigotry that I’ve read through this whole thing.

Don’t apologize — Because it doesn’t matter.

In St. Louis, my hometown, folks in the county would say, it wasn’t that they didn’t like black people it was the “quality” of the black people. Why? If it were Cosby-esque doctors and lawyers moving in next door in the suburbs they’d feel just fine.

Then, when my family and tons of other black professional families moved to the ‘burbs, they fled to O’Fallon and St. Charles anyway.

But you said doctors and lawyers were “OK?” I guess bigots lie. It wasn’t really about the “right” kind of black people. Ha ha. You were “good” too, weren’t you? Cute. Didn’t mean anything. Didn’t mean a damn thing.

My favorite book, Invisible Man, tells of Anonymous and there is a letter in that story that haunts me as it haunted the unnamed narrator that says “keep this nigger boy running.”

And that’s what they do to us. They keep us running. They keep telling us it is us. That if we just made ourselves a little different, it would all go away. If we’re just good.

“Be good” is one of those burdens that only ever belongs to the minority. Not that it does the minority a bit of good, at least not on its own. What does do good is political power, the power to protect one’s rights and interests, and “being good” is the antithesis of exercising political power.

“Being good” is giving up what power you have so it doesn’t, can’t possibly, scare the people who feel they have the right to run–or destroy–your lives. Of course, when you give up that power, they run/destroy your lives anyway. And if you dare to challenge them in any little way, you’ve “earned” everything they do to you.

So what do you do instead? Belton’s got an answer for that. It’s not perfect. It’s risky, in fact. It could even get you killed. But when was the last time someone promised you that “being good” could keep you from getting killed. Even more important: Do you still believe them?

Aim Like a Drunkard

I have quite the weakness for good stage/screen combat. I’ve seen it up close, and I know how much work goes into making it work. This…is not that. Still, if you don’t make it to the scene with Lucas himself, you’re missing out.

Thanks to Felicia for a good giggle.

The Post-Reason Rally Doldrums

Are you still feeling sorry that you (like me) didn’t get to go to the Reason Rally? Or did you go, and now you’re feeling let down by real life because you’re not hanging out with a bunch of atheists? At least some of you can fix that.

If you’re in the region, consider coming to the Midwest Science of Origins Conference in Morris this weekend. Registration is free, though donations are welcome. Neil Shubin is speaking. PZ as well, of course. The range of topics is broad and interesting. Brianne and I and a few others from the Twin Cities will be there (aka, come on; all the cool kids’ll be there).

Not local? Don’t forget Rock Beyond Belief is this Saturday at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. Sure, maybe they don’t have a weekend of science planned like MSOC, but I hear they have a speaker or two who aren’t too shabby. Oh, and maybe a couple of musical guests you might have heard of. All right. All right. They’re also much more family friendly than your average atheist get-together. Seriously, though, this is going to be a huge event. If you’re anywhere nearby, don’t miss it.

Tired of all the events happening in the U.S., where you are not? The events surrounding the Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne have already started. In addition to the conference itself, there a number of “fringe events“, some free and some at a much lower cost than the convention itself. Kylie recently highlighted one of the events that promises to be…spirited.

Can’t do any of those? Then check out Greta’s suggestion for changing the world. There’s always something you can do.

Colorblindness Is Just Blindness

I was talking today to a white woman I know who has a child whose father is African. I keep up on her son’s progress, partly because her doting is infectious–and partly because I worry about this kid.

I’d worry even if he weren’t black, because he’s as tall enough you look at him and assume he can drive. He’s not even a teenager. There have been periods through the years that I’ve known his mom that has been a big problem, particularly with his teachers. They know how old he is–he’s been in a grade-segregated school, so all the kids in a class are about the same age–but they still expect him to have the maturity of someone of his apparent age. Some of them have gotten very frustrated with his “misbehavior”.

That’s a problem for any kid who looks older than he is. It’s an extra problem for a black boy, who is expected to be a problem. It’s an even bigger problem here, in a northern, urban area that hasn’t seen much of its black population migrate from the working class into the middle class. (If you live in one of these areas, I suggest traveling to Raleigh, NC or Atlanta, GA to really experience the difference first-hand.)

So there have been problems, not with this kid’s development, but with the expectations he’s had to meet. His mother has had to intervene on his behalf. He’s had to learn coping skills that are beyond his age. He’s had that pressure to carry himself “just right” earlier than anyone with any empathy would want. Not that they’d want it at all.

Then along came this kid’s maternal grandfather. [Read more…]

Oh, Canada

My Canadian friends, whether you realize it or not, you play an important role in U.S. politics. We lag behind you to a disgusting degree, but we do see your progressive politics, and they do have an effect on us. When you made same-sex marriage legal in 2005, we couldn’t pretend that this was some strange, exotic thing.

You share a border with us. You hardly even talk funny. If you can do things like that and not have disaster follow, it gets harder and harder for us to pretend we can’t.

That’s why I signed a petition yesterday encouraging Canada to pass bill C-279, otherwise known as the Trans Rights Bill. [Read more…]

I Was So Sad She Died Until I Found Out…

…she was black. Jezebel has the story, about Twitter reactions to The Hunger Games movie:

But when it came to the casting of Rue, Thresh, and Cinna, many audience members did not understand why there were black actors playing those parts. Cinna’s skin is not discussed in the book, so truthfully, though Lenny Kravitz was cast, a white, Asian or Latino actor could have played the part.

Rue and Thresh, however, are clearly described as having “dark brown skin” in the books. Then there are the tweets:

That’s not the worst. That dishonor falls to “Kk call me racist but when I found out rue was black her death wasn’t as sad #ihatemyself”.

I’m not even close to coherent on this. I haven’t been since I saw the F&SF crowd tweeting about this this morning. There are two things I need to say to these people, however.

[Read more…]