You’re Complaining to the Wrong Department

I understand the impulse to write a post like “Being Right Doesn’t Guarantee That You’re Not Wrong“, Jacques Rosseau’s guest post at Martin Pribble’s blog. I really do.

In this fight over making our movements more welcoming to women and other marginalized groups, there have been a lot of people complaining that they’re being shot down and mistreated for asking questions. There have been a lot of people offerning up naive statements and opinions pulled out of thin air and feeling mistreated over the response. There’s been a lot of personal narrative offered up to humanize the problems we’re talking about.

It’s been working, too. Most conferences are considering inclusion when setting their speaker lists, if not yet setting themselves a goal of parity. More people are recognizing the role of pseudoscience in maintaining inequalities. More events are accessible locally, on a budget, and with child care. More groups are setting anti-harassment policies in place and listening to the corporate world in figuring out how to enforce them. More prominent people are stepping up to point out how marginalizaion occurs online and to demand that it stop. Progress has been painful, but it has been remarkably quick.

Given all that, it’s an easy thing to advocate caution. “Surely one side of this can’t have a monopoly on truth. Surely all this emotion has to have a downside. Surely we need to make accommodations for those who are bewildered by the pace of change. Surely some of these complaints must have merit.” Eh, maybe.

[Read more…]

Marketing Atheism

The second set of breakout sessions at the Midwest Freethought Conference included another practical session. (Okay, the session on secular parenting was practical, but not for me.) In this case, it was Adam Brown giving some background on marketing with atheist groups in mind. Here are the results from my live-tweeting of the session.

  • Adam Brown talking about how to advertise atheism in general and your group/events in particular.
  • Not comfortable about “perception is everything” slogan for this session, but it is the point of marketing.
  • Churches market. It reaches people. If we don’t market, we’ll miss reaching some people.
  • Atheists have “dick” reputation. Need to increase visibility of things other than (funny) blasphemy.
  • Lots of atheists in the closet. Getting them out helps.
  • If we don’t market, fellow atheists may not know that support is out there and available to them.
  • Who is our audience?
  • What do we want them to do?
  • How do we motivate them to do it?
  • Where can they see our message?
  • When do we deliver our message?
  • Shotgun (untargeted) marketing can reach a large audience quickly or a few people hidden (closeted) in a group.
  • Special event marketing can attract a broad audience. A creative event can be fun and carry a message.
  • Documenting what you do as a group is part of your marketing. Do a charity event? Put a description and pictures on your site.
  • American Atheist “You know it’s a myth” billboards being used as good examples of marketing.


  • “We have nothing to sell based on fear, except fear of wasting your life.” Humor is a better tactic.
  • Getting attention is good, but how do you want people to engage? What do you want them to do?
  • Atheism is growing. Makes a bandwagon appeal possible if your group is comfortable with it.
  • Don’t be boring. Don’t underestimate the power of good visual design.
  • “Come hang out with us because we’re so much smarter than you” just not a good marketing strategy.
  • Lots of funny in-group appeals not suitable for marketing. Save them for your Facebook friends.
  • Do not shy away from the term “atheist”. We have different emphases, but this is our uniting, umbrella term.
  • If you want your press release paid attention to, cultivate relationships with reporters. Have snappy headlines.

Mock the Movie: Shark Week Edition

The danger in putting out a schedule for Mock the Movie is that, well, we’re not always looking at the calendar when we make our plans. For instance, we completely forgot that this week is Shark Week. We can’t let that go by without an appropriately bad movie. So, here is the revised schedule for the next three mocking sessions.

What do you get when you combine Carmen Electra, the less-popular O’Connell brother, and the daughter of a professional wrestler? Heck if I know, but it’s called 2-Headed Shark Attack. It went straight to video. We’re going to watch it and mock it this Thursday, August 16, at 9 p.m. EDT. I’m sure not all the bikinis are blatantly gratuitous. It might even be more coherent than its trailer.

If you have Netflix, you can stream the movie, or you can rent it through Amazon instant video. Sadly, this one isn’t free for everyone.

[Read more…]

Minneapolis Primary Sample Ballot

Update: If you’re looking for this kind of information for the general election, please see this post.

If you live in Minnesota, you’re used to primary elections happening in September. Not this year. The primary is tomorrow. Surprise!

They’ve also moved some polling places. I don’t vote in my usual spot tomorrow. You may not either. Check at the Secretary of State’s polling place finder. This site will also give you a sample ballot for your district and links to candidate websites, where you see what they stand for. As usual, I’m posting my choices, so those who trust me and/or feel we share the same politics have a starting place for their own choices.

Before I get to those, if you are a liberal or progressive in the Fifth Congressional District, please make a point of voting tomorrow. This is the election in which this seat will be settled. Two years ago, conservatives finally figured out that this is a liberal enough area that they have no chance in a general election. They’ve started running in the DFL primary instead.

This year’s stealth candidate? He has a picture of fetus at the top of his website, right below the words “under God”. He claims to believe Keith Ellison is dedicated to Sharia law for all. He’s a nasty piece of work who could never get elected running honestly, so he’s trying to sneak in while people aren’t paying attention. Don’t let this happen. Show up tomorrow.

Now for my choices.

U.S. Senator: Amy Klobuchar

Why: Klobuchar isn’t my favorite senator, but that’s because I have the privilege of comparing her to Al Franken. She’s a moderate without being particularly centrist, and she concentrates on getting things done where she can find the political will.

Her opponents, on the other hand, are another stealth pro-life, anti-government candidate; someone who lists running for office as experience; and a candidate who lists things like “ending hunger and reducing poverty” as part of his plan for governing.

U.S. Representative: Keith Ellison

Why: I frequently list Ellison as one of the reasons I’m not jaded about politics. He works hard for progressive causes. He meets with, listens to, and educates his constituents. He uses his speaking platform eloquently and passionately to promote the public interest. Given any option at all, I’ll choose Ellison to represent me.

I’ve already mentioned one of his opponents. His other is running for the second time and still hasn’t put enough work into his campaign to have a website. A bare-bones profile shows no governing experience.

School District: Carla Bates

Why: Bates is the incumbent. She had far and away the best performance at the candidate forum held last week. She presented specific plans for dealing with the district’s challenges.

State Supreme Court Chief Justice: Lorie Skjerven Gildea

Why: As is fairly typical in high-profile Minnesota judicial elections, all the candidates except the incumbent (Gildea) appear to be running, not to become a judge, but to provide themselves a platform for talking about the process by which judges are appointed in Minnesota. While both are attorneys, neither Jill Clark nor Dan Griffith has any experience as a judge in a lower court. Neither is either of them the sort of judicial scholar who might usefully substitute study for experience. Griffith has, however, received Tea Party endorsements.

State Supreme Associate Justice 4: David Stras

Why: Once again, Stras is the incumbent. He’s one of those justices who came from a background of scholarship instead of being a judge in a lower court first. You can contrast that with the relatively naive topical statements of opponent Alan Nelson. And Tim Tinglestad, who has a page dedicated to arguing against the current judicial understanding of the First Amendment, is terrifying.

4th District Court 22 Judge: Liz Cutter

Why: There are no bad candidates running for this position. I chose Cutter for the breadth of her experience, but I wouldn’t be disappointed if any of these candidates were elected. Check them all out for yourselves:

We canvass for president here rather than voting in the primary, so that’s it for this election. If you live in a different precinct and have done the research on your candidates, feel free to add your picks and your reasoning in the comments.

Offerings for Atheists

Friday night was the baseball game promoting the Minnesota Atheists and American Atheists. The St. Paul Saints became the Mr. Paul Ain’ts for an evening of decent baseball (though the Ain’ts lost) and very silly promotions by the announcer. He joked about Kant. (Yes, really.) Sasquatch ran across the field between innings.

Friendly conversations were had while waiting for the bathroom. Kids had faces painted. Grilled cheese and pizza and hot dogs were eaten. Beer was consumed. The custom jerseys made for the game sold out.

It was generally a success. This apparently made some people unhappy. These were what we found on cars outside the game–only those on public property, of course. [Read more…]

Not a Pretty Picture

Photojournalists can have an immense effect on our understanding of the world, particularly our understanding of injustice. Photos from Nazi concentration camps still have immense power decades later. The photo of naked Kim Phuc fleeing a napalm attack is burned into our collective memory. Images are not easy to escape.

This has the effect of being able to take events and practices from around the globe and make them immediate even to those of us who will never be directly effected by them. Stephanie Sinclair previously used this power to bring us the Warren Jeffs family in pictures and to put us in burn wards with Afghan women who set themselves on fire to escape untenable domestic situations (warning: graphic photos).

She has also been documenting child marriages around the world.

Before their wedding ceremony begins in rural Afghanistan, a 40-year-old man sits to be photographed with his 11-year-old bride. The girl tells the photographer that she is sad to be engaged because she had hoped to become a teacher. Her favorite class was Dari, the local language, before she had to leave her studies to get married. [Read more…]

Saturday Storytime: Armless Maidens of the American West

Genevieve Valentine is currently widely known as the victim of harassment at the center of the Readercon storm (which I will hopefully get to writing about this weekend). As much as that all needed talking about, it is Valentine’s writing for which she should be known. Her novel, Mechanique, haunted my Twitter feed as friends found it emotionally demanding but were unable to put it down until they’d finished it. Her new short story is very much like that.

The armless maiden has never spoken, that anyone has ever said, and someone would have said. There’s no need to tell strangers from Indianapolis about her, but she belongs to the town, sort of, and it’s nothing strange to talk about your own.

Suzanne from the hairdresser’s talked sometimes about how she couldn’t imagine how that poor girl was looking after herself, and how she’d go out to the woods asking if the maiden needed anything, except that it would be butting in. Usually she said this when she was cutting your hair; she said, “I hear she’s a blonde,” and then there was no sound in the whole place but her scissors, and you watched your hair falling and held your breath.

At least once every year, someone from the PTA stood up in a meeting and asked if she was still of the age where she needed to be in school, even though she’d been in the woods so long that even if she’d started out that young, she wasn’t now.

Tommy from the motel told everyone about the time the bird watchers came down to look for some warbler that was hard to find except in the forested region where they were, and ran into her, and got so frightened they left town without paying their bill. But they left most of their things in the room, too, so he sold the binoculars and the cameras and it came out all right.

He told the story like it was funny, how scared they had gotten, like any of them had ever really seen her and there was something to compare.

You start to think that you’re the only one who has ever seen her.

It’s a terrible thing to think, and you hope for a long time that it isn’t true, but in all the stories people tell about her, no one says a word about seeing her themselves. Maybe she’s just the kind of person whose privacy people respect, you think.

(But you know already, long before you admit it, that you’re the only one who’s ever seen her, and that she must be so lonely it makes your stomach hurt.

When she said hello, you’ve never heard anyone so surprised.)

Keep reading.

Atheists Talk: Jessica Ahlquist

Rhode Island is the birthplace of American religious freedom and the wall of separation between church and state. Sometime between its founding and 2010, however, Rhode Island seems to have forgotten this proud part of its history. That was when a new student noticed a banner at Cranston High School West that read:

Our Heavenly Father.

Grant us each day the desire to do our best.
To grow mentally and morally as well as physically.
To be kind and helpful to our classmates and teachers.
To be honest with ourselves as well as with others.
Help us to be good sports and smile when we lose as well as when we win.
Teach us the value of true friendship.
Help us always to conduct ourselves so as to bring credit to Cranston High School West.

Amen.

This student was Jessica Ahlquist, and her challenge to the legality of the banner under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment made history for for her poise and determination–and for the viciousness with which it was met. Jessica is in town for the American Atheists Regional Convention this weekend, and she will join us in the studio to talk about her court case and about how life has been since it was won.

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.

In Praise of Whistleblowers

By now you’ve heard that Thunderf00t exploited a security vulnerability [details and logs now available] to continue to receive confidential FreethoughtBlogs business emails after he was removed from the network and from the mailing list. If you haven’t already, you should read Natalie’s post covering the personal dangers to some of the members of our list and Zinnia’s on the importance of privacy.

I’m not particularly vulnerable here. Anything I can think of that Thunderf00t could try to hurt me with would either have to be taken badly out of context or is something I’ve already taken knocks for. No real surprises coming. What few secrets I have, I don’t commit to a general list, even of colleagues I trust and enjoy working with. I’m more wary by nature than that, even when it’s limiting.

You’ll hear from others of those colleagues, though, about the fact that prying into that list does leave them vulnerable. They’ve come to our list with problems they wanted perspective on, or personal joys and frustrations, or really awful ideas they threw out to see whether they could be improved or how badly they’d be shot down. They’ve been candid rather than politically astute when someone needed to know the lay of the land. They’ve discussed information it was later decided should stay private. They’ve used the list as scratch space, as a working group does. Again, no real surprises.

That was what Thunderf00t claimed access to under false pretenses. That was what he received, very quietly, knowing that was not what we wanted or expected. Some people will claim that releasing that information would make him a whistleblower. Thunderf00t is making a version of that claim himself, though not using the word. [Read more…]

Just What Philosophers Do?

We have a word we like to use for philsophers who base their positive conclusions on fantasy. We call them “theologians”. (I like the term “pseudophilosopher” myself.)  Thus, I find myself perplexed by Richard Dawkins’ defense of Sam Harris yesterday.

Myers is here doing exactly what a good moral philosopher should do. He is clarifying the point he wants to make (a woman’s decision over what happens to her own body is absolutely sacrosanct) and he is clarifying it by a thought experiment – an obvious counterfactual. The counterfactual is an embryo who was fully conscious and could write poetry in the womb, and he is saying that EVEN THEN he would listen only to the woman.

Now a reasonable person could disagree with him here. A humane rationalist could be pro-abortion under existing conditions, but anti-abortion under the counterfactual condition of the Myers thought experiment – the conscious, poetry-writing embryo. That is the whole reason why Myers found it worthwhile to invent his excellent thought-experiment.

[…]

That is what Sam Harris was doing in his notorious discussions of torture and of profiling in airport security. He was doing what moral philosophers do, and he does not deserve the vilification and viciousness that he has received in consequence. He is not a gung-ho pro-torture advocate, he was raising precisely the hypothetical, thought-experiment type of questions moral philosophers do raise, about whether there might be any circumstances in which torture might be the lesser of two evils – thought experiments such as the famous “ticking hydrogen bomb and only one man in the world knows how to stop it” thought experiment.

There are some very important differences between PZ’s argument and Harris’s. [Read more…]