Mock the Movie: Those Two Guys Edition

I know some of you have been very excited about this one.

This Thursday, September 27, as recommended by Rando, we will be watching Moontrap, staring Walter Koenig and Bruce Campbell. We will immerse ourselves in murderous space robots and sexy ancient aliens, not to be confused with the sexy ancient gods from our last movie. This one is free at YouTube.

Mock along as we watch that guy and that other guy from those famous franchises do something that most people have never heard of.

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Feminist on the Internet

So there I was, sitting at brunch in Omaha in August with a bunch of cool people from their Coalition of Reason, Brianne, and Micah Weiss of Skepticon. Micah, who appears to run on caffeine and adrenaline, turned to me and said, “You need a t-shirt!” and proceded to describe it to me.

He was right. And not only did I need one, but I think a few other people might need it as well. So eventually, after some tweaking to the design, I opened a Zazzle shop yesterday to sell these.

Button with red-and-white target. Text in white on the red: "Feminist on the Internet".You know how it goes. You suggest women are still discriminated against in pay or promotions. You object to a sexist joke. You tell the world you want to spend some of your waking minutes on something other than being hit on. Bam! Suddenly you’re prey. Welcome to life as a feminist on the internet.

Yes, not only does the store offer t-shirts with this design, but you can get it on a variety of other merch as well.  One dollar from the sale of each t-shirt or other large item will go to help run Skepticon and keep it free, in honor of Micah’s contribution to the design.

Part of the reason it took me this long to set up the store is that I wanted more than one design. [Read more…]

Atheism+ Hashtag Camping

Those of you following the saga of Atheism+ may know that the hashtag has been overrun since the beginning with a small group of people repeating the same objections to Atheism+ that have been answered ad nauseum on every blog thread discussing the topic. Seriously, some of them are downright repetitive, claiming the same objections right after you explain reality to them.

This is why it was so funny when a reader sent me this yesterday. It’s a Storify of a conversation held on the hashtag. Text after the jump.

Twitter Storify. Text provided in post.

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Layer After Layer of Myth

This article has been around for a little bit, so you may have already seen it. I don’t usually read The American Conservative, so I hadn’t. I must admit, I’m a little surprised to see them run something with the title “Confessions of a Former Republican“.

This isn’t one of those conversions that starts with someone being only nominally of the faith they abandon, either.

We believed in competition and the free market, in bootstraps and personal responsibility, in equality of opportunity, not outcomes. We were financial conservatives who wanted less government. We believed in noblesse oblige, for we saw ourselves as part of a natural aristocracy, even if we hadn’t been born into it. We sided with management over labor and saw unions as a scourge. We hated racism and loved Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., particularly his dream that his children would “live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” We worried about the rise of the Religious Right and its social-conservative litmus tests. We were tough on crime, tough on national enemies. We believed in business, full stop.

I intended to run for office on just such a platform someday. In the meantime, I founded the Republican club at my high school, knocked on doors and collected signatures with my father, volunteered on campaigns, socialized at fundraisers, and interned for Senator John McCain and Congressman Denny Hastert when he was House Majority Whip Tom DeLay’s chief deputy.

That’s entrenchment. So what causes someone like this to leave their politics behind? If you’re thinking it’s because the party moved and abandoned him, think again. There was some displeasure over hypocrisies, but that was just the wedge it took for… [Read more…]

Saturday Storytime: muo-ka’s Child

Indrapramit Das is a writer, artist, and reviewer who is very comfortable with the horrid and the surreal, finding the story within. This story is no exception.

Ziara watched the shroud settle over muo-ka. Already the corpse had shrunk considerably as air and water left it. Its body whistled softly. A quiet song for coming evening. With a bone knife, she cut small slits into the shroud to let the gas escape more freely, even though the membrane was porous. The little rents fluttered. A breeze ruffled the flat waters of the eya-rith basin into undulations that lapped across muo-ka’s islet, washing Ziara’s bare feet and wetting the weedy edges of the stone deathbed. The water sloshed in the ruined shell of the pod at the edge of the islet, its sleek surfaces cracked and scabbed with mossy growth. Inside was a small surveying and recording kit. She had discovered the kit, sprung free of its wall compartment, shattered and drowned from the rough landing. Even if it had worked, it seemed a useless thing to her now.

When the pod had once threatened to float away, Ziara had clung to it, trying to pull it back with her tiny human arms, heaving with frantic effort. muo-ka had lunged, sealed the wreck to the islet with secretions. Now it stood in a grassy thatch of fungal filaments, a relic from another planet.

muo-ka had no spoken words. Yet, its islet felt quieter than it had ever been. Ziara had learned its name, and some of its words, by becoming its mouth, speaking aloud the language that hummed in a part of its body that she had to touch. It had been shockingly easy to do this. What secret part of her had muo-ka unlocked, or taught to wake? muo-ka’s skin had always felt febrile when she touched it, and when it spoke through her she felt hot as well.

The first thing it had said through her mouth was “muo-ka,” and she had known that was its name. “Ziara,” she had said, still touching it. “Jih-ara,” it had said in her mouth, exuding a humid heat, a taste of blood and berries in her head. Ziara had disengaged her palm with a smack, making it shiver violently. Clammy with panic, she had walked away. It had felt too strange, too much like becoming a part of muo-ka, becoming an organ of its own.

Ziara rarely spoke to muo-ka in the time that followed. When she got an urge to communicate, she’d often stifle it. And she did get the urge, again and again. In those moments she’d hide in the broken pod on the islet’s shore. She’d curl into its clammy, broken womb and think of the grassy earth of the hostel playground, of playing catch with her friends until the trees darkened, of being reprimanded by the wardens, and smoking cigarettes by the barred moonlight of the cavernous bathrooms, stifling coughs into silent giggles when patrols came by. Daydreams of their passing footsteps would become apocalyptic with the siren wail of muo-ka’s cries. It never could smell or detect her in the strange machinery of the wrecked pod. She assumed the screams were ones of alarm.

“You’ve fed me,” Ziara said to the corpse. “And clothed me. And taught me to leap across the sky.” Those stiffened limbs that its shroud now clung to had snatched her from the air if she leaped too high, almost twisting her shoulders out of their sockets once. She’d landed on the mud of the islet safe, alive. In the shadow of muo-ka she’d whispered “Fuck you. Just, fuck you. Fuck you, muo-ka.”

Keep reading.

Social Security: The Perqs of Retirement Security

This is part of a week-long series about Social Security. If you want to read the whole series, links are provided at the bottom of this post.

Wallet with bills fanned out.

“Purse with Money” by 401(K) 2012. Some rights reserved.

Through this series, I’ve given you what I hope is a decent look at how Social Security works, particularly in contrast to other kinds of funding for retirement. What I haven’t done yet is talk about why we even have such a thing as Social Security. What does Social Security add to our society generally, beyond its humanitarian roots and providing an income that is recirculated into the economy (both were part of the original rationale for Social Security)? What would greater guaranteed benefits do for us?

We Don’t Live With Grandma Anymore
This sounds a bit snarky, but Social Security reflected the change from an agricultural society to an industrial, urban one. Accompanying this change was a move to nuclear families and high mobility. Living with multiple generations of adults in a single household is far from the norm these days, and having generations separated by a state or more isn’t uncommon.

There’s a fair amount of information pointing to the idea that we like it this way. [Read more…]

I Object

A couple of days ago, I noticed some friends having a nice little conversation on Twitter with someone who was quite familiar from the slimepit. They were chatting on the #scio13 hashtag, the tag for one of the most friendly, open, and well-run science-communication conferences out there.

I’d had enough “fun” at last year’s conference with this guy there. I mostly ignored his existence, which wasn’t always easy when he was talking to a friend in the same group I was in. Still, the conference wasn’t about the slimepit, so I didn’t raise any sort of fuss. I just ran my session and had fun where I found it, while keeping one wary eye out. That wary eye, as it turned out, wasn’t necessary. He never spoke to me.

Still, seeing his name repeatedly pop up in my Twitter stream, seeing it be tweeted by women I know are upset about the harassment that I’ve been dealing with for talking about harassment, knowing that it would likely keep coming up on the hashtag for a conference I consider “home”–it got to me. I tweeted:

So, how many #scio13'ers know that @ hung out in ERV's "monument" to misogynistic hatred of Rebecca Watson and others--me inlcuded?
@szvan
Stephanie Zvan

The reply was predictable. [Read more…]

Atheists Talk: Guy P. Harrison on “50 Popular Beliefs That People Think Are True”

When journalist and teacher Guy P. Harrison writes about irrational certainties, he tries to do so in a way that respects the believer but challenges the belief. When he takes away a comforting or fascinating idea, he tries to leave some of the wonder of science in its place. He brought both these approaches to bear in his most recent book, 50 Popular Beliefs That People Think Are True.

From the publisher’s description:

Maybe you know someone who swears by the reliability of psychics or who is in regular contact with angels. Or perhaps you’re trying to find a nice way of dissuading someone from wasting money on a homeopathy cure. Or you met someone at a party who insisted the Holocaust never happened or that no one ever walked on the moon.

How do you find a gently persuasive way of steering people away from unfounded beliefs, bogus cures, conspiracy theories, and the like? Longtime skeptic Guy P. Harrison shows you how in this down-to-earth, entertaining exploration of commonly held extraordinary claims.

A veteran journalist, Harrison has not only surveyed a vast body of literature, but has also interviewed leading scientists, explored “the most haunted house in America,” frolicked in the inviting waters of the Bermuda Triangle, and even talked to a “contrite Roswell alien.”

Harrison is not out simply to debunk unfounded beliefs. Wherever possible, he presents alternative scientific explanations, which in most cases are even more fascinating than the wildest speculation. For example, stories about UFOs and alien abductions lack good evidence, but science gives us plenty of reasons to keep exploring outer space for evidence that life exists elsewhere in the vast universe. The proof for Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster may be nonexistent, but scientists are regularly discovering new species, some of which are truly stranger than fiction.

Stressing the excitement of scientific discovery and the legitimate mysteries and wonder inherent in reality, Harrison invites readers to share the joys of rational thinking and the skeptical approach to evaluating our extraordinary world.

Guy joins us this Sunday by phone to discuss his book.

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.

Social Security: Corporate Retirement Funding

This is part of a week-long series about Social Security. If you want to read the whole series, links are provided at the bottom of this post.

Close-up of bound bundles of money.

“Straps of Cash” by 401(K) 2012. Some rights reserved.

Once upon a time, America was a place in which you finished school and settled down with a nice company, which took care of you from that day until the day you died. It was a time of magic and ponies for all.

Okay, there was never a time like that for everyone. There were always service workers and migrant workers. There were always classes of people excluded from the secure jobs. There was always a battle between management and labor over how much financial security was a fair trade for work. But for a few decades, labor did a lot of winning in that fight.

Then we hit the 1970s, and our car- and interstate-based economy received a big blow when oil prices jumped. Management didn’t always react well to that, but they did do something that was, from their point of view, smart. They told us that unions were too expensive, that paying some labor wages and benefits that made them economically secure just raised prices for everyone else.

In a country where prices were climbing quickly, this was a very effective message. Other messages were crafted to tell us unions were selfish and un-American. Corruption within some of the largest unions contributed to the idea that a union was just a way to skim unearned cash from the economy. Labor began its decline.

It didn’t happen all at once. It’s taken decades to get where we are, but it did happen. The decline of retirement security has been part of it.
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