Atheists Talk: Jacob Berkowitz on “The Stardust Revolution”

Astrobiology is necessarily still a largely speculative field, which could make it difficult to write a book on the topic. That didn’t phase journalist and performer Jacob Berkowitz, who has a passion for science that has started from a disadvantaged position. In his book The Stardust Revolution: The New Story of Our Origin in the Stars, Berkowitz chronicles the histories of astronomy, chemistry, and evolutionary biology that have come together to demonstrate that we humans are, as Carl Sagan famously said, “made of star stuff”. From there, Berkowitz goes on to speculate about how what we know about our own origins may inform what we can determine about life elsewhere in our universe.

Join us this Sunday to talk with Berkowitz about our celestial past and possible future.

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.

Better Than This

Am I hard on people? Yes, I’m hard on people sometimes.

Sometimes I am compassionate. I understand that some people are dealing with more than anyone should have to. I understand that the everyday burdens of life are sometimes enough that getting by and not taking it all out on an easy target is an accomplishment. I see that complaints sometimes amount to nothing more than “Leave me alone. I’m not bothering you.” I see that this is true. Then I am compassionate.

Sometimes, however, I see people with position, power, support, resources. I see them complain that someone else isn’t doing things the way they would if they bothered to do them. I see them try to impose aspirational standards on everyone, under every circumstances, while not meeting those standards themselves, despite that position, power, support, and resources. I see lies, though I’m not always sure whether I am seeing self-deception or whether someone thinks they can make me believe something they don’t.

I am still compassionate. I understand that position, power, support, and resources make it all too easy to be told what one wants to hear instead of what one needs to hear. I understand the temptations of power. I understand the fear of losing privilege.

I am compassionate, but I am hard. Some people it costs nothing but unearned pride to do better than this. Some people have accepted position, power, support, and resources based on promises to be better than this. Some of them have earned these things by demonstrating they can be better than this.

It doesn’t mean being perfect. Sometimes it means being quiet because someone can’t meet the standards they’ve set for themselves by what they’ve accepted. Sometimes it means doing their best while being willing to fix any mistakes. But it always means being better than this–because they’ve demonstrated that they can, because they’ve received the rewards of doing so.

Also because you’ve accepted a world in which I have to be better than this myself. That makes me compassionate. It also makes me hard. If you don’t want to change the world, that’s the price you get to deal with.

A System That Doesn’t See People

Work is keeping me busy. The house is keeping me busy. Minnesota Atheists is keeping me busy. I have some appearances to prep for. And migraines occasionally put me out of commission. So my blog may get short shrift for a little while simply because I have very little brain left when everything else is done.

At the very least, I will try to find you interesting things to read. Luckily, that’s very easy around here. There is, for example, Crommunist’s excellent work for Black History Month. I like history that is rooted in place and people, as opposed to lofty abstractions and ideals. This series does that every year, this year with what might be considered an unusual focus for Black History Month. [Read more…]

Hang Your Hat on a Goalpost

There’s a common trope out there that those of us talking about sexism and harassment in the secular and skeptical movements have never provided any evidence that this stuff is really a problem. I’ll likely follow up on that more in other posts, but I wanted to share an example of how the conversation goes when someone engages one of these claimants.

In this case, it happened over at CFI’s blog, on a post where the comments are now closed after personal attacks from the usual suspects. The claimant is “Oliver”. I presume that’s Oliver Crangle aka Jaques Cuze aka jay, who has been engaging in a good bit of anti-feminist arguing in several places, including the slime pit. [Oops. Realized that without benefit of caffeine, I was confusing Crangle with Edward Gemmer, who made a similar path through the blogs. As far as I know, Crangle hasn’t been active at the pit.] Here’s where he started:

If you believe in equality between the sexes you are not necessarily an ideologue. Almost everyone involved in this dispute believes in equality. If you can find anyone in the skeptical community who disagrees with equality between the sexes I will eat my hat.

Fascinated by the claim, I responded:

What kinds of inequality do you consider hat-worthy? Are you hungry when you run into the guy who says girls are innately worse at math? How about the one who continues to repeat that women aren’t as interested in casual sex two years after disconfirming research has been published? If those don’t count to you, what does? What kinds of belief in specific inequalities amounts to a general belief in inequality to you?

They didn’t count, of course. [Read more…]

We Are Mental Illness

A while ago, I mentioned that Double X Science had put out a call for submissions for personal stories about mental illness. They’ve now posted two. The first is from a man with bipolar disorder.

The manic phases can be highly productive, which they were for me. I was the Master of the Universe during my manic phases, which would last anywhere from an hour to six months. I got a biology degree from a major university. My grades were either A’s or C’s, depending on whether I was manic or depressed. I went on to graduate school, where I barely survived. My doctoral thesis, when I first wrote it, was nearly a single run-on sentence. Someone had to help me re-write it, and basically they gave me a degree just to get me out of the place.

I would go on a job interview and knock it out of the park. When I was an executive for a publicly traded corporation, I would put in 48-hour days, managing financial forecasts, talking to investors, hiring employees, and writing emails to lawyers. I became a highly successful person in the pharmaceutical and medical device industry. But only if you consider success as a string of higher salaries and job titles.

His story doesn’t have to get to the depression, however, to get troubling.

Then there is genegeek’s discussion of the depression and alcoholism that run in her family.

I have no external reason to be depressed. I’m aware of no precipitating event. If I reach, general anaesthetic might be a factor because I had operations within months of each depressive episode.

But my genetic load is probably a bigger influence. My family history is full of depression and alcoholism. In 1st-degree (siblings, parents) and 2nd-degree (grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews) relatives, 11 of 12 people have been treated for depression and/or alcoholism. If we move to 3rd degree relatives, the absolute numbers get higher but the proportion is similar. [Note: I won’t draw my family tree to maintain a bit of privacy for my family.] I’d also like to point out that my family members continue their high level careers without compromise unless hospitalization is required.

I don’t know when my contribution will be added, but these are published each Friday. They’re definitely worth keeping up with.

Guess Who’s Going to Women in Secularism

Marcus Ranum and I have made our picks for his Women in Secularism grants and confirmed that everyone is still available to go. Sadly, Marcus wasn’t able to fund everyone, and those he couldn’t fund would still have made excellent contributions to the conferences (as well as getting a lot out of it).

If you’d like more people to be able to attend, you can help send them too. Secular Woman has applicants they’re still working to fund. So does Surly Amy. You can help more people afford the conference. Marcus isn’t the only one who can turn harassment into something good.

Now for the grantees:

Congratulations to all, and I look forward to seeing you there.

Saturday Storytime: My Voice Is in My Sword

Apex Magazine published a Shakespearean issue this month. Some retellings, some stories set around the plays themselves. Kate Elliott, whose recent Spiritwalker series combined magic and technology in an unusual way, here combines science fiction and that traditionally unluckiest of all plays.

A Squat came trundling along the river bank, spotted our barge, and waded with its splay feet right out over the gold coins to press its nose—if that little turnip of a bulb could be called a nose—up against the window next to Peng-Hsin. They regarded each other. We all regarded it, and it swiveled its squat little head topped with ivory fern ears and took us all in.

“It’s curious,” said Peng-Hsin, sounding amused.

M. Caraglio coughed, sounding uncomfortable. “This has never happened before,” he said. “They’ve always kept their distance. Very careful about that.”

“Aww,” said Cheri, who combined the oddest mix of sentimentality and hardheadedness, “maybe it’s just a little baby.”

From the back, Bax burped loudly. “Fuck, it’s ugly,” he said. Mopsy and Flopsy tittered. Cottontail said, “Oh, Bax,” in her breathless knock-me-up voice.

As if in response to his comment, a whole herd of Squats uprooted themselves from their meditations on the lawn and ambled over toward us. Through the windows, we heard a chorus of hoots rising and falling as the herd of Squats formed a semicircle at the bank of the river. Our Squat pricked up its lacy ears, snuffled one last time toward Peng-Hsin, and then turned and trundled back to the shoreline.

“Oh, dear,” murmured M. Caraglio. Bax burped again. The diplomat shot him a look so filled with distaste that it was palpable; then, as quickly, he smoothed over his expression into that bland mask that diplomats and out-of-work actors wear. Caraglio went forward to the lock and made some comment through the translation-screen, and the barge scraped sideways over the coins, following our Squat to the bank. As soon as our alien clambered up onto the sward, it was at once swarmed by other Squats rather like the winning runner is in the last game of the Worlds Series.

“Uh-oh,” said Emmi and Cheri at the same time.

“Looks like trouble,” Octavian muttered, and we all avoided looking back at Bax. The effect was the same, of course. By not looking at him, we made his presence all the more obvious.

Three Squats inched forward and climbed up the ramp that led into the forward lock. The smoked glass barrier pretty-much cut them off from our sight, but I caught a glimpse of a fanned-out fern ear and the trailing end of a bulb nose brushed across the glass from the other side.

Then, like the voice of the gods, the translation-screen boomed out words. “One of our young ones has offended one of your people. We beg your pardon.”

I winced. Octavian covered his ears. On the back bench, Cottontail crossed her arms across her breasts, as if the volume might warp their particularly fine shape. Bax pinched her on the thigh, and she shrieked, giggled, and unwound her arms.

Caraglio had a sick look on his face, like he’d just eaten something rancid. “Not at all,” he said. “I beg… It isn’t… Please don’t…” He sputtered to a stop, flexed his hands in and out, and began again. “We are sorry that this incident has interrupted your deliberations, and we were not at all disturbed by the interest of your young one.”

Muted hooting leaked out through the glass barrier as the Squats consulted.

“What I want to know,” said Kostas in a low voice, “is how, from so far away, the Squats knew Bax was insulting the poor little thing.”

Keep reading.

Sending Sally (Update)

If you hang around these parts at all, you’ve probably seen SallyStrange. You’ve probably also seen some solid commenting from her and some information about the political and volunteer work that she does. You may even have seen how she’s been targeted by the slime pit disinformation factory for speaking up.

So it’s probably unsurprising that I’m happy to use this space and some of my resources to help Sally out. In this case, I’m acting as an intermediary to help get Sally to the American Atheists 50th Anniversary National Convention in Austin, Texas, in March.

I’m using my own PayPal account as a barrier between Sally and any potential malicious nonsense. She has plenty of friends around here who will be more than happy to donate, but she’s gotten enough of the unwanted attention too that an extra layer of identity protection seemed like a good idea to both of us.

So if you’re one of those friends, feel free to click and donate below. Let’s make sure she gets the good time that she’s more than earned, shall we?

Update: Goal met! Money sent to Sally! Thanks to everyone who donated.

Atheists Talk: Rebecca Hale on AHA

Rebecca Hale has been promoting humanism for almost two decades as one of the owners of EvolveFISH, providing easy ways for nonbelievers to identify themselves and insert their ideas into the public discourse. She helped found the Freethinkers of Colorado Springs in the early 1990s, before atheism was “big”, and more recently, she helped to found Colorado’s Coalition of Reason. Until early this year, she served as the Vice President of the American Humanist Association. In early January, she was elected AHA president.

Hale joins us this Sunday to talk about her work, her passion for humanism, and AHA’s priorities under her leadership.

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.

When You Can’t Walk Away

Dan Fincke and I were chatting on Facebook last night about the civility pledge that he posted on his blog and that a few others have signed onto. Specifically, I was talking about the shortcomings of a particular paragraph:

When I am having a personality conflict that is making progress in understanding seem impossible, I will drop communications with that person–with or without explanation as seems most potentially constructive. I will not escalate unproductive arguments that are becoming interpersonally acrimonious. I will not participate in ongoing interpersonal feuds between other people but only participate in discussions that stay focused on what is true, what the best principles are, and how such principles may be most fairly and efficiently implemented in the world. I will correct injustices, bad principles, and bad ideas in ways that are maximally productive for changing minds and real world policies while also minimally likely to create or escalate distracting counter-productive interpersonal feuds.

I noted that walking away is not always an option, particularly in cases where one is being persistently harassed, often in public spaces one doesn’t control. As you might guess, I used myself as an example.

Then another friend of Dan’s interjected what I thought was a very good question: [Read more…]